The Hawks at Hawk Ridge Ranch

By LaVarr Webb

What do you do when a stubborn hawk goes after your chickens?

Our ranch is named Hawk Ridge Ranch because of the many hawks that perch and nest on the cliffs that border the creek corridor on the ranch. Numerous species of hawks soar above the cliffs and glide low along the pastures, looking for prey.

That has led to a few hawk adventures – and some disappearing chickens. I always assumed that a hawk would swoop down, grab supper, and fly off without landing. We actually had a tenacious and brazen (and probably hungry) hawk land in our yard and pursue chickens on foot (or talon). We had to literally chase the hawk off with a stick when it cornered some chickens under a low-hanging spruce tree. One big rooster was trying to protect the hens.

Another incident ended more tragically. In our backyard chicken flock, one small hen was, literally, at the bottom of the pecking order. Perhaps because the other chickens picked on her, she decided humans were her friends. So she would follow us around and enjoyed being picked up and petted.

One morning we heard some noise at the chicken coop and a big hawk had the little hen pinned down under its talons right at the entrance. The hawk was busy eviscerating the little hen. The hawk flew off, but it was too late for the little hen.

I don’t blame the hawk. It’s what hawks do. Our dogs usually do a good job keeping the hawks away. They will even chase a low-flying hawk across the pasture.

Recently, I was in the yard near the house when I saw a shadow dart into some large elm trees, followed by a loud squawking noise, apparently from a terrified bird. Moments later a small hawk (perhaps a kestrel?) flew out of the trees with a robin-sized bird in its talons. Its prey was so heavy it could barely fly, and it landed across the creek in a patch of willows. When I walked close, it flew off again, still hanging on to the hapless bird.

Sometimes, the smaller birds seem to get their revenge. We’ve often seen ravens and smaller birds harassing big hawks in the air, darting at them in aerial combat.

This northern Utah area abounds in hawks. Driving to the ranch on Highway 30 from Snowville to the Highway 42 fork (about a 15-mile stretch) we often see as many as 30 hawks of all varieties and sizes perched on utility poles and floating across the alfalfa and grain fields. A lot of ravens also inhabit the area, but they are easily distinguished from the raptors. Both ravens and hawks feed on road kill. Unfortunately, the hawks are apparently not as fast or as aware as the ravens. We frequently see dead hawks that have been hit by speeding vehicles.

We also see a lot of golden eagles in the area, perched on the tallest poles. Eagles are common visitors to the ranch. Last summer an osprey spent a few weeks hanging around, flying around and around our trout-filled pond.

One evening, just after dark, I was driving the 25 miles to Malta, the closest Idaho town to us. Suddenly, something large loomed in my headlights, which I immediately recognized as a big owl. It hit the very top of my windshield. I stopped and couldn’t find anything, so hopefully it was okay.

One of my goals is to learn about the different species of hawks and be able to readily identify them. Hawk Ridge Ranch is aptly named.