I have this theory that once you establish an “understanding” with the resident wildlife things will be a lot more harmonious on the ranch. And if you displace the wildlife you have an “understanding” with then you start losing birds and lambs to the new wildlife that comes in and fills the void. It is with this theory in mind that I have cultivated an “understanding” with a pair of Red Tailed Hawks that count our farm in their territory.
The pair actually live in our neighbor’s oak tree grove about a half a mile away. They fly over our farm several times a day and survey their territory from our big oak tree by the pig barn. Our orchards offer them quite the bounty in ground squirrels. We never poison our ground squirrels for many reasons but chief among them is we don’t want to harm the hawks. When we shoot ground squirrels we always leave the bodies out where the hawks can get them easily and I think they appreciate the bounty. The pair have raised two beautiful chicks to adulthood on the bounty of their territory and its been wonderful to see them flying over every day.
Many farms have a problem with hawks and I am sure we have lost a chicken and some chicks to this pair. But I also think they have “learned” that our chickens are not easy marks. Several years ago I was working in my office and I heard the most awful squawk and the chicken yard erupted into quite a noisy ruckus. I looked out the window to see Rumpy – one of our Polish roosters – running like the daylights away from a somewhat stunned hawk on the ground. It was obvious the hawk had tried to catch Rumpy with a steep dive but he got wind of the situation and moved – so the hawk got its bell rung a little bit. After a minute it got up and flew away. I have seen other scenarios where the hawks made an attempt for the hens only to have a rooster give warning just in time. I have also seen the hens dive into the midst of a turkey group and that deterred the hawk as turkeys are too big to take quickly. If a hawk was on the ground trying to take a turkey I have no doubt it would get pummelled by the turkey’s siblings. I think the hawks know that too.
As a result I think our resident hawks have resigned themselves to eat squirrel rather than chicken and they rarely attempt to take my birds anymore. Of course they would if they could! Its just they know the odds are pretty low so they don’t bother to try anymore. As a result they are a kind of “free” poultry protection from other raptors. Which brings me to the events I witnessed this morning.
We had gotten up early to bale hay and I was running to the fuel station to get some diesel for the tractor. I looked up to see one of our resident red tails attacking a bigger bird in the air – it would swoop down aggressively and the big bird would roll “on its back” and present its talons in defense. The hawk kept doing this in what appeared to be an attempt to drive off the larger bird. I finally got close enough to see the object of the hawk’s anger – it was a full grown bald eagle! A beautiful and majestic bird that was being absolutely terrorized by the smaller hawk. The hawk finally succeeded in driving off the eagle and getting it away from the farm. I know the hawk was only defending its territory but the side benefit for me is that it was also defending our chickens. An eagle can easily kill a chicken and even a turkey hen and a NEW eagle will make attempt after attempt at the birds. By driving off the eagle the hawk was saving our birds.
I count myself very lucky to have this pair of hawks as neighbors.