Chicken Predators in the Sky
Vigilance and a rooster or two protect against flying chicken predators such as turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles.
The northern goshawk is a large and powerful raptor.
From my front yard, I can watch red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures circling over our home daily. A rafter of wild turkeys lives in the woods behind our house, and many crows share our neighborhood. Occasionally, I’ll even spot a bald eagle perched in a tree along the Missouri River. It’s a great place to be a birder. Unless, of course, you keep chickens.
When I was a youngster, my mother warned me to watch out for chicken hawks. Although, to my knowledge, the hawks that soared over our farm never once attacked any of the cranky old biddies or the crusty rooster that inhabited the farmyard. They’d probably seen the rooster take after my little brother, and decided the fight wouldn’t be worth the meal.
In later years, I learned that “chicken hawk” is a colloquialism that describes several species of hawks, including the red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, and the sharp-shinned hawk.
Know your chicken predators
With a wingspan of about 3 1/2 feet, and weighing 2 to 4 1/2 pounds, red-tails are big enough to kill and dine on full-grown chickens, along with mice, squirrels, small birds and rabbits, and even cats and small dogs. And with eyesight eight times more acute than a human’s, hawks have no trouble spotting their next meal.
Weighing just 11 to 24 ounces, the Cooper’s hawk typically feeds on songbirds, along with chipmunks, hares, mice and squirrels. And the sharp-shinned hawk is too small to bother chickens. Weighing just 3 to 7.7 ounces, with a wingspan of only 20 to 27 inches, it feeds on lizards, frogs, insects, sparrows and songbirds.
Do vultures pose a threat to your chickens? Yes and no. Depicted in cartoons as waiting patiently until something dies, turkey vultures generally prefer their meals already sun-baked and rarely kill prey. They’ll spend hours soaring, relying on their acute sense of smell to detect the decomposing carcasses of opossums, raccoons and other roadkill. Although they lack talons, vultures have a powerful beak that will tear apart even the toughest cowhide. With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, and weighing between 3 and 5 pounds, vultures can send any flock of chickens into a panic attack.
Found in the southern United States, the black vulture is more aggressive than its cousin, the turkey vulture. Weighing up to 5 pounds, black vultures prefer to feed on carrion and will even chase turkey vultures away from a decomposing carcass. Black vultures also have been known to kill and feed on newborn calves and fawns, as well as small mammals and birds — including chickens.