At least, the first one of which I am aware.
We free range the girls pretty much all day, from sun up to 3pm. This has huge benefits, but it comes with serious dangers. During the day, one worries less about foxes, raccoons, weasels and possums, and more about neighbourhood dogs and…hawks.
It’s hard for me to imagine, but a hawk, even a smaller one, can swoop down, sink its talons in a fully-grown hen and fly away. And if it can’t, it can kill it and eat it while on the ground. I have lived in fear of hawks ever since the girls started free ranging.
I have been consoling myself with the number of crows we have locally. Crows and hawks compete for territory, so fostering crows is one defense against hawks. But spring and fall are migration times, and territory agreements are often disregarded.
I went out at 2pm, an hour before lock up, and saw a swoosh of something big out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t get a good look, but I’d say it had a 3-foot wingspan, was white underneath, with beige/buff feathers on top of the wings. No idea what it was, but it sure wasn’t a crow. I saw it make a low pass over the woods that house the fox hole.
We discovered the fox hole the day after Hurricane Irene, when a hungry, flooded-out fox returned to her winter nest (in our woods) to find dinner. Unfortunately, she found Angelina.
Angelina was our first (and, so far, only) loss, and it was devastating. But, one good thing came of it. We discovered the fox hole before a momma fox moved in there in early winter and had baby kits. Baby kits who would be VERY hungry come spring.
I polled the good people at the Backyard Chickens Forum to ask what I could do to deter the fox from returning to her winter nest. I got everything from filling the hole with concrete (tempting!), to throwing ammonia-soaked tennis balls into the hole (creative!), but finally settled on filling the hole entrance with as much Great Dane poo as I could muster. And with our new Great Dane brought home Labour Day, I mustered, and continue to muster, plenty.
It’s early going, but so far, so good. We really need to deter foxes from residing in those woods, because it’s one of the chickens’ favourite hideouts. (I’m coming back to the hawk, I promise.) The Man expressed concern about their playing in Fox Woods, and it makes me nervous, too. That’s where Angelina was dragged off to, and finished off. But, foxes generally don’t hunt during the day, unless they’re desperate or have small babies (which, as any mother can tell you, is redundant.)
Now that the leaves are off all our trees, the woods, with their close network of bare limbs, are one of the safest places the chickens can be, hawk-wise. It was over Fox Woods (Why do I want to type “Tiger Woods”?) that I saw today’s hawk swoop. Ack!!!
I ran over to the edge of the wood and began a frenzied roll call. “ChickchickchickchickCHICK!!!”. I saw five of them, three white, one blond, one black, huddled down in the leaves at the edge of the wood. They’d seen the hawk, too, and were in full HIDE mode. Where were the other five?!
A red hen popped her head out from the front barn doors, followed by another red, a blond, and a black. Six, seven, eight, nine…. and Maisie’s in The Annex laying! TEN. My heart began to beat normally.
It was only 2pm, an hour to lock down, but they were going back in the run NOW. I ran back to the house for a piece of bread. There is nothing my girls won’t do for a piece of bread, even when shaken, as they clearly were. Abby, in particular, was unusually flighty.
I’m not sure yet if today’s events will alter the freedom I give the girls. Yes, it was a close call. But, who’s to say this hasn’t happened multiple times before, and I just wasn’t there to witness it? My girls handled themselves well, and keeping the barn doors open a foot is clearly a good strategy, predator-wise.
It’s hard to say how you’ll react once there is a real loss, but, for now, I’m holding to my belief that the benefits outweigh the dangers.