In a Cary backyard, death swoops down

Staff WriterNovember 23, 2009 

— Blanchard, a 22-week-old pet rooster, was killed while strutting in his owners' yard Saturday morning by a hawk that should have been hunting for rabbits.

Ann Richard and her husband, Dieter Griffis, got the startling news when the hawk's owner paid a visit to their Green Level Church Road home to apologize. The owner told the couple, who were too distraught to catch his name, that he had been hunting with his hawk on a farm across the street.

The hawk, which was released to hunt rabbits during an extended North Carolina falconry season, flew to the couple's property and mauled Blanchard, a light Brahma chicken, a breed originally imported from India and named for its white base coloring.

"We walked around the house and saw the dead rooster, and we were pretty angry at that point," said Richard, 53. "We felt violated. It's like somebody walking on your property and shooting your pet."

The hunter apologized and offered $45 for the dead rooster. Griffis, 62, told the falconer to take his hawk and get off his property.

"People can't just come over and shoot your chickens," said Griffis, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. "It angers me that this sort of hunting is still allowed in an area that's pretty much subdivisions instead of being rural like it was 15 years ago."

Griffis and his neighbors own chickens even though their property is within the borders of Cary, a town that bars backyard hens and roosters. The couple's rural zoning allows it.

Falconry is heavily regulated in North Carolina. Practicing the ancient sport requires permits and licenses that are issued only to future bird owners who have completed weeks worth of training and facility inspections.

In 2007, the North Carolina Falconers' Guild had 130 licensed members, according to an article in The News & Observer.

Though the wild birds are supposed to be trained to stay relatively close to their owner, it's hard to control exactly where they fly.

In this case, the hunter was on private property next to a subdivision in an area designated by town zoning laws as rural and appropriate for hunting. Falconry season for rabbits and squirrels continues through February, according to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission rules.

Unless the area is rezoned, the hunting can continue.

"It's a part of hunting that's not really restrained - this hawk isn't on a string, it's released," said Richard, Blanchard's owner. "I don't think it's appropriate for it to take place so close to residential areas."

Griffis said he thought the practice should be kept to wildlife reserves like those surrounding Jordan Lake.

But then, maybe Richard and Griffis should be thankful. Only a handful of Cary residents are even allowed to own chickens.

Despite multiple attempts from grassroots groups to allow residents to own chickens, the Cary Town Council continues to ban fowl.

Livestock is allowed only in Cary residential zones with one acre or larger lots. These lots are typically on the outskirts of the town in more rural areas, like the two-acre property Richard and Griffis own, which was annexed to the Town of Cary in November 2008. Richard said her neighbor owns eight chickens.

It's so rare for someone in Cary to have chickens, in fact, that Cary Police Department Animal Control Officer Chuck Haggis didn't believe it.

"You can't have chickens anywhere within the town of Cary," Haggis said. "I've been here six years and never seen an exemption granted."

But Richard said she did receive an exemption. She got five chickens in June.

"I have the hen Hilton of Wake County. They're very spoiled chickens," she said, adding that she allows them out in an uncovered field only on the weekends.

Though Haggis disputed Blanchard's legality, he said there could be consequences for the rooster's death under town ordinances.

"If someone owns a wild animal and it attacks a domestic animal, they're in violation of the law," he said. "Their animal can be confiscated, and they might be charged with a misdemeanor violation."

sadia.latifi@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2002

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