Monday, September 08, 2008

Chicken Hawk - What the........

Well, wouldn't you know, the very day I posted bragging about how well it's been going as our chickens free range, we had an experience that made my hiney tingle.

As I mentioned yesterday, for the past week we've been allowing the chickens outside of their chicken run each evening for an hour or two before bedtime so that they could free range a little. As the week went on, I began to feel very comfortable with the whole situation and had begun to let them free range pretty much unsupervised. By "unsupervised", I mean that we did not pull up lawn chairs and sit with them while they were outside. Instead, I watched them from the window of the house.

Yesterday evening was particularly lovely, with cool temperatures and relatively no humidity. When I let the chickens out, we decided to pull up some lawn chairs and sit with them to enjoy the nice weather. The chickens had been outside for about two hours and I was just beginning to think it was about time for them to start heading into the coop when suddenly they began squawking and screaming and running about. I will mention that they did this once before earlier in the week when they spotted a deer peering at them at the fence. So initially, I thought they had once again seen a deer and I glanced over at the fence line. At the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chicken hawk swooping down towards a couple of chickens that were pinned against the outside of the fence in their panic. These chickens, and the chicken hawk, were within 10 feet of us. I immediately jumped up and ran full speed toward the chicken hawk, clapping my hands and screaming like a wild woman. I apparently startled the hawk so bad it changed course at the last second before reaching the chickens and flew rapidly in the opposite direction toward the wood line. Bernie did have a pistol with him, but he could not risk shooting while the hawk was so close to the chickens. But as the hawk retreated, Bernie fired a few shots into the ground near the woods to make sure he scared it off for good - at least for the evening. He did not fire at the hawk because he was not sure what else would be in the path past the hawk and it would have been difficult to insure a direct hit using a pistol on a hawk flying erratically, especially given the conditions. His goal was to make enough noise to scare off the chicken hawk and discourage him from perching in a nearby tree to re-access his tactics. Bernie was successful as that hawk flew straight up and over the trees and the last we saw him, he was flapping his wings wildly in an attempt to get the heck out of there.

Needless to say, we were all quite shaken by the event. A few of the chickens had made it back inside the chicken run, but most were scattered throughout the woods. Duke was every kind of upset and he was clucking loudly and fiercely. I finally calmed him down and got him to come out of the woods and into the chicken run. It took quite a bit of coaxing, but Bernie and I finally managed to get everyone safely into the chicken run. The chickens seemed to recover quickly, but I can not say the same for myself.

I am simply amazed that the chicken hawk attempted to get one of our chickens while we were sitting right there and within a few feet of his intended prey. I was so upset that I loudly declared the chickens would never be allowed out of the chicken run again. But even as I said it, I knew it wasn't very fair to remove all freedom from my chickens based solely on my fears.

It's my understanding that as the chickens get bigger and the roosters become mature enough to be more protective, the threat of chicken hawks is not as great. I'm going to discuss this with my cousin who has had chickens for many years and has a great deal of knowledge on the subject. But for those of you that have had chickens for a while, what has been your experience with chicken hawks? Are they less of a worry as the chickens get older?

Chicken hawks are awesome creatures, but I can't have them picking off my chickens. We haven't even gotten the first egg from them yet! Besides, I've grown a little found of those little buggers.

Bee Free,


The Mom said...

While we've seen many hawks around here, thankfully, we've not lost a chicken to them. I did wonder about the guinea keets when we let them out and I suspect they are still somewhat at risk, but I know the chickens are safe, as we've had them a long time. The guinea keets have spent one night alone outside, as we couldn't find them. It appears they were under the barn. Since then, they've not ventured out. All our chickens come in of the own accord at dark. We've not locked them up in several years.
Blessings, Janet in Lacey

Kelly or Alex said...

Im glad that you were there to keep the hawk at bay! I do have a question. How do you get the chickens to go back into the pen at bedtime? I want to let my hens out while I am there to watch them and I am afraid that they won't go back in when its time. We have 40 Partridge Rocks who just started laying. It's so exciting. I love my girls and Samson the one rooster. He is a happy boy. Thanks for any help.
Kelly said...

Janet - it's good your guinea keets learned a lesson by spending a night outside! I'm sure it drove you crazy knowing they were out and not being able to find them.

Kelly - when it starts getting dusk, my chickens head into their coop automatically. They've always done this on their own and since they've been allowed in the run for quite a while and I've watched them turn in at night, I was fairly confident that they would go back to the coop once we let them out in the yard to free range. The key is to let them do it on their own - or you'll end up chasing chickens half the night! I usually have 1 or 2 stragglers, and if I decide it's time to call it an evening and there are still 1 or 2 outside in the yard, I take some scratch or a snack into the chicken run and call "Chick chick chick" and they run into the chicken run to eat so I can close the gate once everyone is safely in. So I would say if yours currently go into the coop when it's time for bed, they will continue to do that even when they are free ranging - and if you have a couple of stragglers, use whatever method you currently use to get them to come running for food. Mine are trained with "chick chick chick" - and when they hear that they come running to get a snack.

Hope that helps!


MichelleC said...

I just stumbled across your blog today and love it!
Our chickens free range everyday. When they were small, we would have Hawks and buzzards swoop down for them, we only lost two though.Now we worry more about wild dogs. We had a pack in broud daylight last week trying to get themselves a hen...My DH had to put one out, because it started chasing him!! That was scary. We have only 8 hens and a rouster. The eight do not wish to have their own box even though we have eight boxes in the coop. It is strange, but all eight share the same box which is elevated near the top of the coop. Sometimes 2 are in there at a time

My main problem is that I get attacked almost daily by Mr. Rooster. I don't know why he doesn't like me..but each morning when I am hanging the wash out..he sneaks up behind me and goes for my bare ankles!! Today he drew blood! Ugh! ~MichelleC