Sunday, March 11, 2007

Farm report 03/11/07

PRIME SUSPECT: Who Killed Henny-Penny?

You may recall that last Sunday's Farm Report was:

CSI: Robin's Wood, The case of the missing golden chicken

Our Buff Rock chicken, Henny-Penny, mysteriously disappeared; days later the grisly remains of her body were discovered under some bushes below a small fir tree.

There was a list of suspects. That list has been narrowed down to one prime suspect, a true villain who would strike terror in the hearts of chickens everywhere:

Our Prime Suspect: The Cooper's Hawk

We managed to figure this out, even without Helen Mirren's help. But how?

First we eliminated suspects from out investigation. The dogs had been locked up when the chicken went missing. The Trailertrash cats, who often act suspicious, are... cats. Acting suspicious is what cats do! They also prefer easier prey like rodents and small LBB's (little brown birds). They harass the smaller Bantam hens for fun, but have never actually attacked one. They pretty much ignore the larger Pullets like Henny-Penny. Too much work!

The fox had only been seen once, several weeks ago. There was no evidence to suggest he had been back, and I believed a fox would be more likely to strike at night (although I could be wrong about that).

Why the hawk then? Well, there was one detail I had left out of last weeks report. The day after the disappearence, I saw a hawk sitting in the branches of a tree at the edge of the yard the next morning. It flew away when I went outside to have a closer look.

The very next morning, the hawk was there again, in the same tree. It flew away again. It seemed too big a coincidence, coming right after the disappearance of the chicken.

My suspicions were confirmed, when the remains of the chicken were found several days later... very close to the tree the hawk had been sitting in.

I had originally counted out the hawk theory, because of what I thought I knew about hawks. When we first moved here 3 years ago, I saw a hawk attack and kill a Robin that was grazing on our lawn. It was a very noisy affair; he began eating it alive, right there on the lawn, while it flapped around in vain trying to escape. Other Robins dive-bombed at the hawk to try to drive it away, but the hawk was immovable.

I briefly considered rescuing the Robin, but decided not too, because:

1.) It was already badly injured by the hawk, and would probably die anyway.

2.) Hawks have to eat, too. This was nature's way, and I thought it best not to interfere.

Anyway, after witnessing that, I thought that's what a hawk attack was typically like. I was working outside most of the day the chicken disappeared, and I didn't hear anything. There was no shredded bird remains or feathers all over the lawn, like there was with the Robin. No fuss, no feathers. No hawk attack, I thought.

But seeing that hawk hanging out near where the body was found caused us to reconsider. I took a look at some mug shots from our books of suspects, a.k.a. "Field Guide to the Birds of North America" and "Birds of Oregon Field Guide". Those books had four suspects that could have been in the area.

One of them lived in our area year-round, and of the four it looked the most like the hawk I had seen. The clincher was reading bird's m.o., it's method of killing:

[...] known to ambush prey, it will fly into heavy brush or run on the ground in pursuit. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Up till now I had assumed a hawk would only attack from above and kill in an open space. But this changed everything. It showed that the hawk could have chased the chicken into the deep brush, and killed and eaten her there.

Further research on the internet also showed that one of the more common, popular names for the Cooper's hawk is "Chicken Hawk". Thus, we have our Prime Suspect... who is still at large.

Life goes on at Robin's wood. The daffodils are blooming; the hens are broody, as spring is in the air.

Henny-Penny's sister, Bunty, admiring the flowers

The days come and go as they always have for the fowl community at Robin's Wood, but there is one small difference now.

They do something now more than they used to do...

They watch the SKY...


Fits said...

Having had some acreage not too long ago, I found myself in a similar quandary with regards to attack from above. Both resident and migratory raptors would have their way with the yard-life, but a particularly nasty red tailed hawk drew my ire until something had to be done. Yes, they are denizens of the wild but this was my property and the owls were bad enough so I followed the advice of a cantankerous old timer and after felling the bird, strung it up fairly high in one of the trees as a sign such goings on would no longer be tolerated.

Joubert said...

Fits, it's illegal to kill chicken-hawks (or any raptors) around these parts.

Anonymous said...

Don't know about the bird problem -Open space problems allude me here in town! Last time I got to enjoy such wonder on any level were times in Canada. Just wanted to compliment you on the wonderful group of photos!

Chas said...

Glad you liked the photos, Chrys. I never get bored with life on the farm, it's a true joy.

Anonymous said...

We live in an urban area but have three chickens that roam our 3/4 acre yard. Last week my grandson found our "Golden Girl" Americana chicken in her laying box panting heavily and without any of her tail feathers.As he said, "Grandma, she looks like a zombie."
From the trail of feathers, she was attacked outside her pen. Then she ran into the pen with the predator chasing her and the feather trail showed she was attacked in two corners of the pen. How she managed to fly up into her laying box, I don't know. We discounted dogs, cats, and raccoons. But we didn't think of the hawk until reading this post-suspect now identified.
Golden Girls lives-although she now looks like a different species without her tail. It's slowly growing back!

Chas said...

She was lucky to get away. The worst thing about the Cooper's hawk is they often chase the chickens into wherever they run to hide.

I've read that Guinea fowls protect chickens from hawks. I've got three Guineas, they often screech warnings about hawks, but the chickens are too spread out on my farm to be protected by them. The golden girls particularly seem to wander off by themselves a lot. I've lost two of them to hawks.

Anonymous said...

I live on the southern fringe of a large city. I have approx 2 acres of land that my chickens free range in, and I have dealt with the "hawk plague" each and every year.

However, a strange phenomena has occurred as I have continued to raise my Bantam chickens. I have unknowingly bred a Rooster who can anticipate a hawk in the area; has taught the hens and chicks to run for cover, and since he has been the "Ruler of the Roost", there have been dozens of hawks, but no fatalities.

Does anyone have an answer for this? My Wonder-Roo is about 4th generation here, and he does not act like any other domesticated poultry I have ever come into contact with (and my Dad was a commercial poultry farmer w/25,000 birds raised to produce fertile eggs for incubation).

For instance, if I scatter treats such as bread crumbs about, Mr. Wonder-Roo will snatch up a large bit, break it apart and drop it again to feed to hens and chicks. He actually acts like a hen when she is teaching her babies to eat. Is this in any way normal behaviour for a rooster? Or perhaps a seasoned rooster in the wild? My chickens are all free range, and this little Banty Roo is the Teacher and Protector of all hatchlings. What's up with this? Any thoughts?

Chas said...


My chickens are free range, and I have five roosters presently. They all watch for hawks, and call out a warning sound if they see one.

I've seen roosters break up food but not eat it, encouraging the hens to eat. They will call the hens over too when they find some food. A good rooster will look after the females and babies in every way.

It could be that after being free-range for a few generations, they learn to be more attuned to their environment, and better at doing what comes naturally.

Sounds like you have a highly effective rooster, a real keeper.

Anonymous said...

I googled hawks attacking chickens and this posting came up. I learned some interesting things reading what everyone had to say.

My poor chickens started missing one by one. We were not to sure what was getting them. Then Saturday, I let them out of the coop but, kept a close eye on them all day. I went outside to check on my chicks and 5 hawks were flying around my chickens. I ran to the house and yelled for my husband to come out. I was yelling and waving my arms up in the air, but, the hawks continued flying lower. I started running the hens into the coop as my husband went and grabbed his BB gun and shot up at the hawks. They finally decided to leave.

These hawks were aggressive and we did not frighten them. We put a lot of time and money into our chickens, so the only way we can protect them is to fence them into a large area. We have 10 acres so that won’t be a problem. We can't be around all the time to watch over our hens and the hawks are feasting on our chickens daily. Not to mention we have other critters as well.

We had a large rooster and they got him, he was a great protector, but when several hawks come in they have no chance. Everyone has to take their own steps to keep their animals safe and it all depends were you live and what wild life is around.

Anonymous said...

hi i live one hour from the city(Glenfield) i have two chickens and today when i came back from school the chicken which was around 3 moths old was gone. all that i could find was two feathers in the garden. My neighbors have quite a few cats, so im assuming that the cats dragged my chicken and then ate it =O

Anonymous said...

and i live in NSW Australia =D

Anonymous said...

I did a search for "will hawks attack a chicken" and found your unfortunate posting. Thanks for sharing. I have two ladyhens, and have been debating how safe it is to let them free-roam our San Francisco backyard. We have hawks in our neighborhood, so it's been decided that the chicks will stay safely in their coop!

Chas said...

You could probably let them out when you are out in the yard with them, but I wouldn't leave them unsupervised.

Our hawk problem seems to be solved by adding a large Americana rooster. When I hawk comes by, the hens hide, while the rooster stands in the middle of the yard and glares at the hawk, till it moves on. He's been doing this for about a year now, and there has been no more attacks.

Unfortunately, a large rooster is probably not a practical option in the city. But if your yard isn't too large, you may be able to chase the hens back in the coup when you want to go back inside.