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Owl ate my chickens - seeking permaculture owl prevention  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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We have a new predator eating my hens.  It's got two so far, but it's not like anything I've ever seen.

The first one, it got when there was snow on the ground.  No footprints, but large-ish wing marks.  So I'm thinking a sky monster.  The wing marks are larger than a chicken, not so large as an eagle.  The kill was swift, it look like it took two blows from above.  Very little blood.

It only gets one hen at a time.  So far it's been a week between kills.  The hen is eaten in place, and I mean eaten!  I've never seen something like this.  Only the leg bones, carcass bones and some of the neck are left (all still attached together).  Most of the feathers, the head, all of the organs and flesh, even the wings are gone. 

The first attack was in the late afternoon.  I checked on them about an hour before sunset and they were fine.  Come closing time, there was one hen missing and nothing but her bones in the yard.

Our main eagles here are bald eagles; they cart off their prey.  Ravens leave a mess and only eat the choice bits.  Their kill isn't as tidy.  Red-tailed hawk would be hard pressed to kills a chicken without creating some noise - their kill is messy and takes time.  Maybe an owl?

What's eating my hens?
 
David Livingston
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would have to be a big owl plus one that hunts during the day  as though some owls are large often they only eat smaller prey . Here in Europe the only one that I know that might just be big enough is 
 
More likely a hawk such as this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_goshawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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That sounds like an Owl kill to me, great horned owls and other larger members of the family will start hunting around that time of day.
The great horned Owl has a large wing span and will devour its prey at the spot of the kill.
Owls eat an entire animal then regurgitate the parts they can't digest, fur, feathers, bones, in a pellet looking cast (sort of like a cat's fur ball).
 
Tina Lee
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We have the same problem here. I gave up on letting the chickens run free when I am not around.  Between the fox, coyotes, skunks and raptors I am down to 3 chickens. I never wanted as many as we started with last spring (16) but this has been ridiculous.  We had to build a run and a covered area for them.  I still release them on days that I have time to watch for trouble.
 
Craig Dobbson
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A peregrine falcon has been working my fields for the past week or so, eating mice and voles.  A few days ago I saw it sitting up on top of a power pole finishing off a bird that it had caught.  The prey wasn't all that much smaller than the falcon, and the falcon had no problem flying around with it from pole to pole.  Just a few minutes ago it took a low flyby of the chickens.  My chickens are all veterans at this point and my rooster is very alert so I generally don't worry about predators from the sky.  Foxes are a challenge but that's why we have the dog.  Anyway... don't let the size of a predator fool you, they are powerful and ballzy.

Have you seen this one yet?   It's an owl taking a hawk right out of it's nest at night.  Watch the glowing spots as they approach the nest.   BAM!    
 
David Livingston
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Craig thats the bird I posted about earlier its a great hunter ; I am lucky to have held a live one and it was surprisingly light it has wonderful amber eyes

David
 
Tyler Ludens
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When I tried free-ranging young chickens, we lost one per day to a Red-tailed Hawk.  We even saw one chicken fall from the sky in front of us when the hawk dropped her.  She survived with only a broken wing, to get eaten by a raccoon later.  That was my first year raising chickens here.  The solution I arrived at was to avoid free-ranging smaller birds or to only allow them to free-range on random days, so hawks won't get the idea there's a daily free buffet laid out for them here.

 
r ranson
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Thanks guys. 

I gave my chickens a lecture this morning, explaining what happened to the last rooster that failed to keep his hens safe.  They are usually very good at this sort of thing and we encourage our livestock to defend themselves.  That no one gave a call of alarms supports the owl hypothesis.  Not even the geese noticed it.  Sneek attack. 

Our large owls include:
Western Screech owl (Otis kennicottii)
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus)
Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)
Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus)

I haven't heard a Great horned owl around for almost two months.  They usually arrive mid to late summer and then leave once the rabbit population diminish.  We often get Screech owls this time of year, but I haven't heard any yet.  I wonder who it could be and  how I can find out.  The more I know about the predator, the more I can defend against it.


A more important question: What permaculture techniques can I use to defend against owls?
I don't feel that caging in the chickens is kind to them, although we have reduced the size of their run and added obstacles, to make it difficult for eagles to get at them.  Eagles seem to want a lot of room to glide in and lift out with their heavy load.  This new sky monster seems to need a very small space, especially because it's not getting takeaway. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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I would try making some hideouts for them out of pallets or something similar up on blocks, so they have a low place to run under.  This won't guarantee the slow and stupid won't get eaten, but you will be selecting for the quick and observant.

 
r ranson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I would try making some hideouts for them out of pallets or something similar up on blocks, so they have a low place to run under.  This won't guarantee the slow and stupid won't get eaten, but you will be selecting for the quick and observant.



These are great ideas.  We made some a few years back as part of a strategy against eagles.  Having those shelters, making certain there's no long path for the eagles to swoop down, and getting rid of the cowardly rooster, we hadn't had any problems with eagles (or hawks) since.  At least, not until last week.

That's what's puzzling me about this new predator.  It's getting some of the healthiest, strongest hens.  It must be coming in silently and almost vertically. How do I defend against that?
 
r ranson
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What I'm thinking is to solve several problems with one solution. 

Problems:
-preditor/sky monster
-too hot in the summer - their yard needs shade
-price of chicken feed goes up each year.

How's this for a solution.  Some sort of netting over their run about three or four feet off the ground (the height of their fence).  We would plant some fast climbing vines like cucumber or something edible to chickens, outside their run, and train it to grow on their netting.  Thus providing shade in the summer and as the fruits mature and hang low, food and entertainment for chickens. 

something like this perhaps



New problems.
-Netting degrades over time.
-weight of plants may be too heavy for netting.
-may be too expensive.
-chickens may get hurt by netting?
 
Tracy Wandling
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An interesting problem. What about instead of netting, using long thin poles like bamboo or willow - or whatever you have - across the top of the run? These would be strong enough to hold whatever vines you plant, and would probably help break up the 'ease of entry'. Poles could be easily replaced if they weather. And you could throw branches on top to further deter the sky monster. How wide is the run? Could be your run is too wide to span . . .

I plan on picking up old wire fencing/chicken wire from the free store to cover my run when we build it next summer. But not everyone has a free store to rummage through, sadly.
 
r ranson
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The run is about 15 foot wide at one end, 9 foot at the other, and roughly 66 feet long.  The run is broken up with pallet and other shelters so that they have lots of hiding spaces. 

Maybe netting some of the space.  Trellis netting seems to come in 5-foot widths, so maybe three, 5-foot spans of netting across the run, supported by wooden poles, so that it covers the area between the shelters?  I think Ravens would still be able to get by that... hmm..

Another thought is to make the run smaller (again!), but I don't like that idea so much.  Between their spacious house and the run, they seem to have the right amount of space to keep them happiest. 
 
Mike Frizzell
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I had the owl problem with my almost free range chickens, with an owl that would take the head and sometimes one bite out of the breast. The shelter is 4 posts with a tin roof and a yard split into 4 paddocks radiating from it. I fed the chickens a little in the evening, spreading the feed in a straight narrow line that included a long dead limb they used for roosting. I had a section of Premier1 electric chicken fence that I erected around the chickens when they came in to eat and made sure all were inside.  They didn't complain, just settled in for the night. The killing stopped until an escapee from the net was caught by the owl.  I changed the fencing to include the shelter, wrapping it around the posts almost to the top, and leaving the one side open toward the straight feed path. A few nights later the owl was entangled in the net portion around the shelter.  A call to the local bird lady and my problem was solved.
 
Walt Chase
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I had four chickens killed by a great horned owl a couple of years ago.  Owl wound up inside the coop somehow.  It was quite interesting getting that thing out.  I solved my owl problem by putting netting over the top of the run.  I can't let my chickens free range at all due to eagles, ravens and owls.  I used baseball backstop netting that I salvaged when a backstop had its netting replaced due to some rips and tears.  I have to go down and shake snow off when we get a big dump, but so far it has held up really well and I have lost no more birds.

 
Burra Maluca
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You might find this interesting, though not encouraging.  Not sure how much this applies to owls though.

 
David Livingston
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Nice film Burra
Goshawks are like peregrines on steroids they are birds that stoop at high speed often taking birds on the wing ( thus unlikely to take hens this way ) and thus are more used to small spaces Owl tend to swoop  to the ground and I would expect them to need more space.

David
 
David Livingston
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been thinking about this hen are basically jungle fowl originally found in er ...jungle Ie beneath a canopy So what harm is it if they live beneath netting . Since the little darling are not the best flyers around why not grow something up the netting that might feed the birds too .
 
Todd Parr
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I use cattle panels to build greenhouses.  Just bend them over into a hoop shape and use something to hold them in that position.  I have used an 8ft 2x4 or 2x2 at each end, stakes along the sides, or wire connecting the two sides.  They would easily support the weight of climbing vines or plants.  If the predator can fly thru the holes, you could use chicken wire to cover the hoops and roll it up as the plants grow to fill the spaces.  The drawback is the initial expense, but as near as I can tell, these things should last many, many years.
 
r ranson
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Wow, that goshawk is amazing.  Thanks for the video.

We have some like this in our area, but I haven't seen them near the farm yet.  Mostly it's merlin and falcons.  They like the smaller birds and every now and again I get to see them hunting.  Beautiful, if it wasn't sad.  But still, beautiful.  I saw a falcon go after a pigeon that has adopted our farm (it's a homing pigeon that got lost and decided we are home).  It was amazing to see how fast and how delicately those two birds could fly.  It makes one realise what they mean when they say a pigeon is the second fastest bird in the air.  Only the falcon had a friend that ambushed the pigeon further on and the three of them went into the trees.  I was certain poor Squab had finally found his resting place, but no, he was back the next day.  Out flying and outsmarting two falcons!  That gives me a whole new respect for pigeons. 

Back to the chickens. 

I've been thinking of how we can create an understory for their yard.  I want them to get as much light as they can in the winter, but shade in the summer.  The biggest trouble is water.  Anything I grow there this year will need irrigation.  But I think it's worth it if it protects and feeds my chickens at the same time, it means less things need growing elsewhere. 
 
Todd Parr
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R, not certain how dry it is where you are, but could you use the top of the coop to capture rainwater and use gutters to put it into a small swale directly above the understory plant?  If you used flexible tubing attached to the gutter system, you could pipe it to different plants at different times, or create a very small (maybe a couple square feet) pond above a plant, and then small swales to direct the overflow to the next plant and the next, etc.  It would water the plants and give the chickens something to drink from/play in.  When they poop in it, as they surely will, the water would carry the fertilizer to the plants "downstream".  The shade in the summer/ sun in the winter issue is easily handled by using deciduous plants.  I have some large-ish white pines in my run that I would remove if it wasn't for the fact that they are good wind breaks and shelter from the overhead predators.  They definitely block the winter sun, as I talked about in my post about the chicken coop greenhouse I built this year.
 
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