I’ve been blogging for a little over a year. This site has been devoted to chickens, while my Facebook page, Bitchin’ Chickens Farm, veers a little off course and into the personal, once in a while. I find that platform is more informal and interactive, so I’ve posted cartoons and memes, short stories about what I’ve been up to and lately, a peek at my non-chicken life. Folks have reacted positively and have been interested in where I live, what life is like on an island, my other pursuits and stories about my community.
In that vein, I thought I’d post a series of pieces that aren’t about chickens, but a behind-the-scenes look at Bitchin’ Chickens.
I live on Gabriola – one of a group of islands – nestled between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, the largest island off the west coast of North America. It’s the size of Manhattan with a population of just over 4000 people. I was born and raised in Toronto, the largest city is Canada, so I’m used to urban life. Given a choice, I prefer living in the country. We’re not far from amenities though: I commute for work by bus, then ferry, to Nanaimo, a small city and am within easy reach of both Victoria and Vancouver (though I haven’t been to the latter in almost two decades!).
I spent a lot of time as a kid outside of the city: summer camp, friends’ cottages, Mennonite farms, canoeing, hiking and bird-watching. Living on an island means we have fewer species of wildlife than if we were on the mainland. For instance, we don’t have fox, coyotes, chipmunks, skunks, porcupines. As a naturalist I miss them; as a chicken keeper, it means I have to contend with fewer predators. We do have lots of ravens, hawks, owls and eagles; marten, mink and raccoons. So far, their interactions with my chickens have been manageable.
I thought I’d share some of the photos I’ve taken on my property, as well as some contributions from the many talented photographers in this community. (I managed to sneak some chickens into one photo).
We have a number of feral turkeys and peacocks on the island. There used to be feral Guinea Fowl but I think they’ve been picked off by predators. These birds are quite polarizing. Some people love them, feed them and see them as part of the community. Others don’t like the noise, the digging in their gardens, pecking at windows and scratching their cars. Love them or not, they have fared well here and, despite the occasionally run in with a car, aren’t going anywhere soon.
There are more raccoons per square kilometre in an urban centre than here: more habitat and much more accessible food. I occasionally see raccoons about and am aware they are around my place when I see their fresh tracks in the snow. I’ve only had two issues with raccoons predating my birds: one daylight attack in which I was able to grab my injured hen back from the coon and another when a broody hen, who missed nighttime lock up because she had hidden her clutch of eggs in the shed, was killed overnight.
I live in a forested area with a marsh nearby and have a number of owls and hawks nesting in the woods around me. The Barred Owls are relatively small and more interested in killing rodents. The hawks, however, have been the only consistent predator I’ve had to contend with. When my birds were totally free-ranging I lost two and then, another half dozen when they were penned. Some folks have had issues with ravens stealing eggs from their coops and even killing livestock, but they haven’t been a problem for me. Both of my pens are now pretty much aerial predator proof because they are netted overhead.
As a kid I collected various species of snakes, turtles and salamanders. Their numbers are in decline and we don’t see the diversity here like we would on the mainland. There are no native turtles, but we do have several kinds of lizards, salamanders, frogs and snakes.
We’ve got the biggest slugs I’ve ever seen and loads of species of spiders and other insects.
Of the land mammals, we have mice, rats, voles, red squirrels, bats, mink, marten, muskrat, beaver and black-tailed deer. An occasional black bear swims across from other islands, but never stays for long. Cougars overwinter here, but the sightings are few and far between. There is a large population of deer from them to hunt, so there haven’t been reports of attacks on farm animals or pets.
Since last spring we’ve had a lone Roosevelt Elk roaming through the forest. At first, it was hard to believe when people reporting seeing him, but a couple of lucky souls have been fortunate enough to spot and document his existence. We’re all wondering when he’ll swim away and find a herd to join.
Mink and pine marten are both predators of chickens and can do a lot of damage in a short time. I’ve seen a few mink over the years, never a marten. Despite several neighbours having issues with mink killing their birds, this spring was the first time I had to contend with a mink in my chicken pen. At 8am, I was alerted to trouble and went out to chase the mink off. It scamped into the underbrush, but was back again at lunch time. When I got to the pen it had plucked a few feathers from two birds and was chasing my rooster, Simon. When it saw me the mink ran off. I locked my birds up for days (they weren’t happy) and set three live traps out in the woods for several weeks, but haven’t seen it since. They have a large territory so I’m hoping it’s moved on – for good.
Of course, being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean we have loads of marine life: dolphins; Killer, Humpback and Grey Whales; small sharks; octopus; schools of fish; seals and sea lions; river otters; crustaceans; shellfish and many species of shore birds.
More than 250 species of birds live, or migrate through, here.
Every once in awhile, nature comes knocking a little too close to home. We had some rats, not only living in our house, but chewing through our plumbing, flooding our crawl space. A couple of year ago, we changed out the dryer vent and found a massive bird’s nest in the vent hose. Although not wildlife, these three Appaloosas escaped from the neighbours’ place and showed up here one morning at 6:30 a.m.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a slice of life on my small island. Each month, I will post something in the “It’s Not A Chicken, But …” series to share more stories about my home.
Featured Image of Feral Turkeys courtesy Alexander Kirschner.