Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey (or Raptors ) are another class of predators facing the backyard chicken keeper or anyone new to keeping chickens. Raptors is from the Latin rapere meaning “to take by force or seize,” but more commonly known in the UK as “birds of prey.” Characterized by hunting while flying, raptors have exceedingly good vision, and very large beaks and talons ideally suited for ripping and piercing their prey.
The family Birds of Prey includes eagles, falcons, hawks, harriers, kites, owls, vultures, and osprey. Not all of these however are a threat to chickens. Osprey eat primarily fish, and kites mostly insects. Vultures prefer carrion. Owls are strictly nocturnal, so as long as your chickens aren't roosting in trees at night, owls are not generally a threat.
This leaves eagles, hawks, falcons and harriers. There are many species within these families that are found throughout Europe and North America. Each has some specific habits. Though most birds of prey hunt on the fly, some hawks prefer to watch from a perch and then swoop down on their prey. Harriers soar close to the ground searching out their dinner. Falcons (this family includes kestrels) have a longer wing span than the others. They will eat carrion but prefer a live meal. They are a formidable chicken predator.
Chickens are said to be able to recognize the outline or silhouette shape of a bird of prey overhead. Others say chickens never look up, making them quite vulnerable to overhead predation. My experience agrees with the former statement, a friend has told me that her chickens frequently have their heads cocked sideways to look at the sky where they have constantly have hawks and vultures circling. When it's a hawk above they run for cover, and when it is a vulture they carry on with the business of hunting bugs.
A basic way to afford protection to your backyard flock of hens, short of keeping them locked in the coop or hen house, is to provide cover. Bushes within easy reach will prevent most problems. It's the free-range chickens that venture into the open pasture that are most at risk. Generally adult chickens will not be carried away by the bird of prey because they are too heavy. They will be killed and eaten on the ground. Of course smaller, younger chickens are at a much bigger risk of being carried away.
In an area where birds of prey attacks are common or the large birds are not afraid to come right into an area with buildings and people around, it may be necessary to enclose the poultry in a poultry cage, use overhead chicken netting or in a moveable poultry run or chicken tractor. Other strategies include placing a large plastic owl on a post in the chicken area, these are designed to keep birds out of the garden and also away from berry bushes, but hawks keep a wary eye on them too. Some people swear by shiny, flashy things that flutter in the breeze, like silver strips or CDs with their labels removed.
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