Stephen Kahn

Big Mama, a sturdy hen, survives a chicken hawk attack

In Good news on February 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm

My wife was away at her volunteer work at the Senior Center. I was in the kitchen puttering on the computer. Suddenly, I heard a loud commotion from the chicken yard. Looking out the window, I saw feathers flying. I ran out the door and down the steps toward the chicken yard. As I neared, I caught a glimpse of a bird flying out of the chicken yard. Not a chicken; probably a chicken hawk.

As I got down to the chicken run I saw feathers everywhere. I looked inside the coop. I saw a hen cowering under a nesting box. I saw two hens dashing toward the ferns. One was missing feathers and I caught a glimpse of a bare patch on her back. They hid themselves in the ferns, their favorite hiding spot.

I called my wife. She asked me to catch the hen and inspect her for injury. I returned to the chicken run. To lure the hens out where I could see them, I scattered some oats (their favorite “chicken candy”). Two hens came out and started pecking the oats. I could not find the injured hen; she was hiding so well, it took me an hour to finally locate her. Eventually, she came out from wherever she had been concealed. I realized the hen who had been attacked was Big Mama. Although my wife will not admit to playing favorites, Big Mama is her most beloved hen. Big Mama has a big patch of bare skin where the hawk had attacked her, but I saw no blood. She pecked vigorously at the oats. She pecked one of the other hens to show her she was still the chief pecker in the order. I felt reassured.

Our neighbor Sharon had given my daughter a memoir written by her uncle. He had been a miner in Alaska. After failing to find gold, he and a companion crossed 500 hundred miles to the coast in the middle of winter! Eventually, the found platinum and made their fortune. Sharon said, “They were very sturdy in those days.” Big Mama is a very sturdy chicken.

Our chicken yard is very tightly enclosed by fence, wire, and netting, but apparently the smallest variety of hawks might be able to squeeze through the netting. The predator might have been a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk. The male is smaller than the female in both species, so it might have been a bad boy who attacked Big Mama. The attack was on Tuesday morning. We kept the chickens locked in their coop Tuesday night, but we let them out to take their chances Wednesday and Thursday. Today, Friday, we will attach some mylar streamers to their overhead netting. It is supposed to confuse and drive away birds of prey without harming them. Even if I were well-enough armed and a good enough shot to kill a hawk sneaking into our chicken yard, birds of prey are considered endangered and are protected by federal law. Even if I were defending Big Mama, I might find myself dragged off by FBI agents if I killed a hawk in her defense. Either the mylar streamers do the job, or she will have to enroll in hen self-defense classes.

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  1. Goodness; this is very dramatic. I am glad that Mrs. Random’s secret favorite hen survived the chicken-hawk invasion. This reminds me a bit of a story the Amazon tells me about a cougar who was on her property when she had two children under the age of five. The local authorities wouldn’t let her shoot the cougar unless it threatened livestock, believe it or not. (This was twenty-odd years ago; things might have changed.) So she had to buy a couple of sheep for the cougar to stalk, in order to be able to shoot the thing to protect her young children. Life is weird. And stupid.

  2. David, I am glad that the cougar did not eat the Amazon’s young children. Didn’t you say that one of her children has a bit of an attitude? Perhaps growing up with cougars stalking her…?

    Anyway, our chicken yard is now cascaded in mylar streamers. They spin and glisten in the wind. Perhaps they will repel hawks. However, while we were putting up the streamers, one of hens caught some streamer in her beak and tried to eat it. I am not sure that is a good sign. While we were working on the defensive project, a large eagle soared overhead, apparently watching the proceedings with interest. The local public library has a display up promoting vegetarianism and veganism. If I can talk them into it, I will take the local predators down to the library so they can contemplate how they should change their food consumption habits.

  3. Wait a minute…the chicken hawk is way smaller than the chicken and the chicken got beat up on? You’ve got some mean chicken hawks! Does your chiken yard have a mesh roof also? We jsut dug the snow awayfrom the gate to our chickens so we could get into the coop (For the first time in 5 weeks!) and found where they had been hiding their eggs! They are supposed to lay in the greenhouse, where their food is. So we let them out to eat actual grass which made them very happy. I am glad Big Mama is ok, because Mrs Random might have beat up on you if a tragic demise came to BM! (Somehow it would have been your fault! ;+>

  4. Hi Pete,

    Good to hear from you. It sounds as if you have some tough, “kick chicken hawk butt hens” out there in Eastern Washington. In any case, I am guessing that the hawk attacked from above and sturdy Big Mama tossed him off. As it is, her tail feathers seem to be growing back and she looked fine this morning.

    We had cords over the chicken run and we thought the openings were small enough to keep hawks from slipping through, but evidently not. We now have mylar streamers up that spin in what we hope is a distracting way. Craig and Sharon have a slightly different type of streamer that flaps. My wife may add that kind of streamer as double protection as well.

    I have a couple of author/book suggestions for you to consider. Recently, Lyanda Lynn Haupt spoke to our local library system, as her book Crow Planet has been chosen for the Whidbey Reads program. She is an excellent author, excellent speaker (and pretty good looking, as well. We talked a bit about the hawk attack; she thinks a Cooper’s hawk the most likely victim as well.

    The other author is C. J. Box. He writes fiction. In a slight way I would put him in a category similar to Nelson DeMille (Gold Coast), as he writes with a sly, low-key sense of humor, except that he write mostly about the outdoors and the natural world. His main protagonist is Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden.

  5. ironically, the chicken hawks in this urban area utilize colorful mylar balloons to attract their prey.

  6. Joem,

    At one time, my father worked for a defence contractor doing work for Strategic Air Command (sort of a Dr. Strangelove type of operation trying to protect the United States from Soviet Bombers in the 1950s). We never experienced a Soviet attack, so I presume the mylar balloons and streamers they placed up over the United States deterred the Russian chickenhawks.

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