Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dora's Very Bad Day

You remember Dora, don't you?  She's one of the three hens from our first year of keeping chickens.  She and Reba and Red literally rule the roost around here ...never letting the three newbies we added last spring forget who is in charge.   Well, she had a rather traumatic day last week when a Red Tailed Hawk tried to make her his dinner.

I happened to be home and just happened to look out the back window in time to see the hawk pin her to the ground and to witness her desperate struggle to get free. I was about thirty yards away but slammed the door behind me as I came out of the house, hoping to startle the hawk and scare him away.  I yelled and waved my arms as I came out and the hawk finally let go of Dora and took off when I was about halfway down the hill to them. 

Feathers were everywhere, it looked like someone busted open a feather pillow in the middle of the yard.  Dora was lying where the hawk left her, limp and not moving.  Her eyes were closed and I thought she was gone.  But when I touched her, she opened her eye a little and made a weak attempt at a cackle.  I picked her up and just cradled her for a minute, trying to let her know she was okay now.  Her little chicken heart was just a fluttering.  I carried her to the little brood coop and set her on top so I could check her over.  She couldn't even stand, she was so weak, but I felt her all over and found no puncture wounds at all.

This is the last thing she might have seen or the last thing her feathered friends might have seen before the attack.  A bird of prey zeroing in on it's target is an awesome and beautiful sight ...unless you're the prey.

Poor Dora was just scared to death.  I'm sure she saw her little chicken life flash before her eyes when she was underneath that big hawk. 

Satisfied that she was not physically wounded, I carried her with me and searched the coop and the yard for the other five chickens.  I finally found them hiding underneath some equipment in the awning next to the shop.  Thinking they were all okay, I left the dog in the chicken yard to make sure the hawk didn't bother them and took Dora into the house.   Our dog is a Boxer and that's not your typical livestock guardian breed, but she's an exceptionally good dog and she's been around the chickens since they were just pullets and she was just a pup.  She would never hurt them.  If she ever tangled with a hawk, she might be hurt but so might the hawk and I was hoping the hawk would be smart enough to know that. 

I fixed Dora a temporary nest in my laundry basket with newspaper lining the bottom.   She still wasn't able to stand, but she seemed more alert and 'talked' if I got out of sight from her.  She seemed to want me to stay with her so I carried the basket with me as I worked around the house for the next hour or so.  By then, she was starting to stand and though still a little unsteady on her feet, I felt she might be better off down in the coop.  I popped a bag of popcorn before I carried her down there ...a treat for her and bait to help me get the other five out of the awning and back into the coop. 

When I carried her back down the hill, I set her in one of the nest boxes Yeoldfurt built last summer, thinking she would feel safer in close quarters.  I gave her a handful of the popcorn and she went right after it, so I was pretty confident she would make a full recovery in time. 

Coaxing the other five hens out of their hiding place in the awning and back into safety of the coop proved to be a bit of a challenge.  We originally only had three hens but we bought some new chicks last spring to enlarge the flock and as replacements for when the original three hens were gone.  The older hens tolerated the newcomers but just barely.  Before the hawk attack that day, you never would have seen the older hens mingling with the younger hens.  Though they all share the coop at night, the three older hens would be on the roost and the three younger hens would be wherever they could find a spot.  But there was definite segregation going on in there.  So to find them all huddled feather to feather, beak to beak in a two-foot square space told me they were traumatized as well.  Dora was the one that was attacked, but they witnessed the attack and they were traumatized.

Microwave popcorn is a real treat though and the familiar sound of me shaking a bag was too much for them to resist.  I stood at the doorway of the awning shaking the open bag of popcorn and four little heads popped up from behind their refuge.  I tossed a handful at my feet and started backing up the hill toward the coop.

Chickens are highly motivated by food and they're also highly competitive about food.  All it took was for one of them to make a move toward the scattered popcorn and the others wouldn't be able to resist making a charge themselves.  As soon as they were in sight of me, I tossed another handful and they ran toward me halfway to the coop and real safety.   I wasn't counting heads at this time.  I was just intent on getting them to the coop.  Once inside, I scattered several handfuls of the popcorn for them and started counting.  I came up one short so I counted again.  Still one short.  One of the younger reds was missing.  Dora was still in the nest box and seemed okay so I locked them in the coop and went back down to the awning.  I looked high and low but found nothing.  Then I walked the yard, checking every clump of grass, every nook and cranny that could possibly conceal a hen.    

I was just about convinced the hawk had made off with the missing hen and that Dora was perhaps the second course that day when I decided to check the awning one more time.  There is some lumber stacked vertically in the very back corner and it's right next to the metal piece that the other hens were hiding under so I decided to move a couple of pieces and see if she might be hiding back there.  Sure enough, when I moved the first piece, I heard a faint chicken gasp ...a kind of 'yikes, something's found me!' sound.  I poked my head back there and shined the little pen light into the darkness and there she was ...wide-eyed and looking very ...well ...chicken! 

I would have thought when she saw it was me and not the hawk or some other scary unfamiliar face, she would have come willingly.  But she was not willing at all.  I had to move several pieces out of the way and make a grab to finally convince her to come out.  It was very tight quarters back there and lousy footing, so I missed when I made the grab.  She darted out into the open though and I went after her, thinking I could either herd her back to the coop or corner her and catch her.  The riding lawnmower is parked smack dab in the middle of that awning though and she used it to her advantage several times to keep me from getting her out of the awning.  She was determined not to go out in the daylight where something might swoop down on her like it had swooped down on Dora. 

I was finally able to spook her out into the yard and once in the open, she made a beeline for the coop.  Chickens are big on personality, not so big on brains ...but they do know where they're safe.  Once they were all back in the coop, I topped off their food and water and went back to the house.  Twenty minutes later, I looked out the back door and the hawk was back, sitting on a fence post directly across from the coop and not twenty feet from where he attacked Dora.  As I watched him, another hawk flew in and settled on a branch a few feet above the fence post.  A mated pair wonder they were bold.  They probably have a nest in the dense woods that border our property.   I couldn't get close enough to get a picture of them together, but this is one of them sitting on the shed roof next to the chicken yard.  I think the Red Tailed Hawk is a magnificent bird ...just not when it's trying to eat one of my chickens!

From now on, if the chickens are in the yard, they will have an MP with them ...Mutt Patrol ...Maggie, guardian of her domain.  Hopefully, she'll never see action.  I'm hoping her mere presence will be enough to deter the raptors. 

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Blogger SciFiChick said...

WOW! What an adventure... and poor Dora. I'm so glad she's going to be ok. We have a pair of hawks that live in the woods behind our place too. I am a little worried about that so we will have to have an MP on duty too. (if we ever GET the dang chicken pen finished!)

January 21, 2012 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger Lamb said...

Good hen therapy there! Poor Dora! I amgladher encounter with the hawk didn't physically scar her,but it sounds like she was definitely psychologically scarred!We had a coyote get in the yard once, it didn't harm any of the animals as the dogs went after it,but now every time the hens hear a coyote yip, they bunch together like they are glued together!

January 21, 2012 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

I'm glad she's okay too. There's only so much you can do to protect them from natural predators though. If your chicken pen is small enough, cover it with chicken wire or even shade material. Even if it's not covered one hundred percent, a hawk needs room to land and take off and won't mess with them if it's too hard to get in and out.

The chickens are fenced off in the lower part of the yard by the fruit trees and the dog has the run of the rest of the yard around the house. But I'm hoping that having the dog in the yard with them whenever the chickens are out will deter any more attacks. Hawks (all raptors really) are very smart and resourceful. I'm sure the chickens looked like easy pickin's to them. But as close as Dora came to being that hawk's supper, she was rescued in time and I hope that, too, will discourage the hawks from making another try. She seems okay today. A little nervous and a lighter on feathers, but okay.

January 21, 2012 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Sassy said...

So glad you were in view of the dreadful event from the get go, that's what saved her little chicken life. What a day that was! Glad all is good, especially for Dora.

Your photos are gorgeous and the last one of the hawk is indeed pretty majestic.

Take care and enjoyed your post.

January 22, 2012 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Me too. No particular reason for me to look out the back window at that moment, but it's a good thing I did. Especially for Dora!

Hawks are magnificent. We're especially partial to red tailed hawks for personal reasons. I would never kill one, even if it was legal to do so ...which it's not, but I have to defend my flock however else I can.

Thanks for the visit, glad you enjoyed the post.

: )

January 22, 2012 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger SHARON said...

Glad little Dora survived. I have a couple of Red-Tails here in the valley also. When our puppy, Molly, first came she was only about the size of a hamster. So, when she went out to pee and poo. One of us stood over her for protection because the hawk was circling. They are beautiful birds, right up there with our American Eagles.

January 22, 2012 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Leslie @ Farm Fresh Fun said...

Poor Dora! Hope she's made a full recovery. We've had several hens hurt, but all from our own dogs when they were pups!!! We sure fixed that fast. We have many hawks and eagles but the now grown dogs seem to keep chickens safe. They're more likely to peck each other. I separate them and provide yogurt n fruit to nurse them back. Our "Henny Penny" has decided she prefers this lifestyle, offers her permanently bare (til molting) head down for pecking, and hops into an old rabbit hutch every night. She's just an old pet now!

January 22, 2012 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Hawks, falcons and eagles are all breathtakingly beautiful, just not when they're threatening my critters. I'll shoot an opossum or coon or snake that I catch messing with my livestock and not think twice about it. But it's illegal to harm birds of prey and I don't think I could if it were legal. They are just doing what God so beautifully designed them to do and they're so magnificent to see up close.

When we first had chickens, we only had three hens and they had the full run of the yard with the dog. Sometimes the dog and the hens would nap together in the sunshine. But when we got more hens last spring, I decided six chickens crapping on my sidewalks and patios was just a little too much we fenced the lower part of the yard for the chickens. The dog has the upper part of the yard around the house because that's mostly what needs guarding. But this pair of hawks is new to the neighborhood and I guess we'll have to change our strategy a bit. At least Dora is okay and maybe all of the chickens learned to be a little more wary when they're out.

January 22, 2012 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

We've had our share of chicken assaults and fatalities due to predators. I'm glad Dora is okay. She'll be back to normal soon, and hopefully, her memory will serve her well, so she can avoid any future run ins.

January 22, 2012 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

She seems okay today, they all do ...not really skittish anymore. But I do hope their instincts will kick in if a hawk flies over. I leave the coop open for them when they're out and they have the open awning next to the shed for shelter. I'm also hoping that the hawk pair is discouraged at their failed attempt the other day. Time will tell.

January 22, 2012 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Great story, and glad they are all okay!

January 23, 2012 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Thanks. I much prefer 'great stories' to 'sad stories' ...the difference being how the stories end. Not sure we will always be around when the hawks are, but I'm glad I was around when this little incident happened.

January 23, 2012 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger The Craftivist said...

Oh my, pooor Dora but I actually had to laugh out loud when I read the part about her little chicken life flashing before her eyes. Glad to hear she's ok though, she's one lucky chicken.

January 23, 2012 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Kate ...
Maybe I should change her name to Lucky! She seems to have recovered emotionally now. The only evidence is the band of white across her pretty auburn back where that hawk was plucking her feathers. She looks like she's going through a very localized molt. I'm sure she'll grow her feathers back in a couple of weeks and be none the worse for wear. I just hope she and her flock mates are a bit wiser because of this incident. As much as I'd like to, I can't always be there to protect them.

January 23, 2012 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Betty said...

Goodness, poor Dora! My grandchildren have 22 hens that live next door to us...they are pets...waiting at our back door in the mornings to eat with our two cats. It's amazing to call 'Kitty, Kitty', and the chickens come running.

Thank you for visiting with me...yes, the pineapple tops were placed in potting soil and cared for in the winter we place them in the greenhouse.


January 23, 2012 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Our chickens think they are pets too. When I open the back door, they all come running, hoping for treats. I seldom disappoint them ...I bring popped popcorn, or fresh fruit, or stale bread. After the grandkids have been here and there is leftover dry cereal, they get that too.

Thanks for the info on the pineapples. I will be trying that!

: )

January 24, 2012 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger The Orange Jeep Dad said...

All hail the Mutt Patrol!

January 25, 2012 at 3:42 AM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

Yup, OJD ...wouldn't want to be without her. Boxers kind of have a reputation for being too boisterous and bouncy to be very obedient or useful in a serious setting. They were originally working dogs in Germany though ...they're generally very smart. The two that we've had over the years have both been very trainable and dependable. She's a GOOD dog.

: )

January 25, 2012 at 5:21 AM  
Blogger kx59 said...

Attacks from "outside" have a way of bringing us all together don't they? At least for a little while.

January 25, 2012 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger HossBoss said...

It's nice when it works that way and that's the way it SHOULD work. But I think Dora was more than a little disappointed in her flock mates all hiding in the awning while she was being attacked. Perhaps that is the correlation with calling someone 'chicken' when they act cowardly.

Of course, since she is the only one that was 'up close and personal' with that hawk, SHE might be the first one in the awning the next time a hawk flies over!

: )

January 25, 2012 at 7:55 PM  

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