By Diane Lockspeiser

We were so excited to see majestic Bald Eagles circling overhead when we first moved here a few years ago. With their distinctive white heads, they are easy for even we amateurs to identify from a distance, and they usually do keep their distance.

Then our neighbor, concerned about our smaller dog, told us that their little dog had been snatched up by one of the eagles. Oh, my! I watched with concern, and a readiness to brave chasing it off, as an eagle did indeed circle around our little Xena as she was busy investigating all the odors of our large open field. Evidently the eagles have decided that she is too big (or maybe too feisty!) to bother with, as they have left her alone all these years.

The chickens, however, are quite another story. Usually the winters are snowy enough to keep “the girls” off of the fields if I let them free range. None of them seem to like walking on snow. They follow the cleared pathways to both our front and back porches, where they will just hang out and poop all over the place. This is one reason why I stopped letting them free range in winter and instead clear an area of their little fenced-in yard, covering it with scattered hay and treats, to get them outside scratching in the sunshine, yet still contained. The other reason is because of the eagles.

Two years ago, we had such a mild winter that the fields were totally clear of snow, so the girls were enjoying free ranging on them on a daily basis. That February, we went away to visit relatives, and returned to find the person who had volunteered to care for the chickens to be rather distraught. Four chickens had gone missing all in one day without any trace! That night as I closed up the coop, I noticed that one of the remaining girls had a clean, straight gash across her back. That made me suspect the eagles …but four at once? We usually only see one or two eagles at a time.

Well, sure enough, a couple of weeks later, my grandchildren were out playing in the field when four eagles came circling around to check them out! Since three year olds are a lot bigger than chickens, or even Xena, I didn’t think that the eagles would try anything but, to be safe, I made the children come in anyway.

This year, the fields were once again snowless for a while in January. The girls were tired of being “cooped up” and were clamoring to be allowed to roam the hillside, as they love to do. I usually notice the eagles in late winter and very early spring. I am assuming that’s when the food supply runs low near the Pepacton Reservoir, where their protected nesting grounds are and where they can usually get lots of fish, which they seem to prefer. I did spot one eagle that day, but it was very far off and I wasn’t totally sure that’s what it was. So I gave in and let the chickens loose.

…and one of the chickens went missing without a trace.

Edd production is lower in winter, especially with older chickens, but there hasn’t been any further change in production since that chicken was taken. So I guess in a way that eagle did me a favor by lowering my feed costs. Still, I have learned my lesson. Those chickens can squawk at me and peck on the coop all they want (it sounds like hammering, as if they are building an escape mechanism like in the movie Chicken Run). I am not letting them loose until the eagles have forgotten about chicken dinners and are happily fishing again st the reservoir!~