Woman (Me) Battles with Hawk to Save Chicken's Life

Northern Goshawk. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for your support!

I was outside feeding the chickens - feeling pretty exhausted, actually. I'd removed the feeder from the hen house and walked several feet away to a carport where we keep our chicken feed in a rat-proof container, just like I do every afternoon. On my way back to the coop with a full feeder, I heard what I thought was squabbling amongst the chickens. I looked their way and saw what I thought was two hens bickering. (Our hens do occasionally squabble amongst themselves, though they never hurt each other.) Our rooster was also alerting, though - not just making the noises he uses when he's breaking up a hen spat. And as I came nearer, I saw he had all the other hens gathered together in a sheltered corner of the run. Suddenly, it clicked in my mind: A hawk was attempting to steal a hen.

The hen was screeching. She ran into a clump of bamboo, trying to hide within it. The hawk - a big, gray bird - followed her and landed atop her, his talons in her feathers. I yelled and waved my arms...and that danged hawk looked me straight in the eyes, showing no fear. "Beat it, lady," he seemed to say, "I'm having chicken for dinner tonight."

A Northern Goshawk's talons and beak. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
I plopped the feeder down and ran inside the chicken run, still yelling and waving my arms. In the moment, I think I was mad enough to, without thinking, grab the hawk and pull him off our chicken, sharp beak and talons be damned. (I've since learned that hawks are federally protected. Injuring them in any way is a class B misdemeanor.) But thank goodness it didn't go that far; the hawk must have seen the anger in my eyes. He flew off.

Northern Goshawk flying. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

The poor little hen ran over to her flock, who encircled her, protecting her from further harm. She'd lost some feathers and was scared witless, but otherwise, she was fine.

She lost a lot of feathers!
Immediately, I got on my phone and began researching what I could do to keep this hawk - who now knew several yummy meals could be found on our homestead - at bay. As I did this, my husband stood near the henhouse and witnessed the bold raptor trying to steal a hen several times.

Honestly, I was shocked by the whole thing. In all my years of keeping chickens, I'd never had problems with predatory birds. I've always chalked this up to the fact that we give our hens tree cover in their run, making it difficult for raptors to spot our hens from the sky.

I'd also never seen a big, gray hawk before. Nor had I known hawks to be so bold around humans. So the first thing I did was try to identify the bird; was it truly a hawk, as I suspected? Or some other predatory bird?

I checked several bird guidebooks, followed by a state website on local birds of prey and confirmed it was, indeed, a hawk - but a rather rare and very aggressive breed: A Northern Goshawk. This explained a lot about the attack.

That afternoon, we locked our hens in their henhouse, even though it's small. (Thankfully, they were mellow about being stuck inside for a few days.) Then, after lots of research and debate, my husband installed orange safety fencing (sometimes called snow fencing) over the top of the run by zip-tying it to the chicken wire walls of the run, as well as to existing trees in the center of the run.

Our solution is safety fencing.
We liked this solution because it was relatively inexpensive, quick to install, and we felt it was a more certain fix than most other methods. We also knew that because of its thickness and color, birds of prey would easily see it and not become entangled in it. We don't get lots of ice or snow, so we don't have to worry much about sagging due to those things. We assume the fencing will need replacing in a year or two. By then, we hope our Northern Goshawk will have found different stomping grounds, since he's obviously new to our neighborhood.

It ain't pretty, but it works!

So far, so good!

But if you're worried about birds of prey getting to your chickens, there are a few other things you could do:

1. Have at least some black hens. When I first read this advice, I thought it was nuts. How can having black hens in your flock protect the entire flock? But once you understand that most types of hawks dislike crows, it makes more sense. Hawks are generally not very aggressive, whereas crows are. Hawks would rather not tangle with crows. From the air, apparently, black hens look too much like crows...and so the hawk flies away and finds easier pickings. But I must tell you,  our flock is about half black Australorps and our hawk clearly wasn't afraid of them. I attribute this to his being the aggressive Northern Groshawk. (Although it's interesting to note that the hen he tried to grab was light gray.)

2. Put up fake owls. Most hawks don't want to tangle with another raptor, so putting up fake owls with moveable heads (like this one), and then altering their position every week or so is supposed to help. Not sure it would have made a difference with our Goshawk.

3. Have guardian dogs. Again, most hawks don't want to be attacked when they are attacking. I don't think this would have worked for us, since our hawk wasn't afraid even of humans.

4. Hang up old CDs. I did do this, but I really wouldn't trust this method alone to protect our birds from raptors. However, hanging CDs in the run cause flashes of light, which most hawks avoid.

5. Put strands of fishing line or string over the top of the run. Most people seem to suggest doing random patterns with holes no bigger than a foot apart. The idea here is that raptors don't want to get entangled. We seriously considered this fix but were concerned about what a mess it would be to clean up with the fishing line started disintegrating. It's tough to see, and would turn into tiny pieces. I was also concerned that hawks might become entangled in the fishing line, although, from what I can read online, this doesn't seem to be a problem.

6. Put bird netting over the top of the run. This seems like a really viable solution since bird netting isn't expensive. It is a pain to work with, though, and it will sag all over the place unless you add lots of posts to help hold it up. Still, for a smaller run, it could be a great solution.

7. Put chicken wire or hardware cloth over the run. Unfortunately, this requires putting up posts in the middle of the run, to keep the wire from sagging much. It's also more expensive. We bought our safety fencing locally and it ran about $75. Chicken wire would have been $135 - hardware cloth much more. Plus, there's the cost of putting in support posts. But despite the cost, wire over the run is the ultimate fix.

No comments