Legally Reducing Losses to Hawks   By: Ron West     website:

Hawks are a constant threat to racing fanciers, all sorts of them, depending on the time of year and your geography. Now in my 8th year of flying pigeons and mixing them up with hawks, I have discovered a lot, implemented some strategies and losses are down.

Redtails; Certain hawks in some situations can seem to be your allies. Summer resident Redtails show little interest in birds and keep some other hawks away. If you see Redtails in the vicinity of your loft, it is likely they are looking for ground squirrels or other large rodents, not your birds. They may take the injured youngster that has hit a wire, etc, but in most cases will not regularly eat your pigeons. These hawks are desirable to have around and should never be bothered.

Northern Goshawks; A nuisance in the North during hawk migrations. However they are no match for a fit racer that is not taken by surprize. The Goshawks strategy is to come in low and take birds that panic when surprized. Do not free loft team during this period, but only exercise them with the training basket. The team comes in high, and simply stay up if there is a hawk until the hawk is distracted or gives up and goes elsewhere. Then the birds trap in out of harms way. Also do not be predictable with your training schedule, the hawks can figure that out. Keep them guessing and they will have to hunt elsewhere and will not stake out your loft based on your predictability. If you have established predictable habits for the hawks and are staked out, locking the birds down for a few days here and there, at random times, together with unpredicdable training, can force hawks elsewhere to hunt. In tandum with this, keep a few old and wiley racers that would not otherwise make the cut on the team, but are proven survivors, and use them to sweep the route the team is flying during training and let them draw off the hawks. Typically, basket the birds, go down the road, pick up a paper and stop for a cup of coffee. Kick out the sweeper birds, read the paper awhile, then let the team go. Drive home, and if there were hawks, often the Old Bird team will be intact and trapped in but the sweepers return much later, having had to deal with losing the hawks encountered.

Falcons; If Peregrines and Prarie falcons visit, use the same strategy. It is not fool proof, but can be fairly effective. A fall strategy is identical to the spring tactics. If lightly training to keep the birds reasonably fit, or training youngbirds, do it with the basket, no loft flying. Also, if you train birds lightly year round, they are never in a situation that they must come out rusty from being locked down over winter and they have the necessary form to outfly the hawks nearly every time. Flyers that have to put their birds back into shape in the spring can have hawk loss expectations that exceed neccessity.

Kestrels; These miniture falcons could be described as a pigeon flyers best friend. There is not a raptor in North America that will challenge the Kestrel or its home. Fiercely protective of its territory, the Kestrel, which dines on grasshoppers and mice, drives away other falcons and hawks. If you live in an area with woods interspersed with meadows or farmland with trees, a favorite Kestrel habitat, it is possible to entice these tiny falcons to take residence in proximity to your loft. A large birdhouse, or several of them spread over an area, such as would accommodate a bird slightly larger than the size of a Jay, placed 30 feet up a tree near a meadows edge, could be inviting to Kestrels and see a pair take residence. In season, this is probably the best protection out there.

Particularly vulnerable are the young birds when they are being settled. Many youngbird losses off a loft can be indirectly blamed on hawks, they were not necessarily lost directly to being killed by the hawks attack, but were panicked and became lost. This is where a strobe light can be particularly useful. A weatherproof strobe, such as can be found in a Granger catalog, installed on a property high point, and programmed to run during the daylight hours only, can serve as a beacon to guide the lost youngster back to the loft. Here it is important to note that running these strobes on timers can backfire if you leave town and there is a power outage that throws the timer off and upsets your neighbors with the strobe left running at night. It is best to shut the strobe down if leaving. But it needs to run days as much as possible so the youngsters associate the strobe with their home. The best method is to look up your local electronics genius or hire an electronics engineer to reverse engineer a solar switch (such as is commonly used with outdoor security lights) so that the strobe comes on at daylight and goes off at dusk.

Hawks are a fact of life for racers and people who race, and I simply see them as an occupational hazard, one of the difficulties we live with. To some extent I had come to the conclusion that hawks taking the birds is inevitable- it is like paying taxes- not my favorite thing to do, but I accept it. Killing the hawks is not the answer, it worsens the situation. Our racers are smart birds and with our help, strategies can be employed to deal with a resident pair of hawks. But each time the hawks are killed, new hawks, more hawks, show up in territory no longer dominated by established resident hawks, presenting our birds tougher odds, new adversaries, more adversaries. Numerous hawks in an area uncontrolled by a resident pair means greater losses. Killing the hawks in the area of your loft is not only illegal, it is invites tougher hawk problems. Allow a resident pair of hawks to become established. Then work around them. Yes, you will lose some birds, but not as many.

I understand that the hawk situation is going to differ from area to area, and I accept that this these strategies may not work everywhere, in all situations, and I have not encountered every specie of hawk and the problems they may present. Just the same, I wished to share these observations with the other flyers, it may work for you, and the hawks you encounter, far better than hawk traps and it keeps you and the sport legal.