A head ripping predator caught In the act!

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by Elizabethy27, Jul 30, 2014.

  1. Elizabethy27

    Elizabethy27 Hatching

    Feb 26, 2014
    We started out this year without incident and with an abundance of new, young, healthy and very promising breeding stock of Saxony Ducks, Silver Appleyard Ducks and Pilgrim Geese. By this point in summer we have lost a total of 15 young birds to a new and gruesome terror not yet encountered in all our years, The Great Horned Owl.To be fair we have been spoiled, we have lost only a couple birds in the farm's early years before our perimeter fence was complete to the unseen predators that seem to disappear with the whole bird as quickly as they come, not to return and life resuming to normal. We free range our birds and rotate them on fresh pasture, but as anyone with geese and ducks know they truly love to sleep outside, nestled in the dense tufts of alfalfa and clover they only like to use their buildings for shade. We don't allow our baby birds to sleep outside, only full grown adults so the babies have portable nursery pens and the adults have a portable hoop house, we leave the door open so that they can come and go as they please, we use portable electronet fence and make an acre large pasture for them. We have 5 1/2 foot tall electric predator fence around our entire property so really our birds are protected by two fences and a large livestock guardian dog, again spoiled without real incident, that was until I went out to feed my babies one morning and one of my 6 week old ducklings had it's head stuck under the door from it's house and it was torn completely from it's body which was laying in the inside of the building. It is was an awful scene and very much a shock. The body nor the head had any visible damage, I looked it over carefully, no punctures, no feather loss, no tearing, no blood nothing.... its head and neck one long perfect piece as it was simply and cleanly separated from the section of spine the connects the base of the neck to the shoulders. The building the duckling was in had a full roof and a dutch door, we left the top half open for air and the head had been pulled through the closed underside of the bottom half of the door. I went straight to my computer and started researching and based off what I read I figured a raccoon had attempted to pull the duckling under the crack at the bottom of the door and had managed to rip its head off leaving the body on the other side of the door. I was confused about how the raccoon was getting through our electric fences, so we bought a bigger and more powerful fencer which set me on my butt when I grazed a wire, days went by and again everything was fine, we figured we had solved the problem and let our guard down. We found the next duckling's head laying by the front door of the building again, it's body laying about 15 feet away in a patch of dirt, same exact condition of the body, whole head and neck cleanly ripped from its base of the shoulders, no other trauma. I was angry, at least if a predator is going to murder my ducklings it could eat them and not let their bodies go to waste! The odd thing was these ducklings were in a building with only a small door opening at the top while I had a whole flock of adult birds sleeping outside exposed in the grass or under little roof huts we make them for shade, they were completely unharmed. We started locking the doors completely at night to the young birds allowing no openings, but the adults slept outside or in the hoop house with the door open and they never got touched. Then some of my young chickens just "disappeared" during one early morning when we let them out at very early sunrise. We didn't find tracks, feathers or blood, they were there when we left to go to the feed mill and gone when we came back the two survivors ran back in the hoop house and wouldn't leave for days. I was angry at our livestock guardian dog who seemed to be doing nothing to prevent this, I would discover he was doing his best but he of course can't fly. We lost 3 young chickens that day and a gosling they next morning. The death toll was raising and it was getting to the point where our birds were being locked up constantly and not having a very good quality of life stuck in a hoop house all the time. People kept telling us to put a roof over our pens, our "pens" are an acre large, how does one do that? This predator was threatening our free range methods, allowing our birds to choose when they go in, allowing them ample space to roam, feed and swim. We set up cameras but never caught anything, we strung stings and reflectors, we bought the blinking red anti predator lights, we put up a scare crow. Things felt safe and died down, time went by and my young birds had grown and were quite larger so again I made the terrible mistake of opening the top half of the door for a better breeze one hot night, 1 gosling hen, body outside the building no head or neck ever found, 1 duckling in building with neck severed partially, 1 duckling head and neck severed completely in building. All bodies found in small pools of blood from the necks which we had not seen before, 1 duck limping and other ducklings and goslings terrified and stuffed in a corner. I was so upset with myself, I don't believe in keeping birds in small wired runs and it was looking like that was the only way I was going to be keeping my birds safe. So we had been locking our adolescent birds in and only letting them out in mid morning and chasing them unwillingly back in before the sun sets, it has been exasperating but there had been no more losses, that was until yesterday, a full grown gander, head ripped off laying in the dirt patch. I guess the baby banquet was closed and so the predator made an exception but he was in the right place at the right time and this time we caught something on our camera. Here he is in all his glory and He took down a full grown goose no problem. This time he obviously had time to feed since our dog was locked up after having a vet procedure and the owl ate the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys leaving the crop and guts untouched. So there it is, we had to build more hoop houses in one afternoon to lock up all our birds of every age at night now and only when every bird is locked up at night and released on pasture in full daylight do we not experience any loss. Our neighbor informed us he saw a whole family of them sitting on his barn hooting away the night before this happened, a whole family. Another neighbor told us how they will fly right into chicken coops and barns and will kill inside, they have been known to kill small dogs, new born lambs and goat kids, cats, full grown geese, turkeys, chickens.and ducks. They are intelligent, problem solving, veracious and ruthless hunters and they have been seen ripping off protective roof netting to get at sleeping birds below. I let the devil in the front door when I left the top door open. This family of owls has changed our methods as we can't let out poultry sleep outside exposed anymore, it's the only way to keep them safe. I hope sharing this experience will inform those who are losing birds to the exact same method of killing, please don't waste your time and money trying to figure out all the different predators it could be, cats, raccoons, foxes, weasels, opossums, skunks, coyotes, hawks, if you find a dead bird intact with it's head and neck clean ripped off, even if it's in a building, I will put money on an owl. The sad bottom photo is of the morning after of my poor slain goose.[​IMG][​IMG]
  2. thomasboyle

    thomasboyle Songster

    Feb 28, 2013
    Northwest Hills of CT
    Thanks for sharing, and very sorry for your losses. Its frustrating when you are doing everything humanly possible - electric fences, livestock guardian dog, motion cameras, and you are still losing birds and not knowing why. I raise chickens and ducks, and while the chickens always go inside the coop at sunset, the ducks never want to. But over time they get in a routine, and I simply go out at sunset and tell my 15 ducks to go home, and they all form a line and make the walk into the coop! You'd thinking I was sending them to a prison camp! If you live in the country, bad things happen at night, so I make sure all my animals (chickens, ducks, cats and dogs) are safely inside at night.
  3. scratch'n'peck

    scratch'n'peck Crowing

    Oct 31, 2008
    West Michigan
    My Coop
    @Elizabethy27 Thank you for posting this. I am so sorry you had so many losses. Just today I found my Pilgrim Gander with his head ripped off and gone, but the rest of his body was barely bloody, and there were very few feathers lost. He was twice the size or a Canada goose and it seems like racoons or even coyotes would have struggled more with him and left more damage to his body ( not to mention they would be likely to eat him.) I didn't really consider the possibility of a great horned owl, but we have them around here. Your photos show that they are as large as a goose.

    Still it seems so strange... we have been living here for 3 years with geese and never lost one like this. I am guessing that you had been living in that area with waterfowl for a while before that pattern of killing started. In retrospect did you find any other signs of the owl in the losses like talon marks on the bodies or the white marks of owl waste left behind?

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