Silkies as Scarecrows? Will the Birds Fly the Coop? July 5, 2012
It gets hot where I live – very hot (summer temps easily reach 115 degrees)! Since I live in the desert and have an open (3-sided) coop, the flock’s feeder is always visible to the local birds. To my dismay, my chicken coop has been plagued with sneaky sparrows early on in my chicken raising venture. We’ve tried numerous ways to be rid of them and to our surprise, we found that our new Silkies just might be a deterrent.
When my husband and I first built our chicken coop we had decided a sturdy chain link dog run would make a perfect run for our new flock. Since we live in a large city, have a 6′ block wall around our property, and have no raccoons, possums, or other small predators in the vicinity of our home, we covered the chain link run with plain chicken wire. Hardware cloth is recommended over chicken wire for keeping your flock safe from many predators because it is stronger and the 1/2″ openings are smaller than standard chicken wire. We were pretty successful in keeping out the doves and blackbirds, but to our surprise, the pesky sparrows weren’t detoured at all by the 1″ chicken wire – the small birds went right through it and spent all day dining on the chicken feed meant for the chickens.
Lest you think I am selfish and not willing to share with these cute little critters, keep in mind wild birds can bring in disease, mites, or lice from neighboring flocks. I want my chickens to be as healthy and happy as possible. Thanks to preventive measures, such as letting the chickens dustbathe in a sandbox filled with sand and food grade Diatomaceous Earth, so far our flock has been pest (bug) free. Although the chickens don’t seem to mind the visitors, we do. We just had to come up with another solution.
My husband and I went to work covering the entire run with bird netting and blocked up all ventilation holes with wire. After a job well done, we figured we had outsmarted these troublesome birds, but we were wrong again. The sparrows could not get through the netting, but still managed to get inside our run. This time, they found their way through the openings between the chain link door and the walls of the run. There seemed to be no stopping these pests – and the numbers were growing. I could look outside at any given time and see at least 50 sparrows in the run. A chicken run like the one pictured here or here would have done a better job keeping the birds out.
Our next great idea – a treadle feeder! This type of feeder is designed so that the the chickens have to step on a ‘treadle’ which lifts up a lid and enables the chickens to get at their food. It is intended to keep the wild birds and the mice out of the feed. We spent over $50 on materials for this wooden feeder and my wonderful, handy husband went to work on building me one. Voila! We were excited to see that once the chickens figured out how to use the treadle feeder, they were able to dine without all the neighborhood birds joining them. Unfortunately, this too was another short-lived solution! The sparrows soon learned to wait for the hens to step on the treadle and start spilling some of the feed out onto the ground. Most of the sparrows were content with these small morsels of feed they found in the dirt, but some were bold enough to eat right out of the feeder with the hens. To top that off, a few field mice chewed a whole in the lid, so they were not deterred either (but that’s another story). The treadle feeder did help to cut the numbers down, but did not eliminate the boldest of the foragers.
My chicken run has been enlarged since we started raising chickens (good ole’ chicken math) and we added a second, connecting run, quite a while ago. Besides needing to protect my tomatoes from my young Silkies, I also wanted to introduce my new Silkies to the flock to make integrating the two groups easier. I decided the best way to cover cover both bases was to place the Silkies in the run next to the older flock. I was very concerned that when putting the Silkies into a connecting run with an open feeder, versus a treadle feeder, the number of birds that were visiting our coop daily would increase dramatically.
About a week or so after putting the Silkies into the second half of my run, I made a startling discovery. No more sparrows! I kept an eye out for the next few weeks and there were still no birds inside my chicken run! There were a few sparrows hovering about in the trees and darting in and out of the small coop the Silkies used as babies (about 40 ft away), but they were keeping their distance and no longer eating the food meant for my flock.
Do the sparrows believe my new furry Silkies are some type of strange cats? Or some other creepy, sparrow-eating creature? Do Silkies make good scarecrows?
I had written this blog post a few days ago, hoping I had discovered a hidden benefit of keeping Silkies, but unfortunately must report that the scarecrow effect of these odd looking creatures, which had moved in next door to the normal chickens, only lasted about 4 weeks. Today, I was disappointed to see that a few sparrows had finally braved their fears and are once again flitting in and out of the runs and stealing food. Their numbers are not near as great as before, but I fear it won’t be long before they tell all their friends it is safe, once again, to sneak in and eat with our flock.
In order to keep the birds away, one of my friends feeds her chickens only twice a day, instead of leaving feed out all day long. I prefer following My Pet Chicken’s recommendation and I feed my flock free-choice. Do your Silkies and sparrows dine together? What tips can you recommend for keeping wild birds away?