Goshawk down

  • Posted on: 29 June 2016
  • By: MrWurster

In the end there were two goshawks raiding the chicken pen. There was a size difference between the two birds, which was how we could tell them apart.

We lost a lot of chickens and chicks…somewhere between fifteen and twenty…before we halted the carnage.

The goshawks only take the smaller birds, so half-grown bantams, chicks and adult Rosecomb chickens were all fair game.

We built three separate nurseries, for three broody hens. Two were steel frames covered in chicken wire, the third was a leftover trampoline. For the first few days the goshawks tried to work out how to get in…smashing into the side was one approach…but they couldn’t. Then they worked out how the flush the chicks out of the cage. We had to add a bottom layer of fine mesh to keep the chicks in.

Every couple of days we would move the cages to give them something fresh to scratch. Our back lawn isn’t particularly parklike, and with the rain and the intense working over that a busy mother and chicks can do, each patch was left looking like something from the Somme. But it was only temporary.

Two weeks ago we launched the fully fledged nursery. It’s about fifteen metres long and two and a half metres wide, shin-deep in vegetable matter, three nursing boxes and the all-important chick mesh. Since then we haven’t lost a chick. It’s inside the big chook compound, so the daily wake-up, feed, shut-down routine is much more streamlined. What a relief!

But the goshawks kept coming back. Every few days there’d be a commotion outside, and if you rushed out fast enough, you’d get there in time to see the goshawk lazily fly off. They weren’t scared of us, but they avoided us as much as possible.

So yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a familiar shape lurking around a big tree next to the house. Goshawks, I have found, are only on the ground to dismember something, so I went and had a look. Nothing to be seen…no predator, no remnants, no corpse….And today, driving past the vegetable garden, I again saw a shape move that looked familiar.

But it hopped along, rather than taking off.

I stopped and got out, and the smaller goshawk half-hopped, half flew to the bottom of the garden. Something wrong with her wing. She couldn’t get up high enough to fly over the garden’s rabbit-proof fence, even though she was flying downhill. I walked closer, and she hid, not trying to escape. Definitely injured, I thought.

I stepped back and let her alone, but watched from a distance. She waited me out, and the rain started again so I went on.

After lunch I came back to have another look. She had moved on, to a different spot, but this time she saw me, climbed up a bramble and scrambled clumsily over the fence. Out into the bottom river paddock.

It’s a four acre paddock, picked clean by the sheep, a good hundred metres to the river.

Out in the open, injured and on the ground, the magpie squadron spotted her clumsy movements and scrambled, and were swooping on her within seconds. The goshawk hopped and ducked, heading determinedly towards the river, but the four magpies kept a constant swooping going, with every second or third dive connecting with a loud clack.

I guess the goshawk had a history of harassing the magpies, too. I didn’t stay until the end. The magpies landed and were closing in.

But this morning I walked down there, and found no sign of a kill site. Maybe she got away. Or maybe the magpies killed her quickly, and overnight a fox carried off the evidence.

Two days later the other goshawk broke into the nursing pen, killed my beautiful Rosecomb hen and ate it while her chicks hid.

It’s not over yet….!