Fight, Flight, or Scared Stiff


Wednesday 21 May, 2014 by Uncle Spike

In our dealings with the natural world, we will have learnt the term ‘Fight or Flight’. This basically means most creatures, us humanoids included, have in-built systems which, when faced with the prospect of actual physical danger, will choose to either stand and ‘fight’ the attacker, or pack up and run like hell, as in ‘flight’.




These are natural, involuntary instincts. Take snakes, scorpions, cats, rats, you name it; you try and catch one in a corner and they are pretty well guaranteed to ‘fight’, with attack being their best means of defence. But that tends to be a last resort, and few animals will attack for no reason. More often than not, the ‘flight’ instinct kicks in, and as long as they can see a way out, most creatures will scarper off as quick as lightening, rather than face down their foe in head-to-head combat. 

When I surprise a snake on the farm (tiz snakey season right now), they usually take one look at me, make sure I’m no longer advancing threateningly towards them, hiss a bit, and turn tail and get out of my way pretty sharpish.

And then there is the term ‘scared stiff’. That’s one us humans can relate to, me in particular; those times when you spot a big hairy arachnoid between you and the door, or when you are faced with some danger that we simply don’t know how to deal with – we just stand there , ‘frozen to the spot’.

I never knew that happened with other species, but it does.

We have lost many chickens and roosters to the foxes over the years; it’s part of the cycle of nature, no matter how annoying or upsetting it is. That’s rural life, accept it or move out is my considered opinion.




A couple of years ago, there was a particularly brave young vixen around these hills who would come down most nights for a spot of chicken supper. Of course, like all foxes, whilst they only want/need a single catch, their ‘kill’ instinct kicks in too, and they will kill off anything that moves during the frenzy. 

Once she ran off with one hen (fair enough), but left five others scattered around the big orchard without their heads, ergo dead. But on one particular night, I heard the commotion, and ran outside to scare off that foxy lady. What I found was two hens and one rooster (our recently departed Nigel in fact), just sat on the ground, all at different spots, all just waiting to be next I guess.

They drop into a ‘scared shitless’ mode by the looks of it, and just stop. You can’t catch them (ok, a fox could, but I’m a bit less agile) but they just run three metres and stop again if you try, and they have no drive to seek shelter either. Quite weird.

After the loss of a hen last week, and Nigel the other day, we have just one more tree vended meal-ticket on offer, the boss… Pablo (pictured above). All the others actually go under the kitchen steps where I can pen them in safe at night.




Two nights ago there was a fox about again – you could hear the dogs doing their bit at neighbouring farms across the valley as it toured the area. At around 2:30 it was our turn, and Bonzo was going bonkers. I dived out of bed, and went out onto the balcony, torch in hand as usual. I knew where to aim the beam, for foxes are creatures of habit too. Sure enough, a couple of beady eyes where sat there, sussing out the route to a next meal. From my tub of fist sized rocks I keep on the balcony for just such an event, I lobbed a couple at force across the darkness some 20 metres (65′). The eyes moved on a few metres, two more rocks, and they were gone.

Last night, same time, and off we went again, yawn…

This time the eyes were right beneath Pablo’s tree, so rocks away… saving the lad by some seconds I suspect. But an hour later and it was back. I awoke to hear the squawk of a rooster in distress. Now that usually means it’s all over – foxes don’t tend to miss, and will finish the job in a matter of seconds.

However, after more rock throwing, I saw off the ‘eyes’ towards the next farm. Before retiring, I did a sweep of the torch and saw Pablo out in the open. I charged back inside, out the bedroom, across the hall, down the 17 stairs, through the kitchen, out the door, and across the yard. Still cool at nights, so dressing gown adorned was I; this is usually done just in boxers during summer, but that’s another story

Yep, he was there all right, and unharmed too (albeit close to the small spread of feathers that once belonged to Nigel). Pablo was basically ‘scared stiff’, or ‘scared shitless’, call it what you like. Whilst he seemed unharmed, he wouldn’t let me catch him. Now when this has happened before, I have been known to sit out the rest of the night ‘on protective duty’ (daft old git). I could always let Bonzo off the chain, but as well as scaring off any fox still hanging around, he would probably get shot, or upon returning his own instincts would probably ensure Pablo was an early doggie breakfast, so not a good plan, all things considered.

After a few attempts at catching him, he wandered close to where the other chooks are housed. I managed to unlock the gate and five minutes later, Pablo joined the gang, safely ensconced inside. And I was then able to return to the comfort of my own bed for the remaining few hours of what I like to refer to as ‘sleep’ – although not a term I have much association with during the summer months, what with foxes, badgers, wild boar, hedgehogs etc…..


9 thoughts on “Fight, Flight, or Scared Stiff

  1. You’re right about us humans reacting differently when facing danger. Animals, I’ve noticed too, can indeed mimick our reactions.
    Deer caught in the beam of a car will also freeze and sometimes do a crazy run which will end up in a crash. A beautiful king snake froze when it heard me the other day. I had on intention to kill it, but instead of snaking its way out of mine, it litteraly froze. I had to move away so it did too.
    Love your farm stories and your dog is beautiful.


  2. joannesisco says:

    Sounds like you’re the badass sheriff keeping the town-folk safe from marauders 🙂
    The night duty would kill me! Having said that, I also know that I’m definitely the freeze-on-the-spot kind of person. I secretly fear that I will not be any kind of help in a crisis because I will be the one needing saving.


  3. ballerina95 says:

    you do have exciting nights … 😀


  4. dayphoto says:

    WHEW! I’m glad he learned to head for safety …finally!



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