Frozen chickens! Aerial predator??

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by bertman, Sep 25, 2011.

  1. bertman

    bertman Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 13, 2011
    No, I'm not referring to processed broilers.

    This morning while I was watching our girls in their run they all went absolutely stock still--frozen--for over a minute. Not a twitching muscle on a single bird.

    I'm not exaggerating about the length of time either. I called my wife after about thirty seconds (because this was such an unusual event) and she walked from the kitchen to the living room window and watched with me for at least another twenty or thirty seconds, then we went outside to see if there was a hawk in the trees or a fox nearby.

    Once we walked to the run the girls relaxed. A couple remained frozen for a few more seconds but they came around.

    We never saw a predator.

    I'm assuming their frozen pose was a defense mechanism to fool an aerial predator. Can anyone explain this or offer another reason for it? Thanks.
     
  2. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Mine do similar with predator that is moving and about 100 yards out. I think most predators, especially birds, have a hard time recognizing a prey item when they are moving and prey is not. This may be particularly important if prey has not identified. Many avian predators hunt by hawking (flying to a location, looking around, go after prey if spotted while looking around or flly to next location) and chickens may attempt avoiding detection during the looking around part of cycle. Almost certainly you would have been able to hear your chickens making a muffled cackle or hawk alarm call during the freezing. Most of time my birds either move to heavy cover (in response to red-tailed hawk) or face predator (in response to Coopers hawk). If hawk incoming, then they either run to cover or move evasively (Coopers hawk).

    First vulture of year cause similar reaction but as season progresses my birds tend to ignore them.
     
  3. bertman

    bertman Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 13, 2011
    Thanks for the info, centrarchid.

    I was in the house and did not have my hearing aids in, so I could not have heard the predator alert call. All I saw was the girls all freezing instantaneously and in unison.

    This is the first time I have ever seen them do this and they were in their heavily-fortified bunker of a run (of course, they don't know this fact) when it happened. I've seen them make a run for dense cover several times when a large bird flew over when they were free ranging in the yard, so maybe this was a ground predator that got close to the run. We do have fox and coyote in the area, plus some dogs have gotten away from their owners every now and then, so that could have been the cause.
     
  4. ErinG

    ErinG Chillin' With My Peeps

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    The only time I have seen my birds do this is when a Cooper's hawk was very, very close. They were pullets at the time and pretty traumatized by it, I really had to coax them to come out so I could lock them up.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2011
  5. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri
    When we relate these observations it is probably best to be more detailed in description of flock (number, age and gender distribution, realtionships between birds, size (breed)) and environment (proximity to and type of cover). On my patch I have multiple flocks of different compositions and landscape is not homogenous. These variables coupled variations in predator can cause a range of responses. Most of time my details have also been lacking which makes hard to go back later to figure out what is actually going on.
     
  6. mrpekinduck

    mrpekinduck Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 29, 2011
    Ducky Land!
    Probably a hwk or eagle of some sort.
     
  7. SmokinChick

    SmokinChick Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I was feet away from my three 6 month olds. Heard one of them growl! They frozeso did I. We all stayed there for several minutes. Never saw any threat? We do have sharp shinned hawks, never heard the girls growl with those in the trees before.
     
  8. bertman

    bertman Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 13, 2011
    Good point, centrarchid.

    The run is a 12' by 8' trapezoidal run with the coop in the center. The whole run is covered top, sides, aprons by hardware cloth. The run is in a wooded are with mature white oaks, maples, and poplars so when the trees are leafed out, as they are now, there is not much way a hawk could see them unless it was on a lower branch (and I have seen some within 100' of the run and on lower branches--but only rarely, and months ago.

    The birds are all pullets that are now six months old. They're full size girls: 3 Ameraucanas, one Brown Leghorn, one Golden Sex Link, and one New Hampshire Red.

    The girls free range almost every afternoon for an hour or two before dark, plus they get free range afternoons on the weekend when we're home. I have seen them demonstrate the cocked-head-eye-to-the-sky look before followed by a scurry under a shrub, but I've never before seen the girls do a choreographed freeze in unison. It was pretty cool actually. Kinda like something out of The Twilight Zone, except you could see the breeze blowing the leaves on the trees around them so it was obvious that I was not hallucinating. LOL

    With the cooler weather the leaves on the hardwoods are beginning to thin somewhat, so they may be seeing the aerial predators that were previously not visible through the canopy.
     

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