Sunday, August 7, 2011

You can't be chicken around chickens

My heart is still pounding after tonight's chicken adventures. Who knew I would be battling a huge hawk when I picked up our 5 day old Wyandottes a few weeks ago?!  After a sad day 3 weeks when we came home to the following explosion of feathers

All that remains of Pigwidgeon, our Barred Rock
and a another headless chicken discarded in a bank of ivy, we have wondered what struck our precious birds. Was it another dog? The last dog quickly thrashed our chickens to death and didn't actually eat them, though. We thought our birds were too big to be preyed upon by hawks or owls. Did we have a fox attack in the middle of the day? A coyote?  Not wanting to lose another beloved pet (although whatever ate the head off of Fluffy at least chose the rooster that we were going to have to give away...), we have been very cautious in letting our chickens out of the coop.  We now let them out of the coop late in the afternoon or if we are going to be outside with them.

Our 2 blue-laced red Wyandottes and one splash Wyandotte
Tonight around 7pm, we decided to let the Wyandottes outside of the small coop to test their wings and eat some clover. My 4 year old and I were standing next to each other by the coop with the 3 little birds between us and the coop.  Out of thin air, a great whooshing and flapping of wings appeared and scratched my son's head as it tried to grab one of the chicks. Somehow, the flash of cream and brown registered quickly in my brain, "This is NOT one of our other chickens paying a visit and learning to fly for the first time." I knew immediately that it was a hawk and began screaming some lovely expletive that I am sure I will hear repeated many times over the next few days. The hawk chased one chick behind the coop and the other two chicks vanished. As the hawk's wings were outstretched over our poor chick, I grabbed the hawk's wing. I grabbed this amazingly beautiful predator's soft, strong, and very much alive wing. The rustling of the feathers sounded like a taffeta dress I wore in the 80s.  All that registered in my mind was that there was no chick in its talons as I flung this wing and the bird with it into the sky like a frisbee.  My child was screaming but uninjured.  Unfortunately he had just come outside to tell me about the movie "Rango" that he had just finished watching and the hawk that was scary in it (seriously, that was the timing of this bird!)

The hawk flew away, came back a few minutes later, and perched on a branch 15 feet above us. It was huge. We decided it was a red-tailed hawk which means it really wasn't huge (up to 3 pounds) but red-tailed hawks can grow to 2 feet high with a 52 inch wingspan. I would say this one had a wingspan of 3 1/2 to 4 feet based on how its wings were outstretched when I grabbed it.  I flapped my arms at it and yelled. It flew 2 trees away. I'm glad I didn't injure the bird as I flung it in the air.  I'm very happy it was as surprised as I was and didn't claw me when I grabbed it. But I feel sad for our birds because we don't know how to protect them.  I don't want them to stay cooped up -that's not the point of being free-range.  But at least we have our answer as to what killed our other 2 birds. And I know that I can be brave and quick in the face of a small, fierce bird attacking my chicks.  That has to count for something, right?