Friday, April 5, 2013

Stalked by a Hawk

Being stalked by a hawk is much different than a hawk stocking, which would look something like this:

It is also much different than being stalked by Tony Hawk, which essentially means you'd be chased around town by a celebrity with a skate board.  Or on a skate board.   Possibly both. 

A real hawk would look something like this:


So I've been periodically letting the flock out of their Fantasia Land for more exercise and to work on bug control.  I usually let them out mid afternoon, that way they can't get in too much trouble.  They have a routine of sorts.  Initially when I let them out they scamper down the hill to the lawn area.  If you've never seen a chicken scamper, it's funny as hell.  It's worth it to let them out just to watch them scamper down the hill.  It's the highlight of some of my days, especially when I've been in this here vacuum, conveying to you!  See how glamorous writing can be?

After they carefully pick over the lawn area they start in to a couple large, bricked in planter areas next to the house which essentially have nothing but good dirt in them for now.  If you've done any reading in this blog you'll know I have an ongoing deer problem, which is yet ongoing, and hence, no wonderful blooming plants are yet in the planters.

We do have a half dozen rose bushes in pots behind some deer netting in one box, but other than that it's free range dirt.  They love getting in that and rolling around in it and getting the dirt all over their bad selves.  That's the way they take a bath.  By getting dirty.  I know, it makes no logical sense!  If only human children had it so good.

After they've had appetizers and bathed, they mosey out by the wood pile and shed, and then migrate to the back, eventually ending up on the hillside around Fantasia Land as dusk approaches.  Then, as dusk closes in, they all end up back in their cage, perched up for the night.  I'll mosey up around that time and lock the door for the night, so that (hopefully) no predator will be able to gain entrance.

I always leave their cage door open throughout the day once it's opened in the morning.  Besides offering access to the hen house and nest boxes where the hens lay, it affords them security if they need it. The outer door now remains closed.

The flock currently has more than enough room to live a happy and healthy life within their fenced in coop, which surrounds their secure cage and house.  But getting out is good for them, it's good for the cats, and good for us.  They get to scamper and get exercise, get to hunt and eat bugs and keep the pests, especially ticks, at bay.  A couple times I caught Myrna and Ethel in back of the shed with Tom, the cat, smoking cigarettes, but that's OK.  I'd probably want a smoke too if I'd just eaten fifty-six ticks.

Besides the smokers, the cats and the chickens pretty much leave each other alone.  Tom, the one-eyed Bandito, was curious at first, but now that he's taken a few under his fur he's fine with them all.  Joe, the scaredy cat, watches and hangs out from a reasonably safe distance of fifteen to twenty feet.  They both have a healthy respect for Goldie, the rooster, who always appears quite unconcerned with either one of them.

Saturday, February 23rd, we had some company coming over for dinner.  I had let the flock out that afternoon and had been cooking in the kitchen.  Just about the same time our company arrived, I was opening the utility room side door to toss something in the recycle bin.

I opened the door, and, much to my dismay, I immediately noticed a dead chicken, about three feet from the open door.  Feathers everywhere!  It was one of our Babys, a Buff Orpington, and it had no head.  As I looked for what seemed like a second, I noticed there was another bird on top of the dead one nibbling away.

At first I thought it was another chicken, it's been known to happen.  Things can get quite Darwinian at times in chicken land.  Then the feasting bird turned it's head, about three feet from me, and an evil eyed Mr. Red Tail Hawk cast me a very pissed off look.  I just interrupted his dinner.  Then he turned his head, abruptly flapped his wings and took flight, heading out over the parking area and our company's car, which had just arrived.

I was flabbergasted!  First of all, I figured the chickens were too big to be hauled away by an airborne assault.  Well, I was right on that accord.  Too big to fly away, but not too big to snap it's neck like a twig and then suck its brains out.

To me it seemed to be a difficult location for an aerial assault.  The portion of ground where the assault occurred is in the back of the house, within a ten foot wide, fairly narrow space, RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOUSE.  Maybe he thought he could carry it away but then quickly discovered he could not.  I don't know, but it sure appeared to be brazen to me.

I immediately rounded up the rest of the flock and got them into the fenced in coop.  It amazingly wasn't that hard.  Trying to round up a chicken and get it to go where you want it to is usually like trying to round up a bunch of munchkins at a helium factory.  Or a bunch of helium at a monkey factory.  I know, it gets confusing.

But the flock was all kind of huddled together in back near their coop, actually kind of shocky.  They were aware one of theirs was down, and Goldie, the rooster, had apparently wisely chosen damage control.   He was not going to leave the living, and was docile as a cucumber as my lovely wife and I herded them up the hill and into the coop.

Then I buried our poor, dead, used to be valuable bird.  A laying hen can be worth $30- $40 in these parts.  She was just going to start hitting her egg laying stride for another three or so years.  Might have even laid the golden one.  Who knows?

As dusk approached we noticed Mr. Evil-Eye Red Tail sitting on the tippy top of a pine tree about one hundred feet from the house.  I think he was still hungry.  And pissed off.  He gave me a pretty snide look when I first interrupted his dinner.   He sat up in that tree well into dark, casing the entire scene with his piercing hawk eyes.

The next morning our son came over and I was showing him the scene of crime.  Ole' Evil Eye decided to grace us with his presence with about a twenty foot high overhead fly by.  He was indeed a big, red tailed hawk, with a massive wing span.  He was almost eagle sized.  Or duck sized.  Either one.  You pick.

He circled around and then landed in very tall pine about fifty feet away.  Mr. Red Tail apparently liked the very top of the highest trees.  My son got the pellet rifle out, which ain't the most powerful, but it can bang out 12 shots at about 600 FPS (feet per second) with a fresh canister of C02.  It's reasonably accurate for a distance of two to three hundred feet, and gets used for varmint control.  It can power through a small rodent or bird, but doubtful it would scratch the surface of this mighty raptor.  And it's snappy enough to annoy just about anything.

My son fired a couple shots in Mr. Red Tail's direction.  The first shot made him flap his wings once, the second shot got him ruffled up enough so that took flight, soaring low over the house.  As he flew by, about thirty feet off the deck, he turned his head in my direction and uttered a very snide cry.  Not the piercing, happy cry when two of those glorious creatures are doing a high fly monkey sex act dance in the sky.  Rolls, somersaults and incredible aero acrobatic antics as they happily communicate the splendour in their souls.

No, this was a low, slow, deliberate kind of drawl.  My son and I both thought he said  "Fuck you."  With pure and utter disdain.  And contempt.  With a sneer.  He was pissed and was not afraid to let us know.

Mr. Bad Ass Hawk was around periodically throughout the day.  We noticed him in several pine tree tops, the very tippy top, and then I saw him sliding in very discretely into a thick of leafless oak branches, about twenty feet from the chicken coop.  His color blended so well If I hadn't seen him fly in I never would have seen him on the branch.

He kept flying around, surveying, either looking for his interrupted dinner from the night before or hoping he might get another opportunity.

Goldie and the girls however, were on full alert.  Now kept within their fenced in universe, at the first hint of any trouble they all scampered inside their cage, with most of them inside the attached hen house.  Goldie was at the entrance, ready to give any intruder hell.

I actually think the hawk had been stalking the flock for a couple hours, kind of like the lion hunting in the Savannah, waiting for a young or unhealthy straggler to become separated from the herd.  Or a dumb bird from the flock.

The chickens are usually pretty much together, with Goldie overseeing the group and adding valuable protection.  I am certian the Orpington was all be herself.  If Goldie had been near, I am sure there would have been a hell of a battle.  I don't think the hawk would have wanted any part of Goldie, who is easily twice a hawks size, even Mr. Bad Ass. 

I was concerned about aerial assaults when they were adolescent and a bit smaller, but I figured once they were full size a bird of prey wouldn't be able to haul them away.  I was correct on this, however, they obviously will kill and have a picnic.  Anywhere they damn well please.

The flock will now forever be confined to their Chicken Fantasia Land, the subject of another post somewhere on this here blog.  There's adequate room for a flock of 20 to 25 in there, and I doubt I'll ever get that many.  I do want to get a couple more layers this spring, as well as a couple Guinea Hens, but I doubt I'll ever have more than twenty birds at any one time.

Their Fantasia Land is well protected against both ground and aerial assault, with access to a Def-Com Nine secure type area, with Goldie, the rooster, posted at the entrance.   I also immediately put up their summer time shade tarp, which covers about a third of their open area.  This certainly limits the aerial view, and I sincerely doubt a hawk would venture into that much of an enclosed space, especially with a rooster on hand.

It is there they must reside, I can see no other way.  If that hawk was willing to attack and dine three feet from a structure where humans dwelled imagine what he'd do in an open meadow.  He'd invite all his friends.  My flock would be gone overnight.

It'd be like the rice fields in the morning.  In another life, back in the mid-nineties, I used to commute to the valley from these foothills, passing through rice paddies on one portion of the drive.  It was either that or head straight into small town commute fury, which, believe it or not, can be much more frustrating than the LA Freeway at times.

So one morning, as I was rolling along this two mile portion of road with rice paddies on either side,, minding my own business, I noticed a hawk on the top of a telephone pole.  Then I noticed a hawk on top of the next pole, and the next, and the next, for a total of eighteen in a row.  Those poles were probably less than a hundred yards apart.  I have no idea what they were hunting, but I'm guessing there was a bunch of 'em.  I'm also guessing whatever they were hunting didn't stand much of a chance, not with a squadron of aerial intruders awaiting.  That would be what my front yard would look like if I let my chickens roam.

The girls were initially upset over the entire scene, with egg production falling in half for almost a week.  But they have now recovered, and a couple times this last week we received eight eggs out of eight laying hens.  I think there were nine lizards leaping and seven toads on a surf board too.  What, wrong rhyme?  At any rate, we've got a good, productive bunch of happy girls.

On a side note, as I write this about four weeks after the assault, some friends just stopped by.  They said a big hawk just flew real low over the driveway, like about twelve feet off the flight deck.  He had our cat scampering for cover.  I haven't seen Mr. Bad Ass around for several weeks, but it sure sounds like he dropped by to see if I've let my guard down and there was any easy dinner about.

Not today my friend, you have taught me well.