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.


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!

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?

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.

12/13/2009 7:49:53 PM

Except for hawks, the only predator problems I've had occurred this fall, when I was gone and my husband forgot to close the chicken house one night. I lost 3 chicks to an opossum that night. How do I know it was an opossum? Because I SAW it in the act when I came home late, realized the coop was open, and I went to close it. I'm happy to say that I strung vinyl clothesline (yes, PLASTIC) this fall and so far it is working better than fishing line. It is more visible), and since it has a bigger diameter I don't have to worry about it breaking and the chickens or other birds getting tangled in it. You make a lot of assumptions, Mike. You assume that no one who has hawk problems is actually identifying the predator correctly. You assume that no one is taking proper steps, like having a secure coop and closing it at dusk. You assume that you are the only person who knows how to take care of your animals. In fact, I (and I'm sure many others) have SEEN the hawk attacks on our flocks. It's not that chickens are just disappearing and we say "It must be a hawk". I have a 10x12 chicken house that I close every night at dusk so that I don't have problems with land-based predators. My chickens are in a large but fenced yard and I don't have problems with dogs or coyotes during the day. I also find it interesting that you are espousing so much knowledge of chicken care when, it seems, you don't even keep chickens

12/13/2009 7:36:24 PM

Good grief, Vegetarian Mike! You either lack some common sense or decent reading skills. You claim that "It's ironic that you would click on this web site to get information and advice on how to protect your chickens, "then read how the fishing line doesn't work well, "then do it anyway, "then find out that what you read was true, "then do the same thing again, and tell everyone how good it works!......" Actually, I said nothing of the sort. I first read this article in an old issue of MEN I bought used in 2006 and began using the method in December 2006 when I witnessed the first hawk attack on my flock. If you check the comments here, you'll see the FIRST comment was posted in August 2008 - almost 2 years after I started using the fishing line. I didn't "read how the fishing line doesn't work well" and "then do it anyway". You then say, ""Come on Laura, your almost there, drop the vinyl idea and just get a roll of light gage wire at any building material place." I have used light gauge wire in other outdoor applications and it RUSTS very quickly, breaks apart into pieces, and poses a hazard to animals and humans alike. This is not a bright idea to use around chickens, Mike. "If you have a lot of chickens running around in a open 30'ft.x 125'ft. yard, you may be finding a lot of dead or missing chickens." Actually, it is very rare for me to lose a chicken. The only time I have problems is in the winter, when I see HAWKS attacking my flock and I don't have the lines up >>

vegetarian mike
9/19/2009 9:03:29 PM

Laura page 2 "And it adds to the missconception that if your missing chickens in your neighborhood, it must be the Chicken Hawk! It sound as though you have a open coop with a free range yard, and there isn't much you can do to protect your chickens anyway, because most kills won't be from a Hawk, but from other preditors, coyotes, cats, and coons...... If you have a few hens and a rooster you should be able to cover them 24/7 in an enclosure fairly inexpensive. If you have a lot of chickens you have a business and enclose them.... If you have a lot of chickens running around in a open 30'ft.x 125'ft. yard, you may be finding a lot of dead or missing chickens, the kill happens usually at dawn, dusk, or at night. You should at least close coop at these times. It also helps to have a good outside home dog! I resue unwanted rabbits, and work with the Human Society to save their lives. There is only one way to insure the safety of your critters outside 24/7,........ You have to completely enclose them 24/7....... I have just finished a new completely enclosed 24'ft.x24'ft. pen for under $200., using the material i've already described, and I did it in a day..... My rabbits are my pets, $200. is money well spent......... If you do not value your critters enough to protect them, you are probably eating them anyway so your opinion on how to protect them means very little...... If your budget is limited to $5. dollars worth of fishing line, maybe you better buy your eggs and chicken at Safeway!.......

vegetarian mike
9/19/2009 8:56:37 PM

HAWKS DON'T KILL CHICKENS, "GIRL'S DO "FISHING LINE" ..........MAYBE IT IS A GIRL THING! Laura, comments about the "Fishing Line protection method, to save her chickens! "She loved it for 2 years, but not anymore, because Laura has found that the plastic fishing line rots away in a short period of time and offers no protection!............. "So she's decided to change to "Vinyl Cloths Line!......... "Laura, vinyl is plastic!...... "If the cloths line doesn't work she said, then she'll try "Vinyl Coated Wire Cloths Line!........ "Come on Laura, your almost there, drop the vinyl idea and just get a roll of light gage wire at any building material place. You can get hundreds of feet, at a lot better price then you will cloths line, and it will last for years. However any wire you do get will be pointless for protecting your chickens if you are weaving the material 6'ft. to 8'ft. apart!....... A "Hawk sights a target with claws out moves straight for the "Nail...... This web site speaks to "How to Foil the Chicken Hawk"....... Not to "How to Entangle the It"..... The Hawk has very keen eyesight, but only sees in black & white. The idea you would use a near transparent fishing line can't be a good idea...... So if you insist on using a line thing, at least flag the line with random material ties, to prevent injury to the Hawk. It's ironic that you would click on this web site to get information and advice on how to protect your chickens, "then read how the fishing line doesn't work well, "then do it anyway, "then find out that what you read was true, "then do the same thing again, and tell everyone how good it works!....... "Your miss information serves no useful purpose. It doesn't help those who are looking for useful information. "And it adds to the missconception that if your missing

vegetarian mike
9/19/2009 8:49:23 PM

A.Jenson,..... You state that you had a hawk killing your hens daily, because of a hole left by a falling branch!......... Why didn't you fix the hole in the pen the first day? Most likely it was the coons coming in nightly, for the feast, and you just caught a random Hawk looking to scavenge. If your chickens looked like they were all tore up and slaughtered, it was the coons. A Hawk wouldn't kill 7 chickens and let them lay slaughtered. They would kill one at a time and feast on the carcase. I'd also be suprised to see a Hawk squeeze through a small hole to get at anything...... Sorry about your chickens, but, it sounds like you could have patch the hole, instead of the trap thing, start the truck exhaust thing, Pointless revenge to maybe the innocent thing.... None the less, thanks for the helpful advice.... I hear the sound of truck engines starting, and fluttering wings of the Hawk flying away as we speak!

a. jensen
9/18/2009 8:49:50 PM

Recently I had a hawk killing my hens daily. I enclosed them in a "covered" run. When I went out later there were 7 dead hens in the "covered" run. A branch had fallen at some time and left a fairly small opening along the top of the wire. As I was looking at the devastation, the hawk landed at the opening. I went and got my "Have a Heart" racoon trap and put the warmest chicken in it. I went and did a bit if work and when I returned about 30 minutes later the hawk was in the trap. It has bashed its head pretty badly on the cage so I introduced it to the exhaust pipe on my truck. End of hawk problem. I know - not very nice. I have a similar story about the mink that slashed about 10 hen throats one night. That's all (then Same cage - same exhaust pipe). Minks belong on clothing - not in my chicken coop. :)

9/10/2009 6:55:25 PM

I have used this method successfully for two winters in a row (I generally only have hawk problems in the winter). I have found that it is not necessary to cover the entire chicken yard - I cover only about two thirds of the yard (due to its layout) and it works just as well. I space the lines 6-8 feet apart. I have not wanted to spend the big $$ on tall posts to string the lines, so I just tie them to the top of my wire fence and leave an unobstructed walkway to access the coop. I agree that fishing line is not the best choice for the reasons already mentioned. This year I'm going to try vinyl clothesline instead. I hope that it will hold up better. If not, I will probably try vinyl-coated wire clothesline. The major advantage of this method is the COST, besides the fact that it WORKS. While it would be nice to cover my chicken yard with wire, it is cost prohibitive. My chicken yard is approximately 125' x 30'. Care to do the math and see how much it would cost to cover it with wire fencing? Add on top of that the cost of support posts and the time spent installing it, and it seems pretty clear to me which method is the winner in my situation.

vegetarian mike
9/5/2009 9:15:41 PM

"FOLKS IT'S NOT ALWAYS THE CHICKEN HAWK THAT KILLS" It's clear that most of the comments on this board are out dated...... You hope that the folks that have had the problems, have now found a solution. And that although the comments may be outdated. the information is still good to those who would visit or re-visit. From the "City to the "Country there are "Predators ready to attack their pray.... The Hawk kills only to eat, and takes generally small thing it can carry off. Not just chickens. In fact the Hawk main diet is mostly other small creature, because most people protect their chickens. They eat roddents, squirrels, ground hogs, and your chiwawa dog. Did you know that Crows will chase off Hawks. They'll circle him and keep squawking at him until he leaves a perch then keep chasing, squawking him off for miles. Of course the Hawk isn't afraid, he just hates the squawking. If you find one of your critters dead, torn apart but not really eaten. It's probably a dog or a Racoon, they both can kill for fun. Yes that cute little Racoon, can be a vicious mean thing that will kill your cats, chickens, and dogs, and do it for fun. Domestic animals who run into a coon learn fast, if they live. Don't leave food out like cat food you don't want them around. And they live all over the country and the city..... You have to have protective cover over your critters, thats the only way for sure. I keep Rabbits and have giant Pens I make cheap. Read my 11-7-08 post. And when you can't cover. Try censer activated water spinklers. They work for cats in yards, Deer, coyote, ect. But not much for the Hawk as they dive..... Vegetarian Mike

vegetarian mike
9/5/2009 7:32:27 PM

Mother Earth News, is an informational guide to living wisely. Note key word "wisely, with Mother nature.... Take the information shared by readers and writers. Use the good stuff, and learn what doesn't work well... But please pay attention. The lives of the very creatures your trying to help is at stake, and to kill one for the sake of another is pointless... Nadine Ross writes, She couldn't kill the Hawk because it was a beautiful majestic creature. She goes on to instruct a how to fishing line protection barrier, then states the sun light eventually destroys the line, it falls and the chicks get caught in it, so remove the line when no longer needed...."How can this be a good idea? A. The chicken Hawk never leaves for good. B. The now entangled chicks not only become injured, but a smorgasbord, not to mention probable also eating the plastic..... Mary Parson comments, She tried to kill the Hawk who was after her pullets but didn't. Not because she shouldn't, but because her shot gun safety was on when she pulled the trigger, it appeared to be an after thought. Now that's the kind of woman you want running around with a shot gun. And Mary, the shot gun is sure to kill your pullets as well. Mary thought the fishing line was a good idea!.... Faith comments, She was looking for a good solution, and loves the idea, she blogs about it on her web site. But whats so perplexing is she live on a farm full of fencing, chicken wire and stuff to make a good cover, and she thinks a plastic fishing line sounds like a good idea? IS THIS A GIRL THING?...No, Marsha comments, she is having some problems with the Hawk, but not with her chicken coops because she has wire over it.... Hello Mary and Faith to mother Earth.... Marsha and Vegetarian Mike both speak to the success of wire fencing. And if your still Hell bent on going back and forth with line, "Try a roll of wire its permanent.. Vegetarian Mike

5/4/2009 6:15:40 PM

I loved this idea! I was searching this morning for a solution and we went out and constructed the cover the same day. I hope it works. I did see a hawk fly away, and I'm pretty sure he looked disappointed. :) If you'd like to see pictures you can go to our blog. Thanks for the great idea. Faith

mary pearson_2
11/30/2008 8:32:16 PM

i caught a chicken hawk with one of my young pullets and i was very upset to say the least. I ran in the house got my sons 4-10 shot gun ran back outside aim pulled trigger and in my excidment i didn't take the safty off. Thank god, i am going to try some other solution. the fishing line sounds good.

vegetarian mike
11/7/2008 9:14:19 PM

NW,Salem,Oregon,...Home of the Coopers and Sharp-Shine Hawk. Actually,there all through this valley from Portland to Medford. Never seen a red tail yet. The Hawk is a predator of small animals, not just poultry. Especially easy targets. Like smorgasbords in a pen.I rescue Oryctolagus cuniculus, (Rabbits), domestic and wild. I build large Pens 12ftx24ft for free roaming (neutered bucks). I build 2 12'x24' pens next to each other, one wall separates 2 pens, easy, saves material. Take 6ft green fence post, fence 12'x24'pens with cheep 4'wire fence, frame down center with two 2x4x8ft post one 2x4x16ft header peak for roof, take the same 4ft wire fence material for roof over the frame, I also throw tarps over some areas for shade and rain. I can easily walk around to service the feeders. Like Nadine Ross Said, majestic and just to beautiful kill. Their just trying to eat. So just make sure its easier for them to eat somewhere else. Love and respect all life and you'll feel better about yourself. Vegetarian Mike said that loud folks!

9/26/2008 3:54:59 PM

This past week one of our guineas--the only male--was killed by a hawk while we were gone. They have plenty of cover out there, including a coop, and the dog was right there with them, but it still got it. I think he must have been protecting the flock, which includes female guineas, Silkie chickens, a pheasant and a duck. It was surprising that it killed what I would have thought to be the strongest bird. I can't stand the thought of leaving them out there to it, so they've been cooped up the past few days when we are not there, til we can implement some kind of solution. I was in favor of shooting the hawk too--good thing my husband is less emotional than I am! Currently we are leaning to providing them open hoop-house type shelter, to provide a large enough space for while we are gone during the day. Still, scaring off the hawk would be much preferable...I am so upset to have our little peaceful avian community disrupted by this.

8/27/2008 2:16:20 PM

Just this morning I had a run in with a chicken hawk. My chicken coop has wire over the top, so I wasn't terribly worried about the chickens. However, I think the hawk was eyeing my guineas and actually tried to pick one up and carry it off, even though it was sizeably larger. I let me dog loose to scare of the hawk and got my boyfriends gun out, not realizing that they were an endangered species. They are beautiful creatures, but I need to protect my guineas because I fear their eventual demise when my boyfriend and I are at work. Any suggestions as to how I may scare it off permanently without harming it?

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