Keeping chickens safe from predators can be a tough job for any chicken keeper, but it can seem like an impossible task to keep them safe from above when it comes to hawks and other birds of prey.
But is a hawk attack a real problem for chicken keepers or something you don’t need to worry about?
The simple answer is, a large hawk does have the power to take and eat a small breed or young chicken if it gets the opportunity. Hawk attacks are generally more uncommon than attacks from land predators, but they are something to be aware of in certain situations.
If you live in an area where large birds of prey are common, and you keep small or young chickens, then you are at a greater risk of a bird being taken by a hawk.
Read on to find out more about whether hawks are a danger to your flock, how to reduce the threat of hawk attack, and how a hawk will take and kill a chicken if an attack happens.
Are Hawks Really a Danger to Chickens?
Hawk sizes and threat potential vary depending on the country you live in and the environment around you.
For example, certain types of hawks are more common in rural areas where there’s more food and natural shelter, although some do thrive in towns and cities.
Hawks are only a danger to chickens if it’s large enough to lift and kill a chicken and if the chicken is small enough for the hawk to handle. If a hawk can handle the chicken, they are at risk because a chicken is a substantial and good tasting meal for a hungry predator.
If you live in an area where you don’t get large predator hawks or if your flock consists of larger birds, then you shouldn’t need to worry about hawk attacks.
For small breed chicken keepers who live in an area where large predator hawks are common, then it’s advisable to put some things in place to keep your birds safe from a potential hawk attack.
Which Birds of Prey Can Kill a Chicken?
To kill and take a small chicken, the bird of prey needs to be big enough to handle the bird, so it’s unlikely that any of the smaller hawks will be a threat to an adult bird.
Birds of prey are mainly interested in small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and small birds, so choosing to take a chicken is unusual, especially because chickens generally live close to humans.
In the event a bird of prey does take a chicken, the most likely contenders of birds of prey that have the potential to take a small chicken are:
- Red Kites.
- Eagles (very rare).
- Red-Tailed Hawk.
- Harris’s Hawk.
I recently saw a buzzard grab a full-sized rabbit and take it up to the top of a telephone pole to eat, so they definitely have the capability to take on larger animals and birds when they need to.
How to Prevent Hawks From Attacking Your Flock
If you live in an area where there are large birds of prey, and you think your flock might be at risk, then there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of an attack.
It’s important to be aware that although these things might reduce the risk unless chickens are undercover, nothing is guaranteed to work fully.
1- Hawk Decoys
Hawks, owls, and other birds of prey are generally deterred if they think there’s another one in the area.
Hawk decoys come in various shapes and sizes and are designed to trick the bird into thinking there’s another bird of prey in the area, which deters them from hunting in that area.
Some decoys mimic flying birds, whereas others are free-standing replicas, such as the owl in the image below.
If you’re using a decoy, it’s a good idea to put it in a prominent position where your chickens spend the most time for maximum effect.
2- Homemade Deterrents
As well as decoys, you can also make your own hawk deterrents from things that you have around the home; these include:
- A scarecrow using old clothes and boots etc., to make it look like a human is outside.
- Hanging CD’s/DVD’s or other similar shiny objects from nearby trees and hedges.
This one can be a little tricky, but some birds of prey swoop in from the side, so if your chickens are in an area where there are high hedges, it can make things more difficult for some flying predators to get to.
Having natural shelter in the form of shrubs and bushes also gives the chicken a place to retreat to if they get a chance and can deter the bird of prey from swooping down.
4- Get a Rooster
Although roosters aren’t ideal for all backyard chicken homes, they do have their place in a space where chickens free range and could be at threat from birds of prey.
This is because most roosters guard their flock to a level that a hen will never do. I’ve had roosters that are on constant alert for danger, and while the hens are busy grazing, they’re always watching.
Chickens communicate using various sounds, and so the rooster alerts the flock at any sign of danger.
While birds of prey can attack before the flock even knows it’s there, in some cases a prior warning from the rooster can help them to get to safety.
Keeping a rooster is a big commitment, so it’s a good idea to know all of the pros and cons before you get one. For more information on this topic, you might find the article below useful:
A final resort for chicken keepers who have a problem with hawk attacks is netting over a fenced area to keep the flock safe from above.
This isn’t always easy to do, depending on the space you have and the setup, and it will also limit the chickens roaming space, so I would only recommend this option if you really need to.
Ultimately, allowing chickens to free-range is the best thing for their health, well-being, and happiness, which sometimes comes at a cost.
Keeping Chicks and Young Birds Safe From Hawks
Chicks and small young birds are at a greater risk of a hawk attack because they’re much easier to take.
So it’s important that if they’re outside in an area where birds of prey are common, they’re covered over until they reach a size where they’re too big to prey for hawks.
I have seen a small sparrow hawk take a young pigeon which was around the same size of the hawk, so its a good idea not to underestimate what they’ll take if they’re hungry enough.
How Does a Hawk Kill a Chicken?
Hawks attack from the air at speed using an element of surprise and power which means their prey is often stunned and has no chance to defend themselves or to escape.
In most cases, if a chicken is small enough for a hawk to take, it will lift the bird away to eat it in a safe, quiet place, or it will take its catch back to the nest if it has young.
Hawks will strip away the bird’s feathers and then strip the fleshy meat of the chicken’s breast. They usually eat the meat straight away after catching their prey or feed it straight to their chicks.
Will a Hawk Keep Coming Back for More Chickens?
As with any predator, once they find a good food source, there is a chance they might come back for more.
If you’ve had a bird taken by a hawk and you have other birds of a similar size, then it might come back for more if it gets the opportunity.
Hawks are more likely to attack in a quiet place with no humans or other animals such as dogs.
Some are braver than others, especially if they’re hungry and there’s little food around, or they have young to feed.
Once you’ve had one attack, it’s important to put some measures in place (see above) to help reduce the chance of it happening again.
This article was first published on May 25, 2021 by Pentagon-Pets.
Can You Kill a Hawk if it’s Threatening Your Flock?
Although it can be very upsetting when a bird is lost to a predator, it’s important to remember that birds of prey are protected by law in many countries (including the USA & UK), so they cannot be killed if they threaten livestock.
Hawks are carnivorous predators who are just doing what comes naturally to help them survive and feed their young.
Putting measures in place to protect your flock and deter hawks is the best way to deal with the problem if you live in an area where they are a common threat.
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This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on May 25, 2021.