Christmas chicken loss

CMcGrath71

Chirping
Apr 26, 2020
29
45
54
Hello Folks,

I didn't anticipate losing a chicken--I guess no one does--but I lost one of my flock of six today--on Christmas, of all days. I'm heartbroken.

My flock has an enclosed run, but I let them free range in my fenced in yard when I am home with my dog. This afternoon, I went out to drop off gifts at some friends' houses locally, and because I was not going to be out long, I left the chickens out. I took the dog with me. Big mistake.

When I came back home, I noticed my littlest girl missing. I looked all around the yard, the coop, the run, etc. and couldn't find her. I did see a number of feathers near the house, but that was it. Eventually, my dog found her--she was inside the hedges on the ground, ripped open. The front of her body and the food from her gullet eaten.

Does this sound like a raccoon? Fox? Hawk? Whatever it is, I want to have a better idea so I can take better precautions in the future. Obviously, free ranging when me and the dog are not with the girls is now off the table.

Also--I'm imagining this may have traumatized the rest of the flock. Other than keeping them in, is there anything I can do to minimize the stress on the rest?

Thank you.
 

microchick

Driving my husband crazy 1 chicken at a time!
6 Years
Dec 31, 2014
10,466
48,258
1,177
NE Missouri
I am so sorry, on Christmas no less, what a bummer.

Sharp shinned hawks will take out small birds, rip out the breast meat and leave the rest of the carcass behind. I had one do it to song birds that it was taking out at my bird feeder. All I would find around the yard were these song sparrows with no breast meat. A neighbor finally caught the assailant in the act and called me with the news.

I'm not sure how big the bird you lost was but a sharp shinned hawk will definitely take out the breast meat. Most hawks here will eat the bird where they kill it and leave the feathers behind.

Please don't blame yourself. What ever killed your bird was only following instinct and was hungry. I'd be extra careful about free ranging your birds as whatever it was now knows where to grab a quick meal and will be back.
 

CMcGrath71

Chirping
Apr 26, 2020
29
45
54
Thank you all for your kind responses. Hilma was a small (but not bantam) bird. I'm not really sure what breed. I thought she was listed as "Bluebell" when I purchased her, but she didn't look anything like the images of that online. Sort of looked like my Easter Egger, without the beard. A very sweet, very talkative little girl. Lowest one in pecking order.

It did look like just her breast had been eaten and her crop ripped open. So, a hawk?
 

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Folly's place

Enabler
Premium Feather Member
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
24,158
41,960
1,156
southern Michigan
I'm so sorry for your loss!
I agree that a hawk sounds likely, and it will return, so your birds need to be in their safe coop and covered run, probably for two weeks or so, longer if you see a hawk hanging around. It's a risk when you free range your birds, unavoidable without a covered run.
Your survivors will be more careful in the future, a good thing. Do they have shrubs and stuff to get under when needed? Adding cover for them helps too.
Here I've lost an occasional bantam or immature bird to hawks, often a Cooper's hawk, sometimes red tailed hawks. The sharp shinned hawks are very small, mostly after small songbirds and rodents.
It could have been a land predator instead, and I'm glad you lost only one today. It's always a miserable event.
Mary
 

briteday

Crowing
12 Years
Dec 16, 2008
1,223
138
266
Northern Nevada USA
It's always difficult. The one lesson I've learned the hard way is that it is likely the predator will return now that they know where to find food. We had a few of our birds in a smaller coop outside the regular chicken shed for overflow. Something came one evening just before closing up and took out one hen, just like yours. I didn't think much of it but then the next evening it returned and finished the job, all 5 remaining. It was so awful I had to get my husband to clean up and we never used that coop again.
I would keep the girls in their run with overhead protection, even a tarp.
 

CMcGrath71

Chirping
Apr 26, 2020
29
45
54
I will definitely keep them in their run for a while (although one is molting & getting picked on--very bad timing!). Their run is 10x10, fully enclosed and predator-proof. They won't be happy. They are spoiled and like the run of the yard/garden, but I'd rather them a little unhappy and alive.

When I do let them out again--there are a lot of places around the yard for them to hide--they usually hang in and around a large row of shrubs that's next to my house. I thought that was pretty safe, although that's where I found poor Hilma.

When I free range them again, aside from having my dog out with them, are there any deterrents that work for hawks? How about those owl decoys? Any luck with them?
 

Folly's place

Enabler
Premium Feather Member
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
24,158
41,960
1,156
southern Michigan
I doubt that anything works for very long, especially if it's a fixed object. Raptors have fantastic vision, and will observe things for a while, often, before striking. It's likely no accident that your birds were out there alone when attacked, and that's hard to prevent 100% of the time.
Putting a game camera out there might be interesting too.
Mary
 

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