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15 June 2010 / Liz Johns

The Cruel Duality of Nature – A Hawk Killed my Duck

Sad news to relate – a hawk killed one of my ducks this morning.

It came as a great shock as the five ducks have been living happily free-range around our property (and on the neighbour’s property) for many years with no incidents. This morning, David went out to feed them as normal by the pond. A couple of hours later we were driving down past the pond and I saw a hawk surrounded by a pile of feathers. It didn’t bode well. David rushed over and chased the hawk away, came back and reported sadly that yes it was one of our ducks. Before we saw that we did wonder why the other four ducks were skulking about underneath our car. But now we know why, they were hiding from the hawk.

How do you protect against hawks?

Of course now the problem is, what can we do to protect the four remaining ducks. The hawk, an Australasian Kahu, a species protected in New Zealand, will most likely come back to the same spot now that it knows there is easy prey. The poor ducks can’t fly (common in many tame ducks) and their short legs can only go so fast. They’re only hope is vegetative cover which we do have a lot of on the property but if the ducks are nowhere near it, then chances are the hawk has time to swoop down and grab them before they reach safety. There doesn’t seem to be a foolproof way of frightening the hawks away. Resources on the Net suggest providing cover so that the hawks can’t see their prey from the air, putting up shiny objects or mirrors that are supposed to distract the hawks giving the prey time to hide, setting up a fake owl as a form of scarecrow, and, talking of crows, encouraging crows to feed in the area as they bully the hawks. Where we live there aren’t many crows, but we do have the New Zealand magpie who are bold and aggressive. Many a time I’ve watched magpies working in pairs to scare off a hawk that is probably moving too close to their nests. Hawks can be killed by magpies.

Are hawks hungrier in the breeding season?

Normally hawks feed on smaller animals (rats, rabbits etc) and will always opt for the already-dead roadkill, but it’s June now, and that’s breeding season for hawks. Not being a raptologist (I just made that word up, but it sounds scientific) I’m only making a conjecture here, but breeding season means hungry chicks so parents will need to get that extra bit of food – hence attacking the larger and more difficult prey. Two months of breeding season ahead – it’s a worry for the ducks. It’s a worry for me.

Protecting the rest of my ducks

I think the first thing to do is not feed the ducks in their usual spot by the pond and feed them next to the house. Ducks are smarter than you think and will learn very quickly that their food source has moved. We’re surrounded by bush and trees here so there are a myriad places the ducks can go to hide. Of course, there are also a myriad vantage points in the tall macrocarpa trees where hawks can perch and spy. If things get bad i.e. the hawk comes back, it may be a case of locking the ducks up in one of the stables until the hawk realises its dinner has gone. Not great for the ducks, but maybe a short term necessity. I read that the owl scarecrow and shiny object methods are mostly worthless (from people that have tried them) so those methods are not worth trying. Hawks aren’t that dumb. One thing that will scare the hawks away is seeing a person – maybe I should camp out by the pond for a few days.

Some hawks attack small dogs

The hungriest and most desperate of hawks have been known to attack small dogs. Quite incredible. From the reports I’ve read, the hawks pick up these small dogs (most were chihuahuas or chihuahua crosses), the dog struggles and gets free but the hawk has lifted the poor animal up so high that the dog is killed or fatally injured on dropping to the ground. These stories have all come from the US, I don’t know what type of hawk can pick up a small dog. I suspect the Kahu, which is only 850 grams as adult, would not be strong enough to do that.

So there you have it, another example of the cruel duality of nature. I just hope my little duck didn’t suffer too much.

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3 Comments

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  1. Maureen / Jul 2 2010 11:11 am

    How sad! I can sympathize. We lost a rabbit to a hawk. In regards to the dogs and hawks, I live in California where red-tailed hawks are common. We also have a small dog (if 14 pounds is considered small). I worry more about coyotes, but now I hope the hawks won’t get too desperate for food either!

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  2. dave / Sep 2 2012 12:29 pm

    I just realized one of my ducks just vanished from my yard.Two days ago early in the morning I was out back with the ducks and rooster and a hawk flew down close to the ducks right by me! It wasn’t a big hawk so I just figured there was no way it could take one of my ducks well I guess I was wrong:( the duck that is gone his buddy or mate iam not sure but they were the same bread now he just hangs out by himself and doesn’t follow the other ducks around I think he’s sad I looked for injuries but can’t find any

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    • Liz Johns / Feb 26 2016 11:16 am

      I’m sorry to hear that. I hope your duck has found some other duck company now. They do miss their mates a lot. Poor things.

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