One of our readers, Mary O. from Citrus Heights, California, sent in an email asking how we keep hawks away from our chickens, and I thought it would be a great topic to discuss. Mary also has built a great chicken coop, so we are posting a photo of it. If anyone out there has an idea, please share! We would love some input!
"I am enjoying your blog since I ventured into the world of keeping
chickens. We too decided to let our four girls free range during the
day in our 1/4 acre backyard area. We got a wake up call big time at
two weeks out when a hawk attacked and severely injured one of our
hens. She made it, thanks to a local vet and lots of TLC. How do you
handle the hawk situation? I have covered their 250 sq ft run now
with top flight netting and keep them inside the run. We let them out
yesterday under close supervision since we have spotted the hawk three
times since the attack. We back up to a creek and he sits in the oak
trees. I was just wondering what other people do. I don't want them
to be in danger but they sure love to scour the yard for bugs and
weeds. I have also laid grass sod on half the run surface and built a
covered patio area to the right of the hen house.
Thanks for any words of wisdom you might be willing to share."
Thanks so much for getting in touch, Mary! I'm so glad you have been enjoying our blog! We have been very fortunate not to have a problem with hawks- yet. Don't get me wrong, they are indeed in the area, and we were originally very worried about our cats. I think that having two big dogs around keeps them at bay.... Also, we, too, have a small, totally enclosed run, but then want them to be able to have a larger area to roam and forage.
One thing we did was to make sure there are still plenty of plants/bushes in their foraging area- perhaps that gives them a place to hide? I ran out one day amidst a huge commotion to find 4 of the 5 chickens hiding and squawking in the coop, and the fifth nowhere to be found. I frantically looked everywhere, and after about ten minutes finally found her hiding under the bean trellis amidst the bean plants. I imagine that if it had been because of a hawk, the hawk would not be able to get around the trellis and under the plants to grab her- but that is only speculation.
I've heard that a plastic owl will keep a hawk at bay, but you have to move it around daily, so that it seems more real- otherwise the hawk will just get used to it. They are usually not even that scared of people. I also would suggest providing some shelter in the middle of the foraging area- some kind of small box or something- that the chickens can easily scuttle into, but will keep a hawk out. A wide open area with nowhere for the chickens to hide will certainly be an easy target!
I'm so sorry to hear you are having this trouble! Unfortunately, once a hawk finds an easy target (like a bird feeder or chicken coop) they are usually pretty persistent. Most hawks are migratory and should leave for the winter, but they won't always if they think they have found a steady food source. Be persistent and watchful, and hopefully you will convince the hawk that this is not an easy target, and it will move on.
Good luck and please keep us updated on your adventures in raising chickens!
UPDATE: We received a useful link from Elizabeth L. in Chicago about how to create a "chicken cobweb" to keep hawks out of chicken runs. Though we haven't tried it yet, it sounds like a very clever, affordable, and low-impact solution. You can read all about it HERE.