Table of Contents for “In the Shadow of the Hawk”
Visitors from above
With only rare exceptions, subject to my correction, I have found that electronet gives complete protection from anything on the ground with a nervous system. But it is no defense from aerial predation, and we have occasional losses from raptors. I don’t mind “occasional losses,” since I have great respect for the hunting birds, and am grateful for the services they provide, particularly rodent control. On only one occasion have I come close to “fighting dirty” with a raptor—a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk who wore out his welcome Chez Harvey. I lost count of the number of half-grown chickens taken by that Cooper’s—he was eating those little guys like popcorn. Just as I started looking at the old literature’s strategies for taking out a rogue hawk, my friend moved on, I assumed as the next stage in his migration. Our homestead’s bounty certainly strengthened him for the journey.
Be aware of local and federal laws protecting raptors—they can be quite severe, and for good reason: These magnificent birds deserve our protection. Under certain circumstances, the owner who is losing poultry to a raptor may apply for a permit to kill the bird. A better option, though, might be to contact a local falconry club—often, aficionados of this sport have the equipment and the expertise (and the permits) to live-trap hunting birds. My friend Mike and I called on a member of a falcon club one year after a number of “hits” from the same Red-shouldered Hawk. He set up a live trap of most interesting design, cleverly baited with live pigeons (not accessible to the hawk), and left it in place for three weeks. We didn’t catch a hawk, but we didn’t have any more hits, either.
One year I lost three guinea hens in a three-week period. My buddy Sam, a trapper, speculated they had been taken by some eagles whose nest he had observed not far away. It being nesting season, Sam suspected the parents were feeding fledglings heavily. Later that year I saw one of those Bald Eagles, perched in the top of a tree not far from my home. An awesome sight, and one that made me see the pilfered guineas as more gift than loss.
When raptors stoop on their prey, they hit with incredible force. Sometimes they injure or even kill a bird that they actually cannot lift to carry away. I once saw a hawk hit one of my juvenile ducks, then fail to get off the ground. When I came running, the hawk flew away, leaving the duckling dazed but unharmed. A less felicitous outcome met a young turkey at my friend Mike’s place: I found the turkey lying dead in its pasture pen, uneaten but obviously hit hard by something with long talons.
Repeat “hits” from the same aerial predator can be discouraging, but there is usually a solution to the problem if you observe closely and find the patterns of behavior. This pasture season, I have had a number of hits from a good-sized raptor I’ve never seen, though I have seen a number of his half-eaten kills, of fairly big young chickens. After several hits, it became obvious that my visitor was arriving in the early hours, before I got out to feed the flock. My solution was to stop rotating the flock over individual pasture plots, using open pasture shelters, and to net the entire pasture area, anchoring the electronet system on the main poultry house. I now keep the flock shut up at night, and release them to the pasture only when I go out to feed. Since adopting this strategy, I have had no further losses to the hawk.
Being good neighbors
All of us who love raising poultry do so in the shadow of the hawk, in the eye of the fox in the hedgerow. I urge you to see these neighbors—and yes, eager diners on our birds if given the chance—not as The Enemy, on which we wage merciless war, but as fellow members of the great community of life in which we are privileged to live. Ellen and I have always tried to receive predator attacks as lessons to be learned, instructions in the adjustments we need to make to live in harmony with these worthy neighbors, while keeping our flocks (mostly) intact.
I have at times placed the offal from slaughter day out in the edge of our woods as a conscious offering to Fox and Raccoon and ’Possum—a way of expressing my sense of fellow-creaturehood; of saying “Thank you” that I have been able to raise my poultry in peace with them; a recognition of their need as well to eat; and respect for the fact that they were here first.
My longtime mentor Joel Salatin has designed his farmscape with conscious intent to accommodate the maximum diversity of life possible, incorporating numerous ponds and wooded plots as habitat. His assumption is that there is safety in diversity: If there is habitat for Rabbit and Field Mouse, then Fox has plentiful hunting and leaves Joel’s layer flock alone. If Hawk and Owl have their place, they snatch up Mink or Weasel venturing out onto open pasture with an eye on Chicken.
Don’t get me wrong, Joel is no sentimentalist—if he has a persistent problem with a “rogue predator” who isn’t satisfied with the table he has tried to set for it, Joel is not above going out at night with a strong light and a scoped rifle. But the main thrust of his efforts, and his mindset, is to create neighborhood rather than war zone. That should be the goal of us all.