September 8, 2012

Chicken Little's Close Call

The other day I was heading toward the chicken yard with the wheel barrow, when I heard the chickens set up a fuss. This isn't uncommon. They will carry on when they lay an egg, or if a hen wants a nest box occupied by another, if the neighbor sets off fireworks, if a motorcycle drives by, or if anything they think is suspicious, is going on around them. Cowboy, our rooster, either sets it off or joins in, and tends to be a bit of an alarmist. In fact Dan has taken to calling him "Peter Panic." But he is excellent at spotting hawks.

our Buff Orpington rooster is always on the alert for hawks
Cowboy and company (Buff Orpingtons)
It's because of hawks that we always go check it out when he sounds the alarm. Last summer we lost three chickens to hawks. From this we learned we are located along a hawk migration route. Spring and fall we see a lot. Because of that, Cowboy is always on the alert.

As I neared the hen house, I saw all the chickens clumped under the big cedar tree in their yard. Not a good sign; hawk for sure. I quickened my step. Sure enough, there on the ground was a hawk! Next to it, staggering around like she didn't know what hit her, was Chicken Little.

Not that screaming and yelling and charging a hawk does much good, but that's what I did. The hawk simply flew up to a branch in the pecan tree that shades the shed. It quickly became apparent that I was not going to let it have Chicken Little, so off it flew.

Chicken Little with treated wounds after a hawk attack
Chicken Little after her close call
Chicken Little (who is almost full grown) was dazed and stumbling around. I quickly caught her (still don't know if she's a she or a he, I think a she). Her head and beak were bloody. The wounds looked superficial, but I wasn't sure whether or not the beak was broken. Dan, whose read quite a bit about hawk behavior, says they usually attempt to break the neck at first strike. I quickly checked her wings and legs, and then took Chicken Little into the house. I bathed away the blood and applied triple antibiotic ointment. Nothing appeared to be broken, but I still didn't know about her beak. I'd have to wait and see about that.

I put her in the dog carrier with food and water for the night, and went back to the shed. The chickens were still under the cedar tree, fussing. There was the hawk, on the ground in the same spot. It flew off when it saw me coming.

The next day I let Chicken Little out of the carrier and tossed down some scratch. She could eat just fine, so the beak wasn't broken. My concern turned to the other chickens. Chickens are extremely ruthless to their own kind and with those fresh wounds and scabs on her head, I was afraid they would attack her themselves. Plus, being the littlest and youngest, Chicken Little is already at the bottom of the pecking order. She is the only one who hadn't experienced hawk attacks, and didn't know to take cover when Cowboy sounded the alarm.

All that day she was rather subdued and quiet, taking frequent naps. I kept her in the goat shed, shutting the gate to keep the other chickens out. The goats couldn't get in either, but with nice weather they weren't any worse off for it.

Yesterday she ventured out again.

Buff Orpington chicken and Nubian goat
Chicken Little and Surprise

I couldn't keep her separate forever, so I just observed after letting the rest of the flock out to free range.

Letting the chickens out to free range
Chicken Little in the foreground. The rest of the flock about their business.

She already knows to stay out of their way, and there were no worse squabbles than usual.

We do talk about a chicken tractor with a mesh top to protect from hawks. We see other problems with that, so the jury is still out. Animal housing is at the top of our discussion list these days though, so we'll be making some decisions soon.

Chicken Little's Close Call © Sept. 2012 

24 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you were there to rescue Chicken Little. It will be interesting to hear if she has learned from this to take cover when the alarm sounds next time!

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  2. I lost a pullet several days ago, probably to an owl. The unfortunate soul had escaped the pen, and was outside of the "safe zone," and therefore fair game. I found her remains (a pile of feathers) yesterday. Since I've been awakened by coyotes 3 nights running, I've started locking the flock (turkeys and chickens) up at night. They are not amused...

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  3. We do the chicken tractor thing but we only have 6 hens. Our moveable pen has two layers of wire around it to beef up the pen because our problem is stray dogs.

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  4. FWIW, our poultry pasture is long and narrow, with trees down the middle, deer fence on one side and garden fence on the other: "chicken moat." In the most exposed area, near the duck pools, we have strung wires above head height back and forth, with old DVDs on them for flash. So far, so good.

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  5. Michelle, me too! I think chickens really do learn by experience, which makes Cowboy worth the false alarms.

    Laura, just read your recent post about this. So many things to have to protect our birds from. So far we don't have coyotes around here anymore, though there have been recent reports of sightings in more rural parts of the county. Hoping they don't show up here.

    Judy, we debate the chicken tractor, but there are cons as well as pros to us. Six hens sounds fairly manageable in a chicken tractor. I take it they aren't at each others throats?

    Risa, having brush cover seems to be a necessity. You're reminding me of our scarecrow, which seemed to work for hawks a couple of years ago. We hung old CDs on it's arms. We have one now for the deer, but I think I'd better move it close to the chickens for now.

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  6. WOW, a hawk actually on the ground, in the act! We have a lot of hawks here, too, and have gone all over the place mentally in terms of chicken housing. Right now, we are actually extending our attached run so the girls can get along better when we can't let them roam the yard. We are only letting them roam now (after a hawk run-in AND an escape artist chicken) if we are there with them, at this point (also working on a tractor). We only have 5 chickens, though!

    Long story short, though, I'm SO GLAD Chicken Little is okay!

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  7. Happy to hear that C.L. is doing well after the attack. We let our chickens free range (because we're too lazy/busy/broke/etc. to make a REAL chicken run) so expect to lose a few to predators each year. This year wasn't bad though, I think we only lost one to a raccoon. Although we have the daytime predators like hawks, coyotes and bobcats, our biggest problems are the nocturnal ones like the opossums & raccoons.

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  8. Predators seem to be driven by success. If they get a meal at a location then they are more likely to return to that area. Since this hawk was almost successful (s)he might be back. Hopefully Chicken Little learned her lesson and will listen when Cowboy sounds the alarm and take cover. it is also possible that Hawk writes your farm off as a bad job because (s)he didn't get the meal.
    I'm sure you're doing all you can to deter the hawks...and perhaps if your egg to chick production increases you'll be able to stay ahead of the game.

    Good luck!

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  9. I'm so happy Chicken Little is ok. We never had a problem with either owls or hawks when we had chickens and to this day I don't now why. Always something on the farm isn't it?

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  10. Hi Leigh! I have my five birds in a compound of three different wired structures that I move every day. The wire of choice is 1/2" hardware cloth. I keep them out there at night, so the diggers and anything less than a bear cannot get in.

    My observations in Spain were nothing short of mesmerizing. They run a grid of light gauge wire across any area where birds are unwanted. Think of a giant mesh. As long as you have trees and posts, you can make it pretty annoying for the attackers. Bird netting could work as well. Just make sure that the holes are not as big as the bird's wingspan. They have to see it and KNOW that they can't make it through. If you have stout trees you could run strands of heavier wire across which you could lay your bird netting--like a tent canopy. The airborne attackers will keep coming back until every chicken is gone. They know where the buffet is now. My hawk sits on top of my raspberry cage to see if the girls are going to come out.

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  11. This isn't my coop but it's similar. We live on land similar to yours and the coops on Backyardchickens.com are more urban really but constantly defending my birds from wild animals was to frustrating for me. I built one of these and will add a matching tractor next year as I introduce newer birds.

    http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/the-triple-c-the-crouches-chicken-coop

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  12. Our flock of eight hens are dear to us. We decided to let them free-range during the day which worked quite nicely for just three days. The hens know to hide when they see a hawk flying over.

    Then, after hearing a raucous outside Ken went out to see a coyote with a mouthful of feathers in its mouth run off when Ken threw a rock at it. We didn't know the coyotes would be out during daylight but I guess they were hungry!

    We were sad to make the decision to keep them inside their fenced run from now on. . . just don't want to chance loosing a single one.

    Life in the country is new to us . . . so much to learn!

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  13. Christie, they are so bold. I really, really, need to move my scarecrow (scaredeer) closer to the chickens.

    Carolyn, thanks. Seems like all predators love chicken. We have zillions of squirrels around, but do they go for those? No.

    Renee, fortunately this seems to be a problem only during hawk migration. And like you, I'm hoping Chicken Little learned a valuable lesson.

    Barb, that's so fortunate. We have other possible predators as well, stray dogs and opposums, but so far no loss from those.

    Barb, what a persistent hawk you have! I can't imagine where to find such netting as they use in Spain. Must be amazing to see, but flocks do have to be protected.

    Grish, thanks for the link. Lots of good photos to explain. We're going to have to build a new coop, and we're discussing different possibilities.

    Janice, coyotes, oh my. That would be tough. So far we've not seen one, though we have seen a possum and a fox. We know there are owls about too. So much to be concerned about.

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  14. We're on a migratory hawk route, too, and lose one or two chickens a year to them. We have too many chickens to keep in a run with a covered top. They are in a lovely, big pasture (which is fenced) and have secure in-house protection at night (we always lock them up at night) but during the day they are vulnerable. They have a thicket of dense trees and brush that they zoom for when a hawk alarm is sounded. The blue heron we have occasionally visiting our pond scares them to death . . . as you can well imagine. We hate to lose a hen, and especially little chicks, but I guess we all have to make choices on what works best for us.

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  15. The chickens are not at each others throats. Probably because they are all the same age and breed, the pen is 6' by 12' and it gets moved at least once a week for sanitation and the fresh greens. The down-sides for us are no rooster (hens with featherless back from too much rooster love) and you can not introduce a new hen if one goes to chicken heaven.

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  16. We live with the hawks all day and have never had them take a chicken down...however, we have the horrid eagles that have had their fill of our chickens. - The experience that you tell, reminds me of the falcons that we have, they come right down and do not leave when you try to scare them off. The other day one found it's way right into the run and the rooster was up on a roost with it..pecking at it to get if off. I grabbed a rake and ran into to the run but it got out by the time I got there. Some times I get weary of dealing with those nasty predators. I do hope Chicken Little will have no lingering affects. xo

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  17. Oh my goodness! That was a very close call for Chicken Little. Hopefully she will learn from this an run for her life when Cowboy sounds the alarm.

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  18. Glad CL made it. We picked a rooster this weekend we wanted one that would be sweet n gentle so the youngest son could still get inside our movable pen , we picked one that was in a pen of 7 roosters that was being picked on, he is about our ladies age. Well bless his heart our ladies have turned out to show us they are boast and pecking him. (?) Do you think that behavior Will end in a few days or is he just not for them? Ty for any advice, smiths

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  19. Aww poor little thing :( Glad to hear she seems to be ok!

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  20. Close call indeed!!! I pulled a cochin out of an owls talons as it was flying away with my chicken! lol Darn thing came back for more, so I whopped it with the broom! :)

    So happy you got out there when you did.... I fear you would have lost Chicken Little had you been a lil slower!

    Had to LOL at "Peter Panic"! We recently added a Buff roo & he's the same way.... Sounding the alarm if the wind changes directions while my main roo, Big Red, looks at him like he's an idiot.... Love chickens, so entertaining :)

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  21. Mama Pea, if I had a lot of chickens, one or two a year would be within "acceptable" loses I think, though I know we'd all rather not lose any. I wonder if those who've lost entire flocks don't have hawks for permanent next door neighbors. I put my scare crow back up, so we'll see how it goes this year. It' helps to have hawk savvy chickens.

    Judy, how many chickens do you have? I think it's tough to introduce a new hen under any circumstances, but certainly more problem in smaller quarters.

    Sherri, Dan watched a video of an eagle trying to snatch a goat. Couldn't manage and the goat was dropped off a cliff! So glad we don't have that to worry about. We do have falcons though, and they are indeed bold.

    MTS&M, too close! That hawk has apparently moved on, but it's that time of year, so hopefully the next alarm will send every chicken scrambling for cover.

    Smiths, good question. I do know that roosters aren't automatically at the top of the pecking order. They just have a different role. Having observed our first rooster with the top hen, I understand where the term "hen pecked" comes from. If your new roo is used to being on the bottom of the order, he may not stand up for himself, so to speak. OTOH, I've seen bottom order chickens fight for a higher spot with newcomers or broody hens being reintroduced to the flock. If he's truly a ladies man, he may put up with it until things settle down. I think only time will tell.

    Stephanie, it's a relief!

    Crystal, oh my! We hear owls at night, but as far as I know, have never had an owl attack. It is fortunate I showed up when I did. We've learned to check the panic out, just to be safe. Interesting to know that about your roosters, BTW, we love the Buffs, but man are they a noisy lot!

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  22. Oh my goodness! What an ordeal! We had hawks at The Compound this past weekend, circling above, but the Cotton Club stayed under some trees. I've noticed them the past couple of weekends too, so I'm thinking they are either waiting for their opportunity or possibly migrating like yours? Our chickens are never alone, we're out in the yard, or our dog is, but I know nothing is a guarantee. Poor Chicken Little..

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  23. We have a large chicken run...and it's covered because we also have owls, hawks, coyotes, dogs and foxes. We have had hawks perched on the fencing...scaring the bejeezus out of the chooks, but unable to get to them.

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  24. I just returned from being out of town and I'm catching up on some posts. I'm so glad Chicken Little is OK. What a scare! That rooster is worth his weight in gold! Good for him, protecting his flock that way. I hope all your chickens stay safe.

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