Eagles

It is an eagle eat chicken world out there, and though chickens seem to have some instinct about predator birds, it doesn’t kick in fast enough for a good survival rate.

We have an eagle nest about 500 m as the eagle flies from my chicken house, and it’s been there, in one version or another (it’s the third nest and second tree) for a decade. For the most part, the eagles ignore my chickens. When they first moved into the neighbourhood, it was a different story, and I had a frustrating week back then, hearing the fuss out the back and rushing out to scare the eagle off the already severely maimed bird – too late.

The thing about chasing off eagles is that they don’t seem too worried by people. They would really rather ignore us and just continue dealing with their catch. Since these birds are quite big, this is something that makes you think twice before you send one of your little darlings out, and makes you take to carrying the broom with you when you go.

Back then, I dealt with the issue by keeping my chickens indoors for a few days, and then covering a small run with wire to keep them safe from above. There was no nonsense about rotating them to clean ground or fresh pasture – I didn’t at that time have a field shelter I could use, and my choice was a less satisfactory husbandry model or losing every single bird to the eagle, who had come back daily for that one week. My solution seemed to work, and after that initial foray on his part, I had no trouble from the eagles – a raven once or twice, but the eagles seemed to have found another food source.

That was then, this is now. I have a flock about triple the size of that first flock (it WAS around 45, probably about 41 now), and though I have very little fondness for this particular batch of hens (they are nasty little escape artists and terrible egg eaters), they are MY hens, and I derive a nice little bit of pocket money from their eggs. They live in a much larger hen house, surrounded by 5 runs covering about half an acre, through which they are rotated to allow the ground to refresh. Not a perfect system, but not bad either. Except that fences are in disrepair, and did I mention this pesky bunch are escape artists? Suffice it to say, they have basically had the freedom of 3 of the 5 runs, plus about 8 of them have been free ranging to my neighbours, and up to the road.

Nest number three - only one bird home just now, the other must be out being a breadwinner

Nest number three – only one bird home just now, the other must be out being a breadwinner

Well, freedom has a price. Last week, the eagles, who just recently rebuilt their nest for the third time (the last one blew down about a month ago – don’t they know how breakable cottonwoods are?), and must be feeling lazy about hunting, because after a full 10 years, I’ve had 4 attacks in 4 days, and he maimed or ate a bird every single time.

What's left of one of the escape artists

What’s left of one of the escape artists

I did what I did before…I kept them in for a few days…this house has an open sided shelter (wire on the sides) on one side, so they had some space to move around and get away from each other, but definitely no access to bugs, grass, etc. And they wreaked havoc with the nest boxes and the eggs. I saw the eagle still checking the chicken area every day, and decided it was time for me to change tactics.

So I picked the smallest of the 5 runs, which fortunately is not in terribly bad shape in terms of growth, and basically wove a web of string back and forth across it – took three balls of string and a couple of odd bits, but it was kind of fun in a way – we were blessed with a mild, sunny day, so it was really almost pleasant work. After making sure I’d repaired all the holes in the fence, I let the chickens out, and their voracious attack on the first green grass they got to told it’s own tale.

Happy hens under a web of protection

Happy hens under a web of protection

They’re going to be stuck with this run for a while, as only one other run can really have this work done to it – the others are too big. I’ll be working on the other run next days off I guess.

I have yet to see if my web works to keep the eagle off or not – I have no wish to entangle him/her, but I’m hoping they’ll see the web and be put off making an attack. Of course, any dim-witted hen who makes an escape is on her own…

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14 thoughts on “Eagles

  1. So frustrating!!!!! I was wondering about some sort of overhead weaving here at my place and then read your post – I’ll wait to hear how effective yours is and then give it a try…

  2. My brother lives right next to the eagle nest and had some trouble with them this year as well – he has a different set up from me, but used twine across the top of his run, about 6 weeks ago, and so far, so good. Which is why I’m giving it a try – he’s a neatnick, so his string is all in straight lines and the same height. Mine is more like a mosaic. I like to think it demonstrates my creativity :).

  3. df says:

    Oh boy, reading this reminds me of how lucky we have been, so far. I’m very aware that I must qualify that, always, with ‘so far’. Four attacks in four days must really get you down. Looks like you’ve taken good steps and hopefully the eagles will get the message reasonably quickly. Love seeing picture of your set up!

    • I know, it’s always interesting seeing how other people do the same things you do, I think that’s why so many people like real estate open houses :). We’re lucky really to only have trouble with aerial predators – so far. My brother, he who lives next to the eagle’s nest, and thus less than 500 m from me, lost 40 chickens in one night to a mink about 2 years ago. Not looking forward to that scenario.

      • df says:

        40 chickens in one night?! That’s just hard to comprehend. I know that just as we were taking chickens on a work colleague of ours was giving them up. He’d lost more than a dozen birds in a very short time frame and said he couldn’t cope with any more loss.

      • He usually has around 100 layers. 40 was big to him too, but he hasn’t had another visit since. It was quite a mess though. 40 would have been most of my flock.

  4. I thought about setting up a May pole of sorts with brightly covered ribbon. but that’s about all I did – thought about it. Hope your lovely mosaic of twine does the trick.

  5. A maypole is a lovely idea, much prettier than plastic electric fence posts.

    Actually, an idea that I probably won’t do as it’s too much work for me, but it does fit the permaculture model quite nicely – folks near me have their chicken house open into their kiwi plantation – about half an acre of vines that are trained up to overhead wire and they spread a sort of canopy. The chickens spend all day in there, shaded, busy, happy, and completely safe from eagles and ravens, plus they debug the vines. In winter there isn’t any foliage, so the birds get the sun when they want it, but the mass of vines crisscrossing above them seems to keep the eagles away.

    You could create a sort of green maypole maybe with grapes or hops or something…

  6. I LOVE that idea! I’ve been tinkering around with ideas for vines in the new chicken digs at the farm. I’m setting up a Chicken Food Forest for them but it will take their mulberry, fig, etc trees a while to provide them with cover and was thinking about how to incorporate the vines to do the trick in the meantime.
    You mentioned above about the open houses – there’s a cool site called houzz – I love daydreaming and collecting pics/ideas on that site, but it would be waaaaay cooler if there was one for farmers!

  7. Bill says:

    I hope it works for you. I tried this method when a hawk was picking off our chickens every day and it just navigated between the string. We had to move the coop to closer to the house or the hawk would’ve eventually killed them all. Very frustrating.

    Since then we haven’t had any problems, but there are so many predators that like chicken that I know it’s just a matter of time. There are very few eagles around here so thankfully we haven’t had that problem. A few years ago a couple of stray dogs wiped out nearly our entire flock, just killing them for fun.

    One thing that helped us was just letting some blackberry brambles come up in the run near the coop. I used to cut them out until I realized the chickens can hide in there and hawks can’t get to them.

    I hope the eagle loses interest soon and moves on…

    • Yeah, this won’t stop any hawk – they’re smaller and very agile. But the eagle pair is very mature, they’ve been in our neighbourhood for at least a decade, and they’re huge. They could not accommodate their wingspan between the gaps I’ve left, which are seldom bigger than 5 ft. The wing span on both birds must be easily 6ft, and standing on the ground, they are about waist height to me (I’m not short). . They don’t dive bomb like the hawks, but swoop in, and they wouldn’t be able to do that in the gaps. Nor can the ravens, fortunately. Hopefully none of them will try or I’ll have an injured frustrated bird of prey to rescue…

  8. toddd10 says:

    We are lucky as we don’t have Eagles in New Zealand. My local bird of prey is a New Zealand Harrier and they only eat carrion. That means that the chicken will need to die first before he will even bother. That said I have another similar problem to you, escapologist chickens, despite having an acre to roam they head into the bush of the neighbours fields for the day and only return at night.

    • Eagles will eat carrion too – they’re kind of opportunists, I guess. You have some amazing birds in NZ…I watched some keas in Queenstown determined to figure out how to tear apart a chain. They didn’t succeed, but they gave it a very good go. I gave up on my escapees – and actually only seem to have two now – whether I actually rounded up the others at some point and just couldn’t count, or whether they were done in by raccoons or eagles, I don’t know, but currently only 2 hens seem to be out and about, and I’ve watched one of them hop back into the run, despite tying it up with string like that. Wing clipping time…

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