I Locked a Brown Goshawk in With my Chickens - How my Poultry Survived a Night With a Hawk
My chickens have a very good life. For most of the year, they free-range and feast on fresh grass and all that nature offers. At night they roost in a comfortable hen house; solid and insulated.
When they wake in the morning, there's room for the entire community of hens, roosters and chickens to stretch their legs — and wings — in a very long chicken run covered with netting, until such time as I unlock the gate and let them free.
I imagine it must have been a most unwelcome surprise for my poultry when they discovered I'd accidentally locked a hawk in their chicken run for a night!
Here's how they all survived. (The chickens and the hawk.)
Hawk locked in my chicken run
A safe chicken run / yard
Even while enclosed in their yard, my poultry have access to fresh water to drink, fresh herbs grown in their run to provide healthy nibbles, and spots specially designed to provide invigorating dust baths.
When my husband constructed this most recent hen house, we considered all the potential problems and created a design to keep the adult hens and roosters — as well as any baby chicks — safe and comfortable.
For most of the year, we let the poultry free-range. It is only in the early spring time when we need our small vegetables to become established without being destroyed by chickens that we keep them locked in their yard area all day.
We built their new safe chicken run and hen house in time for spring. When they moved in, the ground was covered with grass — which they quickly ate.
Here's a photo showing what part of the yard area looked like when they'd been in just long enough to eat all the grass, while I was planting herbs for snacks, shade and shelter from winds. The chicken wire in the front of photo was about to be used to create protected garden areas — allowing them to peck fresh foliage without scratching up the roots of the plants.
As you can see, even when the ground is bare, I toss fresh green grass into their chicken run throughout the day.
Poultry love fresh greens. If you feed your hens seeds and grain, be sure to add fresh greenery as well.
My chicken run covered with nets
Plants for food and protection in the chicken's yard
I transplanted a range of healthy foods to grow in the chicken's yard.
The biggest challenge is ensuring the roots of the plants are protected from scratching. As herbs and other plants grow, their leaves extend outside the protective framework.
I choose herbs with medicinal qualities for the hens to snack on — including those that are good for killing intestinal worms — and strong plants to offer shade and wind protection, like globe artichokes.
Chinese mugwort (aka tree mugwort) shown in the photo below is one of the herbs now so tall it reaches the netting 'roof' of the chicken run. It is the same plant shown in my yard photo above.
Herbs in the chicken run
Chickens free range from a young age
I have often been asked, "How old does a chicken have to be to free-range?" I believe nature is a great teacher, so I let my chicks wander on the grass and eat as soon as their little legs will carry them.
Chicks that hatch when my hens are let out every day, accompany their mothers as they graze. Even chicks who start life in early spring while the girls are confined to the chicken run can wander through the fence and out onto green grass.
I took the photo below on the first day of adventure for a group of little chicks. They stayed close to their mothers, but slipped through the fence. It doesn't take long for them to start eating grass freely.
They watch their mothers stretch their heads out through the fence for a snack, and copy them pecking the grass. The bare stretch of ground outside the fence shows the distance a hen can reach through the fence.
Baby chicks and the chicken run
Keeping birds of prey away from my chickens
We have lots of birds of prey in our region. Eagles and hawks nest in the tall trees in bushland adjoining our home.
Birds of prey have a convenient water source in the creek that winds past our land, and a smorgasbord of fresh food. Rabbits running across the grass are an appetizing target. Many homes keep free-range chickens, and quite a few farmers lose the occasional lamb.
The netting that covers the top of my chicken run is to keep the hens and roosters in, as much as it is intended to keep birds of prey out. My hens and roosters all fly extremely well.
Keeping birds of prey away from my chickens is not something I concern myself with too much. I love watching majestic birds in the sky, and I understand they need to eat.
If a hawk or eagle is circling above my garden, the chickens generally hide beneath bushes, between the corn, or under a raised water tank. It is fascinating to watch how they alert each other to potential danger.
But to suddenly discover they were sharing their private space with a bird of prey must have been extremely unsettling for them. They had limited options available.
Food for a hawk
Brown Goshawks are among the raptors in my region. The Brown Goshawk commonly feeds on rabbits and small birds. In addition to small mammals, this hawk also eats reptiles and insects. I'm told they can also be sometimes seen feeding on dead wombats and kangaroos on the roadside, although I've never noticed it.
When I entered the chook run to take photos of the captive hawk, I was uncertain of its identity. Had I recognized it, I probably would have just let it go free. But how could I tell the story of locking a hawk in with my chickens if I didn't know what kind of hawk it was?
I went online to ask professional bird-watchers to help me identify it. Their opinion is it is a young Brown Goshawk, not yet showing the usual markings.
Brown Goshawks tend to hunt from a low, concealed perch. They pounce on their target using sudden, short bursts of speed — then reach out and strike with their long legs and clawed toes, before returning to their perch to partially pluck their prey before eating it.
In theory, my chickens were in great danger. So how did they survive their close encounter with a Brown Goshawk?
Brown Goshawk locked in with my chickens
How my Poultry survived a night with a Hawk
Our regular routine includes locking the gate into the chicken run after the chickens return to settle in their house for the night. Generally we lock the gate just before sunset.
When designing the hen house, we positioned a window close to the gate. I can look through the window as I walk past and see the birds roosting. The window is on the western side of the building and the setting sun provides enough light for me to see inside.
As luck would have it, we were out all afternoon and did not return home until quite late that evening. I locked the gate in the moonlight, without trying to look through the window. I assumed the poultry would be roosting inside their house. They were quiet and, I thought, happy.
Had they been hiding beneath their house, I like to think I'd have spotted white feathers on some of my hens in the moonlight. I didn't, so I guess they'd made their way into the house.
If the hawk was inside the chicken run when they returned home for the night, I'm guessing it must have been at the far end of the yard. Perhaps they slipped through the gate and up the ramp, protected from view by the large herbs and other plants growing in the middle of the chicken run.
Or perhaps the hawk followed the last of the poultry through the gate, but failed to catch its prey ... suddenly finding itself in a strange environment. The gate was still open, providing an escape route, but either the hawk lost track of the gate or it decided to find a perch and wait for the birds to reappear.
Even more surprising than the fact my poultry survived a night with a hawk locked in their yard is the fact they survived the next morning!
Roosters, hens and chicks all hid beneath the chicken house the next day
Hiding from a hawk
I don't know where my poultry spent the night. I like to think they were safe and warm inside their house, with the hawk at the distant end of the chicken run.
As I walked towards their yard area to let them out in the morning, I noticed they were grouped together beneath their house — a spot generally used during rain, not on a bright sunny morning. I didn't realize they were hiding from a hawk.
Most mornings, the girls are spread throughout the run. The roosters share the large area without conflict, but without getting too close to each other; and any chicks small enough to slip through the fence are already out eating the grass.
Without fail, there is always at least one or two hens taking dust baths in the far corner. For some reason they prefer a spot with lots of twigs and bark mixed in with the dirt. Perhaps it is the eucalyptus smell they particularly like.
The first thing I noticed was the entire tribe bunched under the building. The second discrepancy to the morning routine was the absence of any hens wallowing in the dirt. As I opened their gate, they all raced past my feet.
It was only when I walked past the tall herbs to see what might be at the far end of the run (suspecting perhaps a snake) that I spotted the Brown Goshawk perched directly above their dust bath.
Clever chickens. They'd successfully been hiding from the hawk ... and survived their night (and morning) up close and personal with a bird of prey!
Hen taking a dust bath
Mental note to check for hawks
Living off the grid and attempting to build a sustainable lifestyle for my family has been an incredible learning experience. I approach each day and each task with a mental checklist.
The most recent addition to my list of things to remember is to check for birds of prey in my chicken run before locking the gate at night!
Mental note: Check for hawks.
In the interests of keeping happy hens and a regular supply of fresh eggs, that doesn't seem too much to ask.
My poultry survived one night locked in with a hawk, but I'll try to keep their home hawk-free from now on. :)
Putting distance between my chickens and the hawk
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