Help with aerial predator identification *somewhat graphic*

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by FarmrGirl, Jul 1, 2010.

  1. FarmrGirl

    FarmrGirl MooseMistress 9 Years

    Jul 1, 2009
    Southern Maryland
    I've got a big problem with predators killing my ducks lately and I very strongly suspect they're some kind of raptor, but I don't know what.

    I found one of my juvenile Harlequin drakes dead, but no blood and found one Muscovy girl (approx 7lbs) the day after I noticed she was missing; she was alive, had walked back to her flock-mates when I saw her covered in dried blood. I saw that all the feathers had been plucked from the back of her neck and all the skin had been eaten off the back of the neck too. Some of the meat had been eaten off of her "shoulders" as well. She smelled like rotten meat but I figured that was because she'd been like that for 24 hours before I found her.

    Two days later I found another Muscovy hen of the same size with a much fresher wound, same description. She was coated in fresh blood and had walked back to the barn to be with the rest of her ducks.

    Last night I found my juvenile Khaki Campbell hen eaten up horribly but alive and smelling like rotten meat. Also 3 other ducks: 2 Harlequins and another Campbell dead but no blood.

    Of course, each time I've continually stepped up preventative measures and finally resorted to keeping them all in their barns during the day. Which is terrible when it 101 degree heat index... I have fans for them but I know it just blows the hot air around. Unfortunately, it appears that word got out that I was hosting a duck buffet for lazy raptors and there are probably at least 4 of these hunters perched on my property somewhere.

    I haven't seen them or heard them so I don't know what I'm up against. I'd say from the size of the ducks and the fact that I have mastiffs on the property that it's got to be an eagle or a great horned owl.

    Anybody know what's killing my ducks?
  2. CMV

    CMV Flock Mistress

    Apr 15, 2009
    A red-tailed hawk. Sorry for your losses.
  3. Wifezilla

    Wifezilla Positively Ducky

    Oct 2, 2008
    Hawks. One got 2 of mine. Now the rest of the ducks are in a pen covered in netting. The hawk still stops by to see if any snacks are wondering lose. Last time she brought her baby with her! [​IMG]

    For a cheap covered run, put up a clothes line and drape deer netting over it.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2010
  4. FarmrGirl

    FarmrGirl MooseMistress 9 Years

    Jul 1, 2009
    Southern Maryland
    Thank you Wifezilla and CMV! I bought a bunch of 20lb test fishing line and I created a giagantic web about 100' x 80' and 7 feet up over the area my muscovy like to play and splash in their pool, strung up another over the enclosure around the Harlequin duck house and a third over the portable run for the baby ducks. Worked like a champ! I came home from work very anxious last night and everyone was splashing, flapping and happy! No losses! I plan to put up a big one over the grazing area too so that I can give them some lightly supervised free range time. It might be hard to maintain when branches and leaves fall but it's so worth it [​IMG]

    Good luck with your hawk problem, Wifezilla. Those things don't even seem to be afraid of my mastiffs! But Dana's Duck Buffet for Lazy Raptors is officially closed [​IMG]

    The following is all the information I could find about my preditor problem. It's a huge post but maybe all this information will help someone else searching the internet for predation diagnosis:

    I've spent hours researching to identify my predators so I know the best way to deter them. It seems like it's hunting in a "pack" of some kind... especially after this last attack where I lost 4 birds. One duck was dead down near the front of the property where the dogs have a small pool, another further in toward the duck enclosure, another just outside the enclosure, and one left alive but horribly mauled. It's clear they were running for safety that would only take them seconds to get to from the initial attack site so it wasn't a solitary hunter. All the dead ducks had no obvious signs of predation - no blood visible - just laying there all stiff. And the mauling is exactly the same on 3 ducks in 3 seperate attacks: Pulling out feathers on the back of the neck then eating all the skin off of the back of the neck. Lots of blood but the duck is alive and walking when I find it and no other areas were wounded or pulled at.

    After everything I looked at I still think it's raptors. Some kind of bird that stuns it's prey before eating but hunts with a group. Seems most likely to be the a hawk pair or Peregrine Falcon pair (tho they tend to capture prey in flight). They're about the size of my young ducks but about 2 lbs lighter. Last night I saw a stick nest in the big fork of a tall tree not far from my barn. No birds in it at the time, but certainly not big enough for eagles or great horned owls. The only thing is... I doubt they're sharing the meal when so little is eaten. I considered that a momma raptor may be training her young to hunt.

    I ruled out the two ground predators who might eat only the neck skin. Raccoons would get my dogs into a tear for sure, and there's no body of water close enough to my house for minks to hunt there. In fact, my dogs are really good about ground predators ~ even my vicious, man-eating squirrels ~ so, this predator is super fast and doesn't have to run across 2 acres of property to escape the dogs after getting the ducks in a huge ruckus.

    Something else that's odd is that I haven't lost a single chicken, not even the white ones. And not a single baby bird has gone missing - I have 11 baby ducks and 4 chicks. Really weird.

    Here's a description of the likely predators and links to some of the better websites I used in my research, hope it helps someone else:

    Peregrine Falcon: The Peregrine is a very large compact falcon, often referred to as the duck hawk. The Peregrine falcon doesn't hunt just any prey, it hunts other birds ranging in size from the small passerines to birds the size of geese. A Peregrine's typical prey includes pigeons, ducks, gulls and herons. Prey may be taken over land or water, and often are caught in mid-flight. Peregrines fly above their prey and, once prey is spotted it folds back the tail and wings, with feet tucked, and goes into a 200 mph dive. Prey is struck with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it. The speed from the strike alone is often enough to kill the prey but if the prey survives this attack the peregrine has nothing to worry about because it just uses its hind claws to rip open its prey's back or rip its head off and that gets the job done. When the Peregrine retrieves its food, it will partially pluck its feathers before eating. They are usually located near the sea or by mountains or cliffs but can be found cruising other areas for prey.

    Harris Hawks: commonly hunt in groups of about 5, increasing their success rate and enabling them to take larger prey such as cottontails and jack rabbits. These hunting groups consist of a pair and other helpers, with the female dominating. They are fast flyers and once they have spotted their prey, they land and take turns trying to scare and actually flush the prey animal until it darts from beneath its hiding place.

    Owls: Hunting activity generally begins at dusk, but in some regions or when they are raising young, they may be hunting in late afternoon or early morning. From high perches they dive down to the ground with wings folded, before snatching prey. The force of the impact is usually enough to stun the prey, which is then dispatched with a snap of the beak. An Owl's flight is silenced by special wing feathers, that muffle the sound of the air rushing over the surface of the wing. This allows an Owl to hunt by stealth, taking their victims by surprise. It also allows the Owl to listen for prey movements while still flying. They have been known to walk into chicken coops to take domestic fowl. Owls often remove and eat the head and sometimes the neck of their prey. Owls also pluck their prey before eating; if the head and neck are missing, and feathers are scattered near a fence post, the likely perp is a great horned owl.

    Raccoons: Raccoons feed on both eggs and young turkeys. Raccoons will open one end of an egg and eat its contents without crushing the shell. These nocturnal predators are highly skilled with their front paws and can reach through the mesh of an enclosure to pull body parts off of a bird, most typically at night. They usually bite the head off, turn the bird over and eat the breast meat, leaving the wings and legs. When the adult raccoons are teaching hunting skills to their young, they have been known to kill, but not eat, turkeys.

    Mink: Mink are solitary animals. Home ranges generally stretch along shorelines and vary in size and length with the relative abundance of prey. They are carnivores, eating muskrats, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, fish, snakes, frogs and birds. The mink spends a lot of its time in the water hunting for food. It kills its prey by biting it on the neck. Weasels and mink have similar feeding behaviors, killing prey by biting through the skull, upper neck, or jugular vein. In poultry houses, they often kill many birds, eating only the heads of the victims.

    Livestock Predation Identification Links:
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2010
  5. mom'sfolly

    mom'sfolly Crowing

    Feb 15, 2007
    Austin area, Texas
    It isn't a Harris Hawk family, they are only found in the southwest. Cooper's Hawks also team hunt and they like birds. My guess is also red-tailed hawk, since they are the most common.
  6. aprophet

    aprophet Songster

    Jan 12, 2010
    chesapeake Va.
    we have quite a few red tails down here in norfolk there is a smaller hawk here too I do not know the real name most here call it a sparrow hawk I did not realize squirrels could make noises like they do until a hawk picked one up in front of me. we have ospreys as well here don,t know if we are close enough to share the same wildlife probably the Potomac is kina tidal (Osprey)

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