They’re watching chickens like a hawk — a Northern Goshawk.
Students in the Haida Gwaii Youth Stewardship Program are helping to shield chicken coops from goshawk attacks with free netting, chicken wire, and big-eyed plastic owls.
While it will save chickens, the program’s main goal is to protect Haida Gwaii’s critically endangered population of Northern Goshawks. At least four were shot and killed by chicken keepers last year.
“People love their chickens, and I understand,” said Berry Wijdeven, speaking over the sound of hammers, drills, and a crowing rooster last week at Riverworks Farm in Tlell.
“But we can’t have four goshawks die in one season,” he added.
“We’d be lucky to have 60, but it probably is fewer than that.”
Wijdeven is a species-at-risk biologist with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, which is providing free netting and owl decoys to chicken keepers from Tow Hill to Sandspit and everywhere in between.
“If you look at the materials, it’s not that much money,” said Wijdeven. “And to tell you the truth, a lot of people have done it already.”
Once called the “Cook’s Hawk” because falconers had such good luck hunting with them, the Northern Goshawk population on Haida Gwaii is both genetically distinct and badly at risk of becoming extinct.
With short, broad wings and a long tail, the raven-sized hawks evolved to fly under the canopy of mature and old-growth rainforests.
Not only has logging severely reduced their habitat on Haida Gwaii, but the island’s leaf-eating deer are now munching their prey out of house and home.
Northern Goshawks are protected by law — it’s illegal to kill or trap them, collect their eggs, or destroy their nesting sites, of which just 19 are currently known on Haida Gwaii.
When local forestry companies find a nest, they are required by the Haida Gwaii land-use order to put up a 200-hectare protection zone.
Given how few are left, it was surprising how many juvenile Northern Goshawks showed up to hunt chickens on Tlell farms last year.
“The good news is, there are nests we don’t know about,” said Wijdeven.
The bad news, he said, is that when juvenile goshawks get kicked out of their nests in late summer and early fall, the hungry young birds are likely to go straight for chicken coops.
In the past, each goshawk would largely stick to its own territory, staying well below the forest canopy except during mating season, when they fly high above the trees to do courtship displays.
But with so few left, Wijdeven said the goshawks seen to be changing their behaviour, and the ones that swooped in on Tlell last year may have been a good percentage of the entire population.
Rather than punishing chicken keepers for defending their hens, Wijdeven is hoping that in this case, good fences will make for good neighbours.
“We’ve got to be proactive,” he said.
To order free chicken-coop netting or owl decoys, call the Haida Gwaii Natural Resource District at 250-559-6245.