An urban farm tragedy

Home and garden, May 2015
Our fenced garden area. Coop is on the right behind the shed.

On Friday afternoon at lunch, I went to check on our chickens. I could only find one in the fenced garden area, which was strange. All three of them are usually happily pecking around or hiding under the woodpile, especially during the heat of the summer. But I could only spot one, and she was hiding near the shed, curled up underneath the sprawling mint. This seemed odd, but I thought nothing of it. Sometimes they like to wander and do inscrutable chicken things.

An hour later, I went to check on them again, and once more, I could only find one. This time, she had migrated outside the fence to the shade of the neighbor’s boxwood. Still curious. Still couldn’t find the other two, but I couldn’t detect anything awry.

Two hours later. I opened the back door to let the dogs out, and I heard the horrible sound of avian screaming. Serious distress noises. I started cursing under my breath and booked it to the back of the yard.

Breathless, I rushed into the garden fence, looked left, toward the sound of the shrieking. There, to my horror, was an enormous, gorgeous red-tailed hawk on the ground a few yards from our fence. Eating one of our hens.

Red Tail Hawk.JPG
“Red Tail Hawk” by Kfearnside at en.wikipedia. Public domain. Not the killer of our hen, but I wanted a good photo to display how BIG and INTENSE this bird is.

(Insert many more defeated, sad-sounding curse words from me. Like, really sad, morose f-bombs.)

I lacerated my hand trying to open the gate. I scared the hawk away, but it was far too late for the hen. But her screaming sister, who was less than a foot away from the dining hawk, hidden in some brambles, was unscathed. I’m sure the hawk was just eyeing her casually under the foliage and saying, You’re next, my pretty. 

Guion mercifully came home right at this moment and retrieved the traumatized but unscathed hen from the brush. I was convinced at this point that we had only had one chicken left. But when we brought her back into the coop, her sister crawled out from under the shed, where she had apparently (intelligently) been hiding during the entire bloody ordeal.

Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.
Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.

So, now we have two, Fumiko and Mayumi. (We have decided that it was Chiye who died. We really can’t tell any of them apart.)

In all honesty, I am impressed that they lasted this long. Backyard chickens in this town seem to have a lifespan just slightly longer than goldfish. I expected a fox to get them first, because I’ve seen a few in the neighborhood. I didn’t anticipate a hawk. I was lulled into a sense of security by the hens’ constant access to the woodpile, the shed, and the coop, which all keeps them out of sight. (They free range during the day and then we lock them up in the coop at night.) Alas. Hawks also apparently like to target bantams because of how small they are. They are much easier to take down. In some ways, it was gratifying to see their beautiful killer. So many have lost chickens to unknown predators.

We are weighing options. I know murder is just part of the backyard chicken gambit, but I am still sad. You get attached, when you feed a creature every day and concern yourself with its livelihood on a daily basis. Should we let them free range again and risk it? A flock of two isn’t ideal; three is apparently the smallest recommended flock. Should we rehome them to a larger, more protected flock? Should we totally redesign the coop and build a giant wire structure so they can range in safety? Not really sure what tactic we’ll take at this point. We are somber, but we knew this day would eventually come.

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9 thoughts on “An urban farm tragedy

  1. Wow! I’m glad you know what happened, but I’m sorry you had to experience it.

    It seems like you’d be able to put wire on top of the coop fairly easily – would that provide them a safe enough shelter?

    1. The coop is already totally wired/enclosed; the issue is more that we let them free range in the garden during the day, which is naturally exposed to… the sky. :-/

  2. RIP Chiye! You could also string wire or even lights across the garden in a somewhat crisscross style to prevent hawks from being able to dive in. A fake owl on one of the cornerposts will help keep them away too. Lights would also serve the added bonus of ambiance during summer nights outside. 🙂

  3. I think replace your lost chicken and use fruit netting to keep skyward predators at bay, that’s what we did. You have to limit there space with a portable pen, but still free range them by moving the pen.

  4. What did you do with the remains of Chiye? Did you have a funeral? Are the other two survivors in mourning? What is the effect on them? This was a sad story, but a marvelous piece of writing—worthy of a magazine short story.

    1. Thanks, Aunt Jane! We left the body there actually (hawks gotta eat too, I guess), and it was totally gone within a few hours. I think the other two are frightened; they are still very scared to be out on their own and act with a lot more hesitation when interacting with the world. We hope they will recover their spirits soon!

  5. So sorry! Yes, build a predator safe area for your birds. We bought a giant dog run and covered the entire thing with aviary netting. You may want to put chicken wire or hardware cloth on the floor if you’re worried about foxes, racoons, etc. It’s a pain, but you’ll rest knowing you wont ever have to see the horrors of nature again.

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