Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Party's Over

We dodged a bullet today! A bullet with a four foot wingspan and a red tail! The chickens were in the backyard as usual, enjoying roaming the entire area. David was sitting out there relaxing, just watching them peck and scratch. I was at the computer ordering some pajamas for my Aunt Marie's upcoming 90th birthday, per her request, via my sister Judy. Then I heard the most god-awful, blood-curdling screeching coming from the chickens! I looked out the window just in time to see a red-tailed hawk with talons out-stretched, ascending into the sky. I raced outside to see which one it got, David racing from the other direction. My heart was pounding so hard, I thought I would have a heart attack. The chickens had scattered in two different directions and David said the hawk had got hold of Henry, but didn't get away with him. There were feathers all over the place and we looked for blood, but didn't find any. Poor Henry and Henrietta were hiding under the large Colorado blue spruce and the rest of the flock was under David's truck which was parked in the backyard driveway to the barn. Getting down on my hands and knees, I crawled as close to Henry as he would let me to try and ascertain whether there was any damage. He was panting, but seemed to be okay. I managed to shoo the others under the same tree, feeling that it would be safer under there.

The poor chickens were scared to death. The sounds they were making weren't like any I had heard from them before. Very soft little trills to each other, maybe taking inventory, to see if all had escaped and were okay? I immediately sent David to Tractor Supply to buy some deer netting to place over their run. No way was I going to allow them to be out there another day without protection.

While David was gone, I started the process of moving the flock to the coop which is probably seventy-five yards from the tree where they were hiding. I caught and carried thirteen of them one at a time and placed them into the run. As I was carrying Henry, I did a quick assessment and found nothing wrong except for a lot of missing tail feathers. They went directly inside the coop without further coaxing from me. The last three were the hardest to catch. They kept moving away from me to the other side of the tree. Finally, out of desperation, I got a broom out of the garage and shooed them out and back to the coop. Of course, they wanted to hide in the woods on the way, so it wasn't an easy task. My arms are covered in scratches from the tree. You know how prickly blue spruces are.

Where did we go wrong? In a previous post, I declared that our backyard was perfect for free-ranging. Obviously, I will have to retract that statement. It is almost perfect. Unfortunately, no matter how much ground cover you may have, there are going to be times when the chickens are exposed to predators' eyes and hawks can be very patient. The area where the attack happened was fairly well-covered, but the hawk apparently had been lurking in the trees above and precisely timed its dive. I had become very complacent in my thinking. Now, I will be thinking more like a hawk and less like a stupid human. No more free-ranging at will all day long, even on days when I'm away from home. They will stay in their covered run during the day and will be let out for an hour or two in the evening with supervision. They won't be very happy about this arrangement. They love their freedom! This means that I will have to be more creative in finding things to keep them occupied while in the run. Any suggestions from readers would be most welcome. We have tons of dead leaves, so I will scoop a few shovels of those every morning to help keep them busy.

I still shudder when I picture in my mind the very close call we had. In fact, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night. I think I will sleep better tonight, knowing that none of the chickens will be a hawk's dinner!

The scene of the attack

The hiding place

Henry's okay, just a few missing tail feathers

Chickens in the run with new deer netting in place


Laurie Kruczek said...

WOW close call! That would flip me out, for sure! I'm glad you got the deer netting for them. They may not be so upset about not free ranging, as they may feel safer now, you never know.

Where I live, we have LOTS of red-tailed hawks, golden and bald eagles, owls, coyotes, snakes, racoons, skunks, wild dogs, etc. I have always enclosed them in runs because of it. Luckily they don't know any different, and when they accidently get out of the coop, they turn around and jump right back in!

I hope you have piece of mind knowing they are a little safer. Sounds like a really scary time for them and for you.

Susan said...

Laurie, I definitely feel safer with them penned up most of the time. I figure if I let them out right before roosting time, it will be easy to get them back into the run with a little cracked corn and a "Here, chick, chick" as that is what they're used to at that time anyway. And anyway, since I'm the boss of this here outfit, what I say goes! They don't get any "chooses" as my niece used to say!

Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

I've counted 6 raptor species in our back yard and I know I'm going to have to place netting over their run come fall. I have a roll of it waiting, I'm just putting it off until later in the season when I can see raptors regularly. Right now, they are busy finishing raising their young. Come fall it will be a different story when it's each hawk to himself!

Spruce trees are wonderful cover for chickens. Their dense, prickly branches give them an advantage when a hawk comes after them.

It seems that every creature on the planet loves chicken. I've come to accept that I may lose some of my birds to raptors. It's the risk I take by letting my birds free range most of the day.

Farm Chick Paula said...

Hello Susan- I came over here from Amy's blog!
I'm sorry about your scare, but glad everybody is okay...
Unfortunately, there is no perfect place to free range your flock- my Dad had a coop like yours underneath some trees, and he started noticing his hens disappearing one by one... one morning before daybreak he snuck out to the henhouse and caught the culprit- a hawk was perched on a branch waiting for the chickens to come outside in the morning! I think your netting is a smart move- I keep my coop tops covered, too.
You have a great blog!