How To Protect Your Chickens From Hawks (tips that really work!)

I have spent the last 20 years keeping and breeding chickens, ducks and quails. Over that time I have enjoyed much success. I have also however had my fair share of failures.

For me, losing a chicken to any predator is a heartbreaking experience. My sole job is to keep these birds safe, and when I lose one, I take it very personally.

There are many predators just waiting to take one of our hens or her eggs. I recently wrote an article discussing how to protect your flock from the 20 predators most likely to kill one of your chickens.

One of the hardest predators to guard against is hawks. In this article I explain why hawks are a problem, and how to protect your flock against them.

There are 19 species of hawks living in the US and no doubt countless more living in other countries around the world.

As a general rule, the hawks have phenomenal eyesight and the ability to fly silently through the sky, swooping down and taking a chicken before we, or the hens, even knew they were there.

Hawks pose such a threat because they are often unseen before they strike. We often think of a hawk as circling high above us, searching the ground for potential prey, which is what they do a lot of the time.

However, hawks will also sit in a tree, almost hidden from view, just waiting for the right moment to swoop down and take a chicken.

Protecting against airborne predators can be the hardest. Whilst owls will happily take a chicken, they tend to hunt at dusk and during the night, once our hens are safely locked in their coop.

Ravens and crows can be a problem if we have very young chicks roaming the yard, but they won’t tackle a full-grown chicken.

Hawks are the real problem we face. Below I share my experiences on how to deter these airborne raiders from taking one of our chickens.

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Hawks come in two forms, the small ones (like a Red-tailed Hawk or a Coopers Hawk), and the larger ones (such as the Northern Harrier or the Harris’s Hawk).

Small hawks don’t tend to be strong enough to carry an adult chicken off once they have killed it. They are more likely to eat much of the chicken on the ground once they have killed it.

If you ever find a half-eaten chicken with a mass of feathers spread all around the body, there is a good chance it was a small hawk.

Larger hawks do have the strength to carry an adult chicken off to eat it elsewhere.

If you find you simply have a bird missing, or you find a patch of feathers but no dead body, it is more likely a large hawk took one of your hens.

Be aware – Hawks are protected by law!

So it is important to mention at this point, in case you were not already aware, that hawks are protected by law. No matter how much of a problem they pose to you and your flock, you can not harm them.

It is against the law, and you will end up in trouble. The Migratory Bird Act prohibits anyone from injuring or killing hawks or otherwise causing them harm.

Whilst you might be tempted to reach for the shotgun to deal with a predator that is taking your beloved birds, you instead need to change the way you keep your hens, protecting them whilst respecting what are, to be fair, magnificent predators.

How to protect your chickens from hawks

So we have established that hawks pose a genuine threat to our chickens, and we can’t eliminate that threat by removing the hawks. Instead, we need to change the way we keep our chickens to give them the best chance of being safe from hawk attacks.

Below I share some of my own experiences with how to keep our hens safe. You probably won’t need to employ all of these suggestions.

For some people, just putting one of these things in place will be enough. For others, myself included, it will take a combination of these tips and tricks to keep the flock safe.

Build an enclosed run

Keeping chickens in a fully enclosed run is probably the only way to be 100% sure your chickens will not get taken by a hawk.

I have to use enclosed runs for the majority of my flocks of chickens at my current property as we suffer from foxes as well as other larger predators that will not be deterred by any other method.

I don’t tend to use chicken wire as the foxes can bite through it, but if you only need to keep smaller predators, including hawks, from your chickens, then the chicken wire will do the job.

Needless to say, a hawk can not get through a wire fence. If you do not have problems with ground predators like foxes, then simply creating a wire net roof over the area your chickens spend their time will keep the hawks away.

Hawks tend to kill by swooping down from above, landing on their prey and immobilizing it quickly. They are very unlikely to fly under wire netting and then try and catch a chicken.

To be fair, if you are just creating a roof to keep the hawks away, strong plastic sheeting or tarpaulin will do the job just as well, plus a good strong tarpaulin will also keep the worst of the rain off the chickens.

Add a rooster to your flock

One of the best ways to protect your chickens is to give them an early warning system, allowing them to run for cover at the first sign of a hawk.

A rooster’s main job, after fertilizing the eggs, is to protect all the girls in his flock. Roosters have excellent eyesight, and while all the girls are spending their time scratching at the floor looking for bugs, worms, and seeds, the rooster will have at least one eye on the sky, looking for the tell-tale signs a hawk is flying above.

Typically roosters are larger than hens, and they can be fiercely aggressive. Whilst in reality most roosters would stand little chance against a hawk in a one-on-one fight, the hawk usually isn’t prepared to risk it.

If you have ever kept a rooster, you will no that he keeps a tight rein on his girls, and they will know all his calls and whistles. When he senses danger, he will send out an alarm call and they will come running. It really is fascinating to watch.

I can tell you from first-hand experience, that a rooster will cause such a fuss and so much commotion on the ground when he sees a hawk, almost every time the hawk will decide to leave the flock and come back another day.

Add some shinning objects

It turns out, that hawks fear anything that is unpredictable, and shiny objects, hanging from trees or posts, moving in the breeze will cause flashes of light. These flashes are totally random, and they work as a fantastic deterrent.

At a previous property, I used old CDs to great effect.

Scare tape is another product that essentially does the same job, except it adds the element of noise. Hawks will also be cautious if unusual noises are coming from your property.

I recently bought a roll of Scare Tape from Amazon.com and It only set me back a few dollars for 150′ (45m). You can hang the tape either as strips that dangle down or as lengths loosely tied between poles or tree branches.

The video below shows the scare tape in action.



Employ a fake owl

So this may sound strange, but hawks are actually afraid of owls. There are many chicken keepers who swear by placing a fake owl or two around the chickens as a way of keeping the hawks away.

I have seen fellow homesteaders that have a fake owl sitting on posts around their yard, and they tell me hawks are never a problem.

Do be aware that you need to move the fake owls on a regular basis. If they just sit in the same place month after month the hawks will quickly become used to their presence and they will be less concerned about them.

I would suggest that moving the owls becomes part of your weekly regime, maybe moving them to a different location each time you clean your coop out. You only need 4 or 5 different locations to give yourself enough variety that the owl will probably be sitting somewhere different each time the hawk flies by.

Scarecrows or I suppose scare-hawks in this case can do the same job. Dressing up an old dummy in clothes or even creating a good old-fashioned scarecrow, stuffed with straw can work a treat at keeping the hawks away.

Hawks won’t strike when people are about, and if the hawk believes your scarecrow is a real person, they will fly on by.

Again, a scarecrow will need to be moved frequently otherwise it will just become a feature the hawks take no notice of.

Add a guard animal

Above I discussed adding a rooster to your flock, and I believe that is one of the best early warning systems you can employ.

However, there are other animals we can happily keep with our chickens that will reduce the chances of a hawk attack.

Alpaca, donkeys, geese, and even goats are said to provide enough of a deterrent that hawks will think twice before diving down and taking a chicken.

From what I understand, it isn’t that the hawk fears the larger animals, but their presence is enough to put the hawk off. Hawks are aggressive when it comes to taking their prey, but they avoid conflict at all costs. They can not risk picking up an injury from a larger animal.

Cover the food and dust bath

Both the location of your chicken’s feeders and their dust bath have one thing in common, they are typically places where the chickens gather. Both also cause the chickens to be distracted, making them more vulnerable to attack.

When you have a small group of chickens gathered together, preoccupied with something, whether it be eating or dust bathing, you increase the hen’s vulnerability.

One way to reduce the chances of a hawk attack is to build a small cover over the feeders, waterers, and dust bath area.

To be fair, a cover will also keep the rain off, which is less important with the waterer, but crucial for the food and dust bath area.

Keep a yard dog

Having a yard dog living in and around your flock of chickens will also deter all but the most determined of hawks.

Hawks are well aware a large dog could take them down, and so they typically steer well clear of yards with larger dogs.

Some breeds of dogs work well guarding against other large predators including cougars, foxes, and even bears. However, do consider the size of the dog. If you choose a very small breed of dog, the hawk may see it as potential prey.

I have spoken to at least one homesteader that has lost a very small dog to a hawk.

Use a chicken tractor

If you want to allow your hens to move around different parts of your yard each day, but you are concerned about allowing them to free-range due to hawks, consider buying, or building, a chicken tractor.

A chicken tractor is essentially a small run on wheels. They allow you to keep your chickens safe by providing a covered run, but then move that run around to different parts of your yard.

Chicken tractors can be as simple as this one which sells for around $60 on Amazon.com to much larger, more elaborate, and more expensive versions.

I often use chicken tractors when I need to clear parts of my vegetable plot of weeds, but I don’t want the hens to destroy the whole area.

Provide temporary cover

If you are adamant your want your hens to be able to free-range, consider adding lots of different places they can dive for cover if they spot a hawk circling above.

Temporary cover can be anything. An old table, a pile of pallets standing on their ends, and even some pieces of tarpaulin spread between some tree branches.

When hawks strike they like to come straight down, landing on top of the chicken. If your chickens have places to hide, they reduce the chances the hawk will be able to come down directly onto them.

Hawks typically do not want to fly down, then along under a tarpaulin, trying to grab a hen on the way.

Only free-range when you are out with your hens

If you have tried the suggestions above, or you feel none of them are suitable for your particular setup, consider only free-ranging your chickens when you can be out and about with your birds.

Hawks are extremely unlikely to swoop down and take a chicken if you are out with your birds. Hawks have enough sense to know people mean trouble, so they typically stay well clear.

Know your enemy

When it comes to keeping our chickens safe, it can help to know as much about the potential predator as possible.

Below I look at a few hawk-related facts. Knowing the following information can help us decide the best way to keep our hens safe from attack.

Hawks look for easy targets

If there is one thing we know about hawks for certain, it is that they like to choose an easy target. Hawks have no interest in picking a fight. They want to swoop down, grab a chicken, immobilize it, and fly off.

If we can make sure none of our hens are easy targets, we reduce the chances a hawk will try and take them.

Any barriers or deterrents we can place between our chickens and the hawk gives our hens a better fighting chance. Even if we string a few pieces of shade cloth between a couple of the trees, it creates line-of-sight blocks and gives the hens somewhere to hide.

Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to hawk attacks.

Hawks have predators too

Even though a hawk may be looking to take one of your chickens, the hawk himself is not on top of the food chain. Whilst looking for a tasty meal, a hawk will also be wary of potential predators that might see him as an easy meal.

As mentioned above, placing a fake owl, or even a plastic eagle, near where your chickens are will seriously reduce the chances of a hawk attacking.

When a hawk grabs its prey, it too becomes vulnerable to attack. Hawks are unlike to try and catch prey when larger winged predators are around (even if they only pretend).

In Conclusion

Chickens are vulnerable to all sorts of predators, but those that glide through the sky can be the hardest to protect against.

If you have been the victim of a hawk, or you are concerned one of your chickens might end up as an easy meal for a hawk, you will need to put some, or all of the suggestions listed above in place.

The only 100% guaranteed way to keep your chickens safe from hawks is to keep the chickens in a fully enclosed run, but that isn’t possible for everyone.

My best advice is to take reasonable steps, but be prepared to take additional steps if the hawks get smart.

A decoy owl will work for a while, but if you fail to move the owl on a regular basis, the hawks will work out it is a dud.

If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ’10 Ways to Help Your Chickens Survive the Winter‘.


Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
Poultry Editor

Article Sources:

  1. Coopers Hawk Wikipedia