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.

| May/June 2012

  • Hawk
    The northern goshawk is a large and powerful raptor.
    Steve Byland
  • Owl
    The great horned owl preys on birds and animals up to three times its size.
    Terry Wild Stock
  • Bald Eagle
    Powerful wings allow bald eagles to carry prey weighing as much as 4 pounds.
  • Turkey Vultures
    Black vultures are aggressive and have been known to kill newborn calves and fawns.
    Fotolia/John Anderson

  • Hawk
  • Owl
  • Bald Eagle
  • Turkey Vultures

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.

6/23/2014 7:56:36 AM

I have crows around that will run off predator birds and a guardian dog that lays near my flocks. Since I have gotten the LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) I have not lost any of my birds to varmints.

Michelle Koeppe
5/23/2012 6:53:11 PM

I have had Sharp-Shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) take young pullets in both the heart of Portland, OR & on my farm 20 miles away. Both were one pullets-- a Serama, & a Penedesenca. They swooped down, killing the birds immediately, and then dined on them in place. I have found that keeping guinea fowl has been a good deterrent from raptor attack as they are alert, highly vocal, and foil most raptors attempts at surveying before attacking....

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds