• 2021.05.19
  • The case of missing Juliana
Is it curtains for Juliana now, too?
At the bottom of the stairs was a stain that looked like beet juice, with a dotted line of crimson drops leading away from it.
It could only be one thing: Juliana’s blood.

In the last month, seven chickens have disappeared from our yard. Juliana was one of them, and there were tons of feathers scattered in the bushes about three meters from the blood stains—telling a story of a fierce life-and-death struggle.
We were able to find the scattered feathers before, but Juliana’s feathers, which were the color of cork oak, were so camouflaged that they had disappeared into the ground. That’s probably why she was the only one that lived this long out of the first brood of chickens our family kept.

But who was guilty of attacking the chickens so often?
Was it a dog? A cat? A hawk? A weasel? A fox? What was bigger than a chicken, but still small enough to sneak into the yard undetected?

When we first started keeping chickens, the first natural enemy that fortunately got the ones in the coop was a hawk. Hawks are smart enough to remember precisely where they can easily get pray, and observe human behavior from a clear, high vantagepoint. One of these sharp hunters took out another chicken before even half a day had passed.
Together with my kids, we cut a plastic sheet with lamé in it into all kinds of different shapes, fitted the pieces with little bells, and hung them around on branches and things. The trees in the yard looked as decorated as Christmas trees. They also took some measures above the coop to prepare for attacks from the air.

In the meantime, while the hawk was forgetting about the chicken coop, we let a second brood we had bought out into the yard to live free-range. At first they were all skittish and reluctant to venture out from the coop, but one chicken broke from the flock. We named this carefree bird Lucy. Full of curiosity, she ventured out on her own—and when people were around, she’d show up and follow them. She explored new territory, laid her eggs in cozy spots, and gradually took on a greater range of behaviors.

Lucy wasn’t afraid of anything, but she ended up being the first victim out of our second brood. Then, after quite a bit of time had passed, another of the brood went down. But if chickens live naturally for any length of time, they apparently get smarter and learn to do things like hide out under trees. By the time we had the third generation, they had stopped being easy prey for the local carnivores.
Today, the chickens cluck around the yard, poking at the ground beside us as we go about our outside chores. The latest disappearance of multiple chickens occurred after we’d gotten used to having the chickens around—and what’s so different about it this time is that the bodies are nowhere to be found. Even if feathers are left behind, the bodies themselves disappear cleanly and completely.
So it can’t be a hawk, and I don’t think cats are able to run away with an entire chicken in their mouths. That leaves a dog, a weasel, or a fox. Could it be anything else? The mystery just gets deeper. Momo and I are still on the case.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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