Foiling Chicken Hawks

The author found a simple but effective barrier method to prevent chicken hawks from picking off and eating her young chickens.

| May/June 1980

  • 063 chicken hawk
    Although you might be angry enough to try anything, hand-to-hand combat isn't necessary if you're trying to stop chicken haws from making off with your birds.
    ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFf

  • 063 chicken hawk

Every year, I hatch about 50 chickens inside a simple cardboard-box incubator (equipped with a light bulb and thermometer). After the biddies are born, I keep them in the kitchen for a while, putting the box in the yard for a few hours on sunny days to let them get used to the outside.

When the little critters are about two weeks old, I transfer them to a fenced-off corner of the chicken pen, and they spend another couple of weeks there until the older fowl are accustomed to having them around.

The Attack

Some years back—at a time shortly after my young flock had been moved to outdoor quarters—I discovered I was losing one or two tiny fledglings a day . . . and it didn't take me long to find out why. The problem was hawks . . . "wings of death" with tremendous appetites for baby-chicken dinners.

If I stayed out in the yard, the wily predators would just circle overhead, watching . . . or they'd "hide" in the top of a tall pine tree and wait for me to go back inside. Since I couldn't stand guard all day, it soon became a contest to see who could outsmart whom . . . and I kept coming up the loser.

Before long, 16 of my brood had succumbed to the swift birds of prey, and the same thing was happening to my neighbors' flocks. We were all becoming pretty angry and frustrated, and—even though it's against the law to shoot a hawk—some folks began to talk about getting out the of shotgun.

The Confrontation

The crisis came to a head one afternoon when I walked out the back door just in time to startle a hawk into dropping the piece of yellow fluff it had, that instant, grabbed. I picked the poor victim up but, of course, it was already dead. (Hawks hit mighty hard when they swoop down on their prey.) Holding the limp little form—still soft and warm—made my temper boil!

I looked up and spotted the villain sitting perfectly still in the top of the tall pine near the chicken pen, and I thought, "To heck with that blasted law, I'm going to protect what's left of my chicks!"

I went into the house for my .22 rifle . . . brought it out and put it up to my shoulder . . . and got the hawk in my scope. Suddenly, I was face to face with my enemy, and I was stunned: The bird was a truly majestic and beautiful creature ... and I knew I couldn't kill it.

When the hawk finally flew away, I just stood there feeling helpless. There was no doubt it'd soon be back.



The Solution

The very next day — while I was changing the line on one of my fishing reels — I got an idea that I figured just might convince the hawks to start catching field mice instead of my future egg-layers.

The stakes around my chicken pen, made from mill trimmings, are a foot or so higher than my head. I tied the old fishing line around the tops of the posts, and crossed it back and forth until I had lines — about a foot apart — stretched over the entire area. The whole job took me less than 30 minutes.

Then I sat out on the porch steps and watched my magnificent adversary soar high in the sky, make a few circles over the chicken yard . . . and fly out of sight. It was hard to believe a bird could see the nearly invisible monofilament line from that distance, but apparently the hawk did!

That was 10 years ago, and I've never lost another chick to a hawk! The fantastic birds are just too smart to fly into a place they know they might not be able to get out of in a hurry. (Just one word of caution: As soon as the line's no longer needed, it should be removed. Otherwise, it'll rot in the sunshine, break and fall into the pen, snare any chicken that wanders into it . . . and you'll have the task of freeing a squawking, flapping hen from yards of tangled-up line.)

My father refers to my anti-hawk technique as "chicken-pen cobwebs" . . . and says he wishes he'd thought of it years ago!

RhondaXYZ
9/27/2013 11:40:48 PM

Mike may be making broad and incorrect assumptions, but he is correct about crows harassing hawks. Crows HATE hawks and take turns continually thumping the big birds on the back in flight. I actually witnessed a hawk come down on the back of my hen and a crow flew down, and hit the hawk on the back, allowing my hen to escape! They claim one way to attract crows is to aim a light up into trees. Sometimes we forget that chickens need lots of protection, particularly in wide open spaces. They like bushes, trees, and anything they can duck under. What we accidentally tend to do is give a hawk a nice tree as a lookout point, and our chickens a wide open yard, which lets the big guy have the advantage. I like the wide netting idea.


Sarah Farrar
5/7/2012 2:30:04 AM

Hawks have been brazenly picking off my free range chickens at about one per day for several weeks.Does anyone know of a *system* or set up that would involve using the cries or sounds of an owl that I could use to scare off the hawks? I understand that owls are a serious predator for hawks and I think that might help.Ideas?


Stormy_5
6/18/2010 11:38:49 AM

I want to thank you for this article.... I lost my rooster 2 weekends ago to a Hawk, yes ugh it was terrible my chicks now will not come out of their coop. All were free range chickens and every day 3 - 4 hawks in the middle of the day fly close over head. I see them coming their shadows are massive, usually I notice the shadow before I notice the actual hawk over head. I do not have a small enclosed area for them other than their coop which is an old storage building. I open the door every day hoping they will come out and get some sun. According to some things I have read in order for them to lay good fresh eggs they need a certain amount of sun per day. You have given me an idea though that may help me.... Some people have portable chicken coop tractors. So I was thinking what about just a portable over head where the chickens can still be in the sun yet have the clear fish line coverage where ever they are scratching. Usually my chicks stay in the same area moving slowly over the land they spend a hour or 2 in 1 place before moving on. Not many people have the time to do this I am sure but I am a stay at home mom all I have is time. That is why I chose to raise chickens in the first place. When my chickens decide they are ready to come out I will have something created for them so they can free range again without having to worry about the crazy hungry hawk.







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