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Screech and breech

May 14, 2012

I heard the crows sound their alarm, harsh cries above the maple trees. I was busy gathering things to leave, my son already clambering into the car. I glanced out the window and saw a flash of the raptor’s wings and tip of his tail above the coop, and then he was suddenly, impossibly inside the pen. The chickens had already retreated to the safety of the hen house, so I grabbed a camera and raced outside to capture a snap of the cornered hawk and get him out of there.

I locked the hen’s door to prevent the hawk from getting in or one of them from wandering out. As I focused the camera through the fence, the hawk perched for a moment then burst skyward, only to encounter the wire roof. He hung upside down there, wings spread and sharp talons wrapped around thin wire. His head swiveled, looking at me and examining the parameters of his predicament.

He let go and righted himself mid-air to land on the ground looking spry, if confused. Maybe he was thinking, “How do I get out of here?” Maybe he wondered, “Now, where did that dowdy faverolle hen go?” He hopped onto a little box and preened for a moment.

While he was composing himself, I walked around the coop to look for the opening in the roof. I didn’t find one. The hawk moved away from me with two hops followed by an easy little flight to the top of a pole. He clutched the top of the re-purposed fishing rod, all big feet and skinny legs.

I rounded the pen again and opened the outer door. He spied that opportunity instantly and silently glided out of his confinement with an air of cool nonchalance. He flew over the noisy pig, up into the maples, through the maples, and he was gone. He had been mine for a moment, this immature Coopers hawk. All his burgeoning power and speed, grace and skill, accuracy and strength were contained in my hen pen for a breath or two. I smiled as I let the low, slow, ruffled and unrefined hens out again. I guess you could say it takes all kinds.

I sent a couple of photos to a friend who knows a great deal about raptors. I thought the photo of the the hawk hanging upside down was a neat snap. He replied, “Cool photos, but keep in mind that if a juvenile bird breaks or even tips a tail feather or breaks a primary it’s usually a death sentence. It throws off their precision just enough so their hunting is thrown off. That bird has made it through the whole winter so he’s probably a survivor, but I’m concerned about his need to be around the coops to this degree.  Plumage looks good in the pics but the tail being jammed into the wire scares the hell out of me! Glad you chased him out easily.”

I instantly felt a little bad for wasting time taking pictures, but I assuaged my guilt with the knowledge that getting into a coop was at one time, in some local yards, a death sentence for a hawk. This policy must have been great for all the rodents on those farmyards. I was grateful for my friend’s wisdom, and it deepened my understanding of these birds. I saw the hawk’s fragility, his tail like the unscaled patch on the dragon Smaug’s chest in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Then again, a Cooper’s hawk was never really a dragon on our farmyard, though it may have been to sparrows at someone’s bird feeder. Our losses have been to red-tailed hawks and owls, and while the poultry free-ranger in me keeps a wary eye on tree-tops and dive-bombing crows, the gardener in me delights at the sight of a raptor taking a chipmunk off the land.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2012 9:26 pm

    last year a hawk got into our chicken pen too.
    It was a bit of a mystery as the door was closed,not sure how it got in.

    Great pictures of the hawk!

  2. May 30, 2012 8:56 pm

    Thanks, Kate – sorry to have just seen this. I have heard that some of these hawks can and will exploit the smallest openings. I have to remind myself to do thorough checks of all the fences and pens at least once a week – easy to forget when super busy!

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