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.
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.
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.
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…