Skeen was a red-tailed hawk whose home was in a heavily wooded region about twenty miles north of Portage, Wisconsin.
Skeen blinked a beady eye toward the setting sun. He usually caught many mice and other rodents during the day, but today hunting had been bad for him. He had eaten only three field mice all day. Then he got an idea. He would fly over to Mr. Kramer’s poultry yard and get a fat hen.
Skeen flew from the high, dead oak in which he had been sitting and headed for the poultry farm. Suddenly he dropped like a stone. His keen eyes had spied a rabbit peacefully nibbling clover at the edge of the meadow. But the watchful rabbit had seen Skeen also. A few leaps took him into some wild blackberry bushes, and he knew he was safe. Skeen stopped his attack in midair and again headed for the Kramer farm, wishing rabbits would fight fair instead of jumping into bramble bushes.
He flew on silent wings as he neared the henhouse in the gathering dusk. There were still two chickens that hadn’t gone to roost. Like a bullet he swooped down upon one, and in a moment was flying heavily upward again with the stunned hen clutched tightly in his talons. The remaining hen started squawking, and soon the others joined the noise.
It was almost dark now, and Mr. Kramer, who had come out of the house on the run, didn’t have a chance to see–much less shoot–any chicken thief. The hens were still squawking a little and Mr. Kramer knew that something had undoubtedly taken a hen, and probably killed more. He went inside the chicken house, and by using his flashlight, he counted the hens and saw that two were missing.
As he walked out of the door of the chicken house, he saw one of the missing hens just coming in.
“Only one gone,” he sighed.
He searched the chicken yard with his flashlight for ten minutes, but found not a track nor a drop of blood. For a minute he stood scratching his head; then the light dawned.
“A hawk!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had trouble with them before. I’ll handle that fellow in the morning.”
Meanwhile Skeen had flown nearly half a mile over the forest still carrying the limp hen. He finally landed in a small clearing, tore up the hen, and eagerly devoured it.
He did not need to visit the poultry yard the next day, because his hunting was very successful. A rabbit, several field mice, and two gophers had filled him up satisfactorily. He didn’t know it, but if he had visited the Kramer farm he would probably have gotten caught in a trap Mr. Kramer had set out for “that thieving hawk.”
Very early the next morning, Skeen did set out for the Kramer farm. He lit on a high maple on a hill overlooking the farm and carefully surveyed the scene with his keen eyes. He saw that nobody was up, so he flew toward the hen yard. As he neared it, something on the fence post attracted his attention. It was a piece of chicken just lying there! He noticed something glittering beneath it, but in his eagerness, he paid little attention to it. He alighted on the post. Bang! THe jaws of Mr. Kramer’s trap sprang together with Skeen’s goot in their cruel grip.
The terror-stricken bird now paid no attention to the meat, but cared only about the trap he was caught in.
An hour later, Mr. Kramer, carrying his rifle, came to inspect the trap. As he approached the henhouse he suddenly stopped and rubbed his eyes, wondering whether he was seeing things–or rather, not seeing things. Then he hurried forward. His new trap was gone! Then he saw some drops of blood on the post and ground. He guessed that some very strong hawk had gotten caught in the trap and had actually flown off with it, chain and all. He was right.
After the trap had snapped on Skeen’s foot, the great hawk struggled desperately to free himself. He was terrified. Finally, by using every ounce of strength, he had managed to fly away with the heavy trap hanging from his foot. His bleeding foot hurt him much more with the added weight, but he cared only about getting away from the farm.
After flying for nearly a quarter of a mile with frequent rests, he landed in a sheltered glade, thoroughly exhausted. He spent a painful day and night there.
At dawn the next morning, he resumed his flight to his home, which was in the most dense part of the forest in the top of a high tree. His whole leg was badly swollen by now, and he was suffering severely. As he came near a road, he flew toward the power line to rest a minute.
Shortly after dawn that very morning every farm in the vicinity was without electricity–including the Kramer farm. After breakfast, they sent eight-year-old Tom down the road to the neighbors’ to use their telephone to call the electric company. About halfway there Tom noticed something dangling from the power line ahead of him. As he neared it, he saw that it was a dead hawk with its foot in a trap. The dangling chain of the trap had somehow become wrapped around the power lines in such a way that the hawk had been electrocuted.
As it turned out, all the electricity for miles around had to be turned off while the men from the electric company removed the trap and the dead hawk.
Skeen had paid a high price for his chicken.
By KENNETH DAVIDSON