A few weeks ago, my husband reported that there had been a hawk over our backyard, terrorizing our chickens. The hawk had gone so far as to capture a squirrel and eat his snack while glaring at our chickens, who were cowering under the back steps. We considered moving them under better cover, but they seemed to do a good job of protecting themselves, so off we went.
Then yesterday, I’d had a long day of appointments and kids home from school for conferences, and by 4:45, I was exhausted, and came to my back office and stared at my screen, trying to will myself to write. That’s when I heard it, the panicked screaming of my chickens, clearly freaking out about more than a laying box squabble. I leaned over to pull my curtain back just in time to see a hawk swoop down into the yard to more chicken freak out noises. I couldn’t see where it had landed, or if there were victims, so I jumped up, leapt over my Kindergarten son, yelling something about hawks and chickens, and ran for the back door.
In my head, there was a voice pointing out that perhaps I should have a plan. Was I going to wage war with the attacking hawk? Maybe I should find safety goggles if that was the case. The other voice in my head yelled that there was no time for goggles and plans, to just get out there….but stop long enough to switch shoes for slippers. No way that hawk’s going to take you seriously with sheepskin lined slippers on.
I got outside, and 11 of our 12 chickens were cowering under a leaf-naked bush, but they were unharmed, and apparently glad to see me. The 12th chicken was a bird my daughter named “Featherless,” because she is half plucked from other’s fighting with her. She lays huge eggs, so we keep her, and hope that she’ll one day feather out again, but so far…no luck. Apparently, her lack of feathers had made her an easy target. I concerned myself with getting the others to safety. They didn’t have any interest in my shooing them across the yard, so I started to carry them, two by two when I could manage it, back to the coop, while the hawk watched from a tree two houses down, apparently threatened by my very shiny Danskos. Take that, Hawk!
I got all but two of the chickens cooped up when out came the 12th chicken, Featherless! I’ve never been so happy to see our most ridiculous looking bird. Another 20 minutes of chicken-around-the-lilac-bush later, and all the girls were safe and sound. And I had gone in to open a nice bottle of red wine…
That must have been terrifying. I dread the say hawks realise I have chickens!
It was terrifying, but see the comment below…I did let the girls back out today.
Sorry, that was meant to read day, not say. 🙂
This was posted by Robert Overturf on the Iowa Urban Chicken Farmers facebook page. It made me feel better about allowing the girls to keep their freedom: ” It’s a balance of risk and reward. Being able to offer a little freedom is worth a little risk in my opinion. Offering some cover to run to can go a long way. There’s no such thing as absolute safety, even if you do keep them under lock down 24-7, as many have learned the hard way when a raccoon pries their way through an impossibly small entry point. The ethical point that I run into when I consider these risks is why do we raise backyard chickens in the first place and I think the answer for many would that they want to be able to offer their chickens a better life than they would have in their factory, to connect more closely with their food, or some just for pets. I can’t help but think that 24-7 lock down isn’t too much of a step above factory conditions. Maybe better food, but I don’t think prisoners would value food over freedom, but that’s just me. Under natural and wild conditions these guys have a few predators and one gets taken out from time to time. If they are unfortunate enough to all be penned up together at the time then unfortunately they will probably all suffer the same fate with nowhere to go to get away. If you were to allow them to free range or even partially free-range, yes, you are going to lose one from time to time. It is also my opinion that they will be happier, you will enjoy them more, and you might avoid the massacres that occasionally occur under lock down. These guys really aren’t to bad at evading a predator if they are properly equipped to do so, i.e. enough room to fly away from ground predators and enough cover to hide from air predators. Just my 2 cents.”
Exercise caution when battling with hawks. Talons aside, every bird of prey is federally protected. You could find yourself in a legal pickle should you injure one. Maybe you could provide them more cover to cower from hawks. On a side note, when I was doing raccoon research in a game farm near Chicago, I would entertain myself watching a smaller Cooper’s Hawk trying to carry off pheasants. It was hilarious. The big fat birds were too heavy for the hawk to carry off, but she kept trying. And trying. And trying. And trying.
Good point, although once I saw it tear apart a squirrel, my days of trying to do anything but scare it were over. The chickens have plenty of cover, they just don’t always pick the smartest place to run and hide….ever.