This is a photo of our two free-range hens Zippity and Doodah, happily clucking around our lawn. This behaviour has now stopped and both of them are missing their tail feathers and Doodah (the black hen) is missing a lot of the feathers off her sides too.

At first, we could not figure out what had happened; there are no dogs on our property that would attack them, we have a spoodle, Cruz, he likes the hens and they like him, sometimes Zippity chases him for fun. Well, she used to – now she acts very skittish and spends most of her time under trees and bushes, not out in the open.

behind shot of cruz watching a hen
Cruz happily watching Doodah

No one had bought any other dogs onto the property and it’s very unlikely to be a neighbouring dog, I can’t imagine a cat coming after our girls, it would have to be pretty fierce.

Could the culprit be the huge bird (I thought it was a hawk) that often flies out from the trees on the hill and circles around our property? Do hawks attack fully grown chickens? After a little investigating I found this is entirely possible.

Several of our neighbours have seen a large bird flying around and one has now identified it as an Australian Wedge-tail Harrier which is an eagle. This one has a wing span of approximately 1.6 metres and had been eyeing up the baby goats up the road when they were born. Zippity and Doodah are very lucky to be alive!

Our hens have always been free range and we don’t have an area that I can lock them up safely in, so what to do?

dead bird and feathers on the ground
This is what happened to a black bird (think that’s what it was)

I’ve noticed that the pukeko stand completely still as soon as one notices the eagle, they become totally motionless and aren’t seen, as soon as it’s gone they continue on with what they were doing.

Our hens are totally unaware of the statue procedure and instead sprint up and down the lawn crazily. When we had the business at home they used to spend a lot of time near Grant in the trees outside the production area, but now that we are at work all day they seem a little confused as to where to hang out which is making them vulnerable.

I’m hoping they will keep well away from exposed areas near the forest as that’s easy pickings. We don’t have an area to lock them up in to keep safe, I’m looking for other ways to keep them safe and have considered rehoming them if that’s best.

Here’s some of the suggestions that I found on the Lifestyle Block Forum.

1.Invest in a magpie decoy from your local hunting supplies store. Put it in a prominent ‘perch’ in your chicken’s run area and it will deter hawks (and magpies) from visiting. Shift the position from time to time to keep the hawk guessing.

2. If you have a protective rooster then they can be a deterrent to hawks. We have a couple of hawks that have worked out how to get the eggs from the nests the hens make in the long grass. They land right in near the hens but have never bothered them. If a hen gets upset the rooster charges over which I think would frighten off a hawk.

3. You could try the coloured windmills you can get for kids; that worked for me up until the wind got up and they fell apart, so have now put up some little disco balls ($2 each) on the end of some bamboo canes around the orchard where the chickens roam and it does seem to work. You could also use old CDs. We got rid of our rooster (kept waking up the other half) and now the ducks have taken over as the hawk alarm!

4. Guinea Fowl are also well known for their hawk alarm broadcasts. I know of one poultry breeder who uses them to protect her Houdans from hawk attack.

hens roaming free outdoors

Zippity and Doodah, now half the size due to stress and loss of feathers. They’re slowly recovering from their ordeal but are not laying any more.

I like the idea of a magpie decoy and getting some Guinea Fowl … and this is a rather odd coincidence … when I got home from work a couple of days ago there were two huge magpies hanging out in the paddock and I’ve not seen the eagle since!

Today I am home putting the newsletter together and still no sign. Am praying the magpies stay – never thought I’d say that!