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A chicken story with a happy ending

One of many feathers found at the scene

I was sitting at the computer upstairs when I heard the chickens screaming. I dashed to the side porch, slipped on my shoes without tying them, grabbed a broom, and ran toward the orchard yelling.

The battle was happening on the far upper end of the orchard, beyond the asparagus patch. I couldn’t see the battle clearly through the weeds and honeysuckle that grow on the fence. One chicken ran out of the undergrowth and headed toward the garden. But from the sound it was clear that another chicken was still engaged. Not until I loomed over the scene of the crime with my broom did the hawk try to get away. It crashed against the fence several times before it realized that it had to fly toward me to escape. I could have knocked it out of the air with my broom if I had tried, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

A terrified chicken got up from the ground, dazed. She didn’t seem to be injured. She stumbled toward the chicken house, climbed the ramp, went inside, and cringed in one of the nests in a corner, trembling. The chicken that had run to the garden was fine, though scared out of her wits. It took me a while to find the third chicken. She had gone to ground down below the chicken house, hiding under some brush. She answered when I spoke to her and extricated herself from the brush. I escorted her to the chicken house to comfort her sister.

If chickens have the freedom that they love and deserve, then hawks are the biggest problem. Dogs, foxes, and coyotes have never gotten through the fences here. Raccoons only come at night, when the chickens are locked safely inside the chicken house.

The local hawks — Cooper’s hawks, I believe — are not any bigger than a chicken. A chicken that puts up a good fight can escape a hawk attack. What’s funny about this hawk attack (the first attack I’ve had since last summer) is that I am pretty sure that two chickens were fighting the hawk. That’s not what I would have expected. I would expect all the chickens to run except for the one that can’t get away. One of my chickens, I suspect, deserves a medal for bravery.

Everyone who has had chickens in this area struggles with the same question: Is it worth it? Is it fair to expose chickens to a danger from which you can’t fully protect them? The chicken infrastructure here is better than what most people can provide. Most chickens here live to be several years old. Those years are good, happy years. This is my eleventh year of keeping chickens here. I’m not ready to give up. Nor can I blame hawks for being hawks. I just wish they’d stay away. I hope this one learned a lesson.

According to PETA, 9 billion chickens are killed each year in the U.S. to be eaten by humans. Worldwide, the number is 50 billion. Their lives are as terrible as their deaths. Misery on that scale is existentially incomprehensible to me. If you’ve ever gotten to know a chicken, you know what sweet, sensitive, emotional creatures they are. A happy chicken that can truly live like a chicken is a rare thing. My chickens live that way most of the time. Their vulnerability is disheartening. But it’s wonderful to see them fight for their lives — and win.

There were lots of feathers at the scene of the crime. Most were clearly chicken feathers. There was one large feather that I believe is a wing feather from a hawk. Way to go, girls.


  1. Jo wrote:

    Proud of the chickens! Hopefully, they made the hawk remember them enough to stay away. They were lucky you heard them and there was cover for escape, plus they fought back. My neighbor has a small pond in his pasture. His ducks congregated there and I enjoyed watching them so much. A fox (or maybe more than one) brought all of that to an end. They were in an exposed area and were no match for the fox(es). I sure miss them.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  2. Henry wrote:

    When I was a boy and visited my grandad the chickens ran free except for the pullets he kept in a fenced yard for sale (kind of like a prized chicken = $$$)it was always a thrill to discover eggs among the free hens roaming area. I don’t recall hawks swooping down to raid but I was a kid and wasn’t computing much then. One day I rode with my grandad in his cage laden truck to So San Fran where many types of slaughter houses were located (no longer of course)he would go into a type of office and come out with an envelope, men would scamper onto his truck and unload the cages, while others loaded empty cages right behind them. I knew something was up, but I didn’t grasp the total picture until much later.

    Thursday, January 31, 2019 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

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