Google the term ‘chicken hawk’ and you’ll
find a handful of varying definitions. For instance, chicken hawk can refer to
someone in the public eye who fervently supports war but actively avoided
service. It can be used to describe a person who spends an inordinate amount of
time trying to get stuff for free. Or, when someone who decides for whatever
reason to get a Mohawk-style haircut but then at the last minute opts to leave
an inch or so of hair where it should be shaved, not fully committing to the
look. They’re now sporting a chicken hawk.
When I hear the
term chicken hawk, I think of this guy:
progressive in the business of raising chickens here at Sunset. For almost two
years, our hens have been cooped up. Literally. Unaware of the considerable
pleasures that lay just beyond their reach in our test garden. Impounded.
Scratching in an area so small I couldn’t park my car in it.
But recently, Margo
True, Sunset’s Food Editor and shepherd of our One-Block Diet franchise, rushed
into my office and proclaimed, “Release the chickens! We must put them out to
scratch to their hearts content in our garden! Free to feel the sun and able to
dine on bugs and slugs. Free to release their bowels into our soil and
fertilize the earth so that our crops are nourished and thrive!” (I may have
paraphrased a bit)
“Plus, they’re fat
and need exercise,” she added with slightly less vigor.
Sounded good to me.
So test garden
guru, Johanna Silver set up this:
Looks great, right?
Wait…where’s the roof?
returns from vacation, I’ll have to remind her of the hawks.
It happened late
last spring. I was out tending to the flock when off in the distance a predator
bird let out a loud screech. The reaction from our chickens was nothing short
of amazing. All six birds stopped what they were doing and froze. Completely.
Like a gaggle of feathery statues, they cast a vacant stare up at the
corrugated plastic above our heads. For like 20 seconds. Amazing because it was
basic instinct in its finest form.
We got a glimpse of
these magnificent birds this past summer when temperatures here in Menlo Park
reached a scorching 104˚. A family of hawks (we couldn’t identify but we think
they were red-tailed) visited the fountain in our center courtyard.
They had no doubt
come to drink and bathe. The question was, at least in my mind, were they
looking to feed?
And to say our
chickens are skittish is nothing short of an understatement.
Jardina’s (Fact-checker, chicken blogger) last day at Sunset, she wanted to
spend time with them outside the coop (pre- Johanna’s contraption) and enjoy
them in our garden free from wood and wire. Standing there it was hard to
ignore the similarities. The birds, scratching new terrain, grabbing
low-hanging fruit from tomato plants. And EJ, with a ticket to Prague in her back
pocket and plans to return to school in pursuit of a master’s degree. It was a
poignant moment. A moment shattered by a tiny black finch.
Yeah. A dumb little
From the corner of
my eye, I saw the finch dart overhead and out of sight. But that tenth of a
second was enough to send poor Ophelia over the edge. She took flight, like a
bat out of hell, from where she blissfully dined on cherry tomatoes, over our
compost piles and into the secure confinement of the coop. Her reaction was so
overtly prudent it sent the others into an unprecedented panic.
So after seeing
Johanna’s chicken run, I posed the question to Team Chicken: What about the
From the hawk’s
perspective, our chickens enjoying the limited freedom of our garden within an
oval-shaped fence may look like this:
Margo’s solution for now is to chicken sit
while they are set out. Besides, there’s no going back. Now that they’ve had a
taste of freedom, they scurry back and forth at the front of the coop when we
approach it, like an inmate dragging a tin cup across his prison bars. And Ruby
doesn’t shut up. I’ve heard that once you show chickens there’s life outside
the coop, they always want out. I’m tentative but willing, and hopeful that as
we approach Halloween, we’re not creating our own little monsters.
By Jim McCann, Sunset Art Director