El Gallo, our cockerel, has always been quite a frisky bird. When we lived in the cortijo near Loja, on about six occasions he assaulted visitors when they walked up the drive to our house, including an officer of the Guardia Civil. He has never shown any animosity towards us though. In Loja, our six chickens, although penned at night, roamed free over our land during the day and enjoyed pecking around under the poplars by the river. They never seemed bothered by predators. Since we moved here, on the estepa of the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata, it has been a different story.
One day in September, we were sitting on our terrace having lunch when we heard the chickens panicking and a second later we saw a Bonelli’s Eagle swoop low in front of our gate and land on an agave just outside. These eagles normally prey on partridges, but no doubt this one was after the chickens. Perhaps the size of them put the eagle off when it got close. Since then the chickens always take cover when they see a shadow or sense movement above.
A couple of weeks later, we heard another commotion outside and ran out to see an errant podenco hunting dog running off with the cockerel in its jaws. We shouted at it and it dropped El Gallo, who was somewhat shocked but, apart from losing a few feathers, was unharmed. The dog returned a couple of days later but, although Margaret was out walking our dogs, I was home and spotted it when it approached the house. Instead of chasing it off I attempted to lure the dog so I could capture it but it was too nervous. At that moment, Margaret returned with our pack of three, and our big dog, Rubi, seeing the podenco, bounded up and cornered it. The dog cowered passively while Rubi stood over it and I was able to attach a lead. We searched for its owner and eventually tracked it down as belonging to a hunter from Fernan Perez. We also reported it to Manuel, the Park Ranger, who was on patrol that day. We have not seen the podenco since.
After these incidents we decided to enclose a small piece of land around the chickens’ hut with a makeshift fence and only let them roam free if one or two of our dogs were on guard duty outside. Last Monday at dusk, just before the chicken’s bedtime, I heard a lot of squawking outside and run out, suddenly realising the chickens were loose and all our dogs were in the house. I saw the cockerel 200 metres away battling for its life with a fox. I called the two little dogs, Charlie and Blanquita, and they set off in pursuit of the fox, barking hysterically. El Gallo managed to escape and ran back towards the house but collapsed halfway. I picked him up and carried him home. He crawled into the chicken’s hut and in the meantime the fox had gone to earth to evade the dogs. The next morning I feared I might find a dead bird when I let the poultry out but we were greeted by the usual cock-a-doodle-do. El Gallo, though, had lost all his magnificent tail feathers during the fight with the fox and looked decidedly weird with his bare bottom. We found a pile of feathers beneath an agave outside the house which is must be where the battle commenced and another pile about 200 metres away where he made his escape. The hens as usual were unharmed but of course it is always the cockerel who gets it as he tries to defend them.
The oil on canvas of El Gallo was painted by Margaret earlier in the year. The original has been sold but signed, limited edition prints are available for 35 euros – enquiries email@example.com. The photo of El Gallo with a few of the hens was taken last weekend and the other poultry, photographed today belongs to our German neighbours. Blog by Digby.