Yesterday a local backyard flock owner contacted me because a “big, grey bird” (probably an osprey or a peregrine falcon) had attacked her flock. Although it didn’t get a chicken, she saw feathers “all over the place.”
Naturally she and the hens were shook up.
When your flock is attacked by a hawk, the first steps you need to take are:
Ensure the safety of your flock. That hawk has just discovered an outdoor buffet. You need to get all of your chickens in a secure location (make sure they have access to food and water) and leave them there for a few days.
If there are feathers, then there might be injuries- typically to the back of the chickens as a result of strong talons trying to grab its prey. You’ll need to carefully inspect each chicken to make sure there are no open wounds. If there are relatively minor wounds a little antibiotic ointment is called for. If there are any deep wounds, then the chicken needs to go into chick ICU (use that dog crate I talk so much about.) Clean and dress the wound. Make sure it is healed before you -introduce the chicken into the flock. (Remember that chickens will peck at anything that’s red, which is why a deep wound needs to be healed before other chickens come near.)
It’s been my experience that chickens suffer a sort of chicken-PTSD after predator attacks. They might seem a little off, confused or extremely timid. Just be aware of this and be prepared if it happens. The best way to treat this is to keep to a schedule, talk to the chickens in your normal voice, and keep them protected.
It’s also been my experience that when the flock is attacked, you might find some chickens dead the *next* day. Modern domestic chickens are bred to ensure good egg production; sometimes this breeding can result in weakened systems. What may be happening here (and I’ve heard this story so many times that I don’t doubt it) is that the chicken is literally scared to death and has a heart-attack during the night. Nothing you can do about it, other than to be aware.
Once you’ve secured your flock you can try to work on eliminating the hawk problem:
Know what your flock’s “alert” song is. When you hear all of the birds frantically squawking at once, that means that danger is near. When I hear this cry, I grab a long stick that I keep by my backdoor to scare away any predators when I go out to investigate.
Make sure your flock has plenty of areas under which they can hide (bushes, tables, even tents) if they sense a hawk is near.
Have hawk deterrents in your yard. Spinners, things that sparkle, a scarecrow, anything that will suggest human movement to the predator will help.
Consider overhead netting to protect your flock. This is a bit of a pain because (especially in New England) you’ll soon have a ton of leaves in your netting (and sometimes non-predator birds) but at least it will keep your chickens safe.
I’ve said it before, and (no doubt) I’ll say it again, if you are going to allow your chickens to free range then you are going to lose some. The best you can do is to take preemptive steps in the hope that that you can scare those bad boys off to some other area.
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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