(Worsening) chicken agoraphobia

JustSarahThanks

Songster
Jun 24, 2020
167
467
126
Portland, Oregon
My ~27 week old pullets have been outside in their coop/enclosed run area since early July. They had a happy, normal chicken-summer scratching around and completely strip mining their little enclosed run. In the past couple weeks they have become increasingly prone to getting spooked and retreating into the coop and not coming out again. I have no idea if the weather turning and it becoming most definitively autumn has anything to do with anything or not but it seemed to start around when it got a bit chillier here. Probably just coincidental but maybe worth mentioning. Initially it was pretty minor but now they seem genuinely anxious to be out there at all (even when I'm there with them) and beyond just a little normal startling, they seem to get genuinely afraid.

One side of their run borrows the fence that separates our backyard from the property to the east of us (we elected to use that fence because it's the most robust section of fencing in our yard) and there is partial visibility through it to that property which is an apartment complex. They also get filtered views through a different section of fencing across to a small parking lot for our local post office so they occasionally see cars/mail trucks, etc. I bring up what they can see (or semi-see) because in the past few weeks they've become a lot more reactive to people they can see through either fence. Initially it was more of a low-grade anxiety level of reaction but lately (especially when one resident in particular of the apartment walks past) they go into a total panic, fly around the run and retreat into the coop and I can't coax them out again for the rest of the day.

I know chickens are notoriously skittish and reactive and all those things. It just seems like escalating fear and reactiveness to people they see either walking past in the apartment complex next door or in the lot behind our property and I want them to feel safe and comfortable in their run. And of course because of COVID they have never met any other people other than us (and very briefly our next door neighbor from the other side of our property when we did a six-feet-apart tour of the coop/run and they were fine with her at that time).

I guess I am asking generally about ramping up chicken fear over time (and if season plays into it at all) or if this seems like real cause for concern, or what. I've thought about putting up some privacy blind-style siding or something on our side of the fenceline so even if they hear people from the apartment complex walk by they can't see them and see if that helps, and sort of entertained the idea of reaching out to the people who live there and see if they want to physically distanced-drop by with some lettuce or dandelion greens in hand as a peace offering and show the birds that they are nice and friendly (if they truly are those things? I don't actually even know, I haven't actually directly met anyone who lives in that building).

For reference, the space they can see between the actual apartment building and our shared fence is about 20-feet and there's a little walkway with some plantings along it on that side of the fence.
 

NNYchick

Crowing
Jun 15, 2017
1,479
2,476
261
Harrisville, NY
I personally wouldn’t have strange people interact with them. My guess is the area they are in has too much activity for them to feel safe, is there a foot path or parking near their run? Do you have pictures of their setup with views of what’s around the coop and run. Mine keep their distance from new people. Mine also hang out on the edges of the lawn where the brush and trees are rather than the open area.
 

NNYchick

Crowing
Jun 15, 2017
1,479
2,476
261
Harrisville, NY
Oh I’m sorry you did say there is a walkways. Pictures would help but can you creat a little blind so they can’t see all the activity going on at walkway. One way I can see autumn affecting them is if there were plants or trees along there that have died back or lost their leaves.
 

PDXJULES

Songster
The activity level at the Parking Lot is very likely a trigger for wariness. Can yu block off their view of all that actvity?

Chilly wind has been happening here lately, and younger Chicks especially hate the wind. But yep, sounds like they are afraid of something. Car doors slamming, barking dogs, airplane and truck noises are among pdxChickie dislikes.

If one freezes for a few minutes - she is often listening to something I haven't heard yet. I try to reassure or distract with another activity or treat when that happens, so they know it's not a big deal. The wind knocking something around, a recent predator experience - or even falling leaves may spook them. If a group of Crows fly over or gets noisy I Caw out the word CALM in a softening tone and they always calm or quit. My Chicks think I speak all the wild bird languages...or maybe they just watch in amazement when I try.
 

JustSarahThanks

Songster
Jun 24, 2020
167
467
126
Portland, Oregon
DSC_0471[1].JPG


Here's a little quick tour of the run and the pre-existing fence lines we used as sides of it (and of course the chickies had to rush out to supervise my photography). First photo is standing in the doorway, the second photo is on the other side looking back at the door. It's covered over in bird netting (which is starting to sag a little under some fallen leaves which I try to bash off of it). The long side of the fence (which is taller) is adjacent to the apartment, the shorter, narrower side at the back is what looks across to the parking lot (there's a skinny vacant lot in between that has some dumpsters for the apartment building).

Ah, the joys of urban living/chicken keeping.
 

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rosemarythyme

Crossing the Road
Jul 3, 2016
12,516
23,212
792
WA, Pac NW
My Coop
My guess is something happened where someone passing by on the other side of the fence either deliberately or accidentally frightened the birds (bored kids, or mean adults, or someone just being loud and inconsiderate), and that has in turn made them fearful of anyone passing by. Because even if your chickens don't regularly meet people, they shouldn't be scared of them either, unless something happened to scare them.

A privacy blind would be the best option IMO. I really wouldn't want random people dropping food items into the run.
 

JustSarahThanks

Songster
Jun 24, 2020
167
467
126
Portland, Oregon
My guess is something happened where someone passing by on the other side of the fence either deliberately or accidentally frightened the birds (bored kids, or mean adults, or someone just being loud and inconsiderate), and that has in turn made them fearful of anyone passing by. Because even if your chickens don't regularly meet people, they shouldn't be scared of them either, unless something happened to scare them.

A privacy blind would be the best option IMO. I really wouldn't want random people dropping food items into the run.
Thank you for this. My husband's theory is that the one particular neighbor that they really seem afraid of yells at them or something although we haven't specifically heard or seen anything specific to that effect.

Now we just need to figure out what specifically to use as a privacy blind! And hope that it helps.
 

JustSarahThanks

Songster
Jun 24, 2020
167
467
126
Portland, Oregon
some nasty sob has spooked your chickens
We have incidentally been researching security cameras (which we'd already been thinking about for mostly unrelated reasons). We haven't heard or seen any harassment to our birds ourselves (and my husband's office room while he works from home has a pretty clear view and can get a lot of the audio from out there), so maybe time so make that jump. If it turns out to be the apartment resident we think it is I'm wondering about contacting the apartment's landlord/management or whoever and saying that we're having issues of this sort (and potentially have video footage to back it up if needed).
 

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