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Hunkered Down

October 29th, 2013

On Sunday morning, we had a few hawk attempts on our chicken flocks. Unfortunately we lost one of our barred hens, but the rest managed to hunker down enough. We had one hawk go after our small flock of layers from our meat chicken flock. They were living under the apple tree in the front yard waiting to be integrated into the main flock. We lost this poor little chicken to what I think was a Cooper’s Hawk.
chickens in apple tree 3
That same morning I scared another hawk off of the top of the chicken coop thanks to the guineas letting me know that something wasn’t right. The chickens were in the coop, but the guineas were still out and about. That same hawk was back on 5 minutes later trying to nab a guinea in the woods. Luckily, guineas are fast on their feet and they were in a fairly brushy are of the woods. After that, everyone went inside the chicken run and coop and spent the day hunkered down behind chicken wire and hardware cloth.
hunkered down 1
hunkered down 2
The rest of that day they stayed inside. Yesterday we also had a hawk flying over, thankfully, the guineas once again let us know. The chickens are all on high alert, spending most of their day in the thick underbrush by their coop. We frequently have eagles flying over, but this is our first time spotting hawks.

What birds of prey do you have flying over your garden? Do you have issues with them eyeing any of your pets or livestock?

28 Comments to “Hunkered Down”
  1. kristin @ going country on October 29, 2013 at 6:05 am

    We’ve lost chickens to hawks. Our dogs bark at them, but since dogs aren’t much use in catching hawks, it doesn’t faze the hawks.

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  2. Adelina Anderson on October 29, 2013 at 6:15 am

    No livestock here, but we have our fair share of prey birds. Last year my husband almost got knocked over by a low flying hawk. The hawk lives in the woods behind the house. Every once in a while it will perch on the deck. We also have a nice group of owls that hang out off to the edge of the property. They are such beautiful birds.

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  3. Adriana on October 29, 2013 at 7:25 am

    So sorry to hear. Even if you try not to get attached to them, it’s still sad when you lose one. Every once in a while we see red tailed hawks circling above our yard, but haven’t lost a chicken to one yet. Once a hawk came down and tried to get one even with me working in the garden right NEXT to the coop. A few years ago we lost 7 chickens at once to a fox, but we haven’t seen foxes around in a while.

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    • Susy on October 29, 2013 at 7:28 am

      Foxes are tough, we’ve lost some chickens to foxes and have have many more fox attempts. Thankfully, now that Tara’s here we haven’t seen one.

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  4. Ann on October 29, 2013 at 7:31 am

    We have had an awful time this year with hawks. So far they have taken 3 of our teenage guineas. So now all our poultry stay penned up during the majority of the day. About 2 hrs before sunset we go out and let them run free while we stand guard.

    We have had 1 big hawk fly low over our homestead each day about 4:30 hoping maybe we wouldn’t be standing guard. I am thinking of sitting out with a shotgun and just firing warning shots when it flies over. Maybe after a few days of hearing that it will not bother anymore. I know we can not shoot to kill, but it is legal to shoot to scare.

    This is the first year we have had this much activity. In the prior 3 years we only lost 2 hens total and we were never sure what happened to them. Let’s hope this is just a year where they are not getting enough small rodents and are having to go for larger prey. And that it will all go back to normal next season.

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  5. Jennifer Fisk on October 29, 2013 at 7:40 am

    About a month ago, one of my young birds became hawk food. One winter day about 5 years ago I came home to find the rooster and 3 hens outside their house acting very nervous. Just inside the door was a Northern Goshawk, the only hawk that stays year round in Maine, with a hen almost totally devoured. When I stepped up it hopped onto the roost and didn’t want to leave. Eventually, I bopped it under the tail with my snow shovel and it flew out the door across my garden and crashed into the side of my house. It flew back to a tree above me where it perched precariously until it left for the deep woods. The last thing I heard was breaking Pine branches. I figured it ate so much chicken that it couldn’t get any altitude.

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  6. amy on October 29, 2013 at 8:07 am

    We have had issues with hawks….owls and raccoons!

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  7. Nebraska Dave on October 29, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Susy, I have three hawks that buzz Terra Nova Gardens. I’m not sure what they see of interest in the garden. It is amazing to see how they can float on the wind currents for ever is seems while scanning the area for their next dinner. I’ve never seen them on the ground eating anything. Of course unlike those with chickens, I welcome their presence and am glad for any help in controlling the rodents in the garden. Nature is relentless, isn’t it. Some times I wonder how our ancestors ever survived against all the forces of nature. Back then, it wasn’t like if the garden has a bad year just go down to the local store and buy some groceries. They were amazing people for sure.

    Have a great chicken protecting day.

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  8. Mich on October 29, 2013 at 9:21 am

    We have Red Kites & Buzzards, I would be worried if I had young poultry running about but they don’t take standard sized poultry. My main problem is the wily fox.

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    • Susy on October 29, 2013 at 9:29 am

      I had a hawk take an adult hen, granted she’s on the small size, but she was much bigger than the hawk.

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      • Jenn on October 29, 2013 at 10:37 am

        Buzzards *could* take a chicken but they tend to just eat rabbits. UK gamekeepers used to shoot them because they thought they’d take the partridge and pheasant – but studies suggested they just dont eat other birds.

        We have at least one pair of buzzards that live in our bottom field – they (and our cats) keep the rabbit population down and never look at the hens so we like having them around. The only thing that’s killed our hens at this house was an escaped dog. At our last house there were foxes that got a few, but we don’t have any around where we are now.

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  9. John on October 29, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Next year I will when I get chicks and most definitely guineas. Any suggestions on cover that humans might build that will help them stay safer from aerial predators?

    Reply to John's comment

    • Susy on October 29, 2013 at 9:30 am

      In general they’re pretty smart if you provide areas in their run that they can hide under, even a piece of plywood propped up on something. We have an enclosed run attached to our coop, but for the most part they free range in a wooded and grassy area. When they’re small you’ll want to definitely keep an eye on them. I’m thinking my next enclosed run is going to be of a hoop house design made with pipes and a pipe bender.

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  10. Misti on October 29, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Recently we had a bald eagle sighting. I still believe that’s what happened to our feral Callie. Sometimes we have hawks and occasionally we get swallow-tailed kites. As for the large predator mammals, coyotes would be our biggest threat—another option for our missing Callie. :(

    Sorry about your chickens.

    Reply to Misti's comment

    • Susy on October 29, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Yes, eagles can be a threat to cats. We have them around here, luckily our cats seem to be pretty smart about them. Back in Ohio we had a Great Horned Owl that would watch our feral cats. They always seemed to not get eaten, but the owl would sit in a big oak tree and watch them at night.

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  11. S on October 29, 2013 at 9:29 am

    We have tons of hawks in our area but I think our backyard layout does not give them enough room for an approach. We’ve had a cooper’s hawk try a few times but had to pull up due to fences. I had the girls all give an alarm one afternoon and a MINK popped out–that was a new one. Still, (knock on wood) we have not yet lost a hen to predators.

    So either we’re really lucky or there’s just enough other food (rabbits, squirrels and TONS of chipmunks) to keep them fed. We also have a dog so perhaps the scent/deterrent keeps the traffic flow of critters away. I really like seeing the wildlife in my area so I’m willing to take extra safety precautions and am prepared to lose one once in a while–just like sharing a bit of my garden with the bugs and rabbits!

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  12. whit on October 29, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I’m sorry the hawks are harassing your birds. Makes one more appreciative of our feathers friends and glad we are at the top of the food chain, eh?

    We have the unfortunate luck of a small telephone poll next to our chicken brooding coop, which the neighbourhood’s Cooper’s hawk treats like the drive thru window of Mickey D’s. The chicks have learned though, and are finding hiding places. We also have land critters like skunk and opossum to watch out for.

    Our neighbours with the raw milk dairy just had their whole flock of Thanksgiving turkeys wiped out by coyotes. That was the most devastating kill I’ve heard of in a long time. Those birds were two weeks away from finished and ready for harvest!

    Hope the hawks and foxes find another source of food and give you all a bit of a rest.

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  13. Rachel on October 29, 2013 at 11:40 am

    We occasionally hear an owl hooting, but more often see hawks and vultures flying overhead. Our city code allows for up to 4 chickens and right now we have 3 in a chicken tractor. One day my husband saw a hawk sitting on top of the tractor…which was the cause of great excitement for our children! Thankfully, no hens have been lost to predators.

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  14. Robin on October 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Sorry about the chicken. :( It’s hard to find a good balance between penning them 24/7 and giving them their freedom without them being harmed.

    We have several species of hawks, bald eagles, and seasonally, the turkey vultures can be a pain. I have a dog that’s excellent at keeping predators away from the poultry but he’s down with an injury so the chickens and ducks are locked in their pen for a while.

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  15. Lexa on October 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Sorry to hear about your chicken. I don’t have any fowl here becasue there are just too many predators. In the sky we have Sharp-Shined and Coopers Hawks. They prey on the Songbirds at the bridfeeders and on the lovely flocks of mountain quail. They are really good hunters. I hate to see it but everybody’s got to eat :)

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  16. Chris on October 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    After reading most of the comments, it still amazes me that folks that live in rural, wooded areas with an abundance of wildlife still choose not to secure their livestock. Hawks, owls, eagles, coyotes, racoons, fox, skunk, etc. etc. don’t see cute, fur or feathered pets…they see food! They hunt just like we do!
    Nita from Trapper Creek farm in Oregon has the best philosophy regarding the issue of keeping chickens, etc. She Never lets her birds free range…and for good reason! They have been farming-ranching for generations and I consider her blog one of, if not, the most intelligent, educational farm blogs there is. You can’t beat years of successful experience! It’s worth a read!

    Reply to Chris's comment

    • Susy on October 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      It’s true that they’re safer when enclosed, but then they can’t really be what they want to be. My chickens don’t necessarily “free range” they live behind an electric fence, but I’m not going to contain them to a small run all day long. I see how much they love scratching in the woods and how much they are real chickens when they do. Same with our cats, they go outside and hunt. We know there’s a risk that they might get nabbed by a predator, but they’re not happy when kept inside all the time. I give my animals protection for the most part but it’s definitely a balance between allowing them to do what they do naturally and protecting them from predators.

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  17. Trish on October 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I don’t have any livestock, because of the concern for predators. I used to have a pretty substantial feral cat population in my old barn, and I would see and hear great horned owls staging on the telephone poles around the property – I figured they were going after the cats. Kinda felt like oh, well. Those feral cats were a bit of a nuisance anyway. I spayed/neutered all that I could, treated illnesses, nursed sick babies. They have finally stopped coming around, except one old tom who lives in the loft (we provide food and water for him up there). my husband calls him Will feral.

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  18. Wendy on October 29, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Despite having our chickens in a wooded/brushy area, we have lost some to hawks. In fact I scared one away a couple of weeks ago after the hens and a steller jay (for once they did something helpful) let me know something was wrong. Our biggest pest, however, has been raccoons.

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  19. Chris on October 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Yes, I do agree with you for the most part, it’s finding the right balance between allowing them some freedom and protecting them at the same time. However, it also depends on how long you want to keep that animal as a pet, food source, etc. As long as the predators know there are chickens running around in the woods, you will probably continue to lose some. If not, they will move off to find other meals!
    Of course all animals would be “happier” doing what they do naturally but we have domesticated them for our own uses and it is our responsibilty to protect them as they not wild anymore! The same could be said for dogs…they would love to run in packs, hunt, etc. but of course, we can’t allow them to do that…for many reasons!
    I do have to totally disagree with you regarding the cat issue though…not just for their protection but for the millions of songbirds, amphibians, etc. that domestic cats kill every year…just in the US. You aren’t being mean to them by keeping them safe indoors…barn cats are another story, if that’s what you have.
    My goats would love nothing better than to roam freely all around the property but again…I can’t let them do that…they are not wild anymore and I have to protect them from predators if I want them to live a long, healthy life!
    I admire you both for your hard work and dedication to become self sufficient and back to the landers…so let’s just agree to disagree on a couple things as I enjoy your blog very much and I don’t mean to insult you in any way! Thanks for listening to another prospective on animal husbandry. Discussions are good!
    Take care!

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  20. Chris on October 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    PS. One of the reasons I am so adament about the cat thing is I lost two of my beloved cats to coyotes, thinking I was doing them a favor and that they would be happier to roam outside…the last one I heard as she was being attacked and it was horrible…I wouldn’t want anyone to have to experience that…not to speak of what the cat had to endure before she died.. :(

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  21. Sierra N Hampl on October 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Those are some nice looking chickens! We also have hawks around here but so far we haven’t lost a chicken.

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  22. Amy on October 30, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Do you have a rooster (or two)? They can be a pain in the butt, but ours always did a good job of keeping an eye toward the sky and letting the girls know if there was danger. Unfortunately, my favorite (and only, at the time) rooster was not helpful when a coyote got into the coop during the night while the birds were sleeping. He killed every one…and left my beautiful roo dead in the run. (Most of the hens were just gone, except for feathers and blood, and the head of one hen found days later.)

    We did once have a chicken hawk, a beautiful, tiny little guy, find its way into the run. Poor guy was being totally terrorized by my runt hen, Teeny! My husband went to its rescue. :)

    We sold our flock in 2011, but I do miss seeing them around our property. We’ll probably have a few hens when our son gets a little older.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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