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Chickens and hawks

April 14, 2010

The chickens are all excited that 30 feet of fence no longer prevents them from scratching in the lower garden. I peeled the fence off after we took down two maple trees and moved a small white cedar to open up an area equal in size to the existing garden. Now those raised beds carefully layered with goat manure and leaves provide superb protein for the chickens in the form of gazillions of worms. I still have leeks in one bed, but some of them became mushy over the winter and I had to let the chickens have their fun.

While Charlie and Jim Bob roosters puffed their chests and strutted around the yard herding hens and trying to kill anyone who popped up on their radar, little Polish feather-head Artemis Poof-head kept a low profile, digging around in the leaves like the hens and not threatening any children or grandmas. Poof-head will live to scratch another day. Charlie already went to the mythical horse farm with the acres and acres of pasture and not a person in sight. Jim Bob will join him tomorrow.

Poof-head has the smallest harem in the hen house, if he has one at all. I suspect he may take a chance here and there with a hen ‘belonging’ to another rooster. (Roosters do have harems, you know.) I was tickled to see the little guy get some action with a hen that was foraging near him. I don’t know if she was surprised – how do you identify ‘surprise’ in a hen, anyway – but he seemed to hit it and quit it very quick. The big boys on the farm take more time and the result is hens with bare patches on their backs and upper wings where the roosters grab on with their beaks and talons.

It was mid-morning the other day when the chickens let out cries of alarm and ran for cover wherever they could find it. Such was their distress that I feared someone was being eaten. I rushed out to the deck to see what was the matter, when up in a maple tree there arose absolutely no clatter. A big, old red-tailed hawk stood silent on a branch, coolly and closely surveying the options below him. I know that hawks are protected from hunting, but regs regarding protection of livestock get a little fuzzy. I quickly decided to fire a warning shot at the tree to scare him away from the yard, and therein began a lightening-paced series of weaponry mishaps.

I went for my trusty bolt-action 22 rifle, carefully locked up above a kitchen cabinet, and retrieved a couple of shells from the carefully locked phone book drawer. The shells had corroded to the point that they would not fit in the rifle. I left that gun with a plan to remove the shell with pliers and grabbed an RWS Diana air rifle from the carefully locked gun cabinet. I reached for the tin of pellets and discovered no tin of pellets. I looked very quickly in a couple of hiding places and came up empty. All the while, the chickens squawked and bokked and cried for help.

To hell with ammo, I thought, and I pulled my compound bow from its hook. Arrows, bow – done deal. It seemed such a simple and perfect tool, and I had years of practice behind me. Line it up, let it fly, be the arrow. Just as I opened the slider there arose from the yard such utter screeches that I was again completely certain that this hawk was tearing some hen apart. But no, it hadn’t nailed one, it was swooping low over the garden, maybe 12-feet off the ground, and sending the hens into utter terror.

The big hawk landed on a small branch over the empty pig pen, just next to the chicken house and ground zero of the chickens’ territory. From where I stood the bird was around 150-feet away. I raised my bow and discovered that one of the fiber optic pins on the sight was broken off and the other two were swiveled around and backward. How lucky can I get? And WHO HAS BEEN PLAYING WITH MY BOW? That’s the problem with relying on sights: when they can’t be used, for one reason or another, the shooter is in the dark. I lined up the shot without using the sight and took it, hoping not to hit the hawk, but to scare it sufficiently so it would think twice about returning that day.

The arrow, fitted only with a practice point, sailed through the air toward the hawk. It hit the dead branch the hawk was standing on with a crack, and the whole branch, hawk and all, plummeted toward the ground. The hawk spread his big wings after a moment and took off, slowly, through the woods toward the Cove, as the branch hit the ground and broke apart and the arrow fell not far behind it. I kept the bow nearby for the rest of the day, but the hawk did not return. While I was pleased to have scared him off for one day, I know too well that his hunger and his interest in free-ranging protein will soon mute the sting of his embarrassing moment in my yard, and he will be back soon to drive the chickens under cover and try to eat anyone who makes herself available. If you let chickens out, especially without livestock guardian dogs, everything tries to eat them, and predators only grow more persistent.  That’s how it goes with chickens and hawks.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 4:42 pm

    Oh my goodness, that was a good story! You should write a book for kids with a lot of photos of the hawk, the chickens… the arrow sailing through the air too! ok, I have to gather eggs now.

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