L. Holloway is an experienced keeper of chickens and other fowl who has spent nearly a decade educating others on their habits and care.
Chickens are delicious, and we aren't the only creatures to think so. Virtually any animal that eats meat will happily eat a chicken, and it can be challenging to protect your birds against every potential threat that exists in your area. This list will help you get an idea of what threatens your flock and how to guard against predation, but it is always good to discuss the subject of predators with other chicken owners in your area before you get started. Not all species are equally tenacious in all areas.Predator-Proof Chicken Coops?
It is important to note before we begin that there is no such thing as a 100% predator-proof coop. Many will argue this point, but the fact remains that a truly tenacious predator will find a way to access your coop, particularly if given the luxury of time or when aided by inclement weather. This article will touch not only on coop security but also:deterrents,additional security measures, andmethods for removal of predator species.
By combining these efforts, you can minimize the risk of predation on your flock.12 Most Common Chicken PredatorsOpossumsRed FoxesBirds of PreySkunksSnakesRodents (Mice and Rats)Weasels and MinksDogsBobcatsBearsCoyotes and WolvesRaccoons
Below, you'll find more information about each potential predator and ways to prevent them from poaching your flock.#1: OpossumsAKA: "Possum", "Virginia Possum"Scientific name: Didelphis virginianaRegion: Midwest and South to East Coast, as well as the West CoastPreferred method of entry: Climbing
We will start with the much-maligned opossum (referred to interchangeably as "possum"). The only marsupial species native to North America, opossums are not rodents, and contrary to popular belief, are unlikely to carry rabies. They are primarily scavengers, and their ferocious appearance is generally all talk and no action. They are unlikely to enter a secure coop, as they are not strong diggers nor are they as clever as other predators like raccoons or foxes. They are, however, skillful climbers, and will easily enter a coop or run that is not properly covered.
As a general rule, opossums prefer not to have to fight for their meal and will target eggs, chicks, or chickens foolish enough to roost within easy reach. Chickens who roost on or near the ground, in sheds, or who are brooding on nests are prime targets. Opossums prefer to start with the soft underbelly, and chickens who are alive but stripped of feathers on their belly or rear-end can be a sign of an attempted opossum meal. Additionally, bodies of deceased chickens in which the abdominal cavity has been consumed are likely the work of opossums.
Opossums are typically easy to guard against, and widely regarded to be of least concern as far as predators go. However, in some regions of the country where they are overpopulated, and particularly on the West Coast where they are not native, opossums are known to be more aggressive and tenacious. Typically, if they do kill adult birds, they will kill only one at a time, though they can easily clean out a broody hen's nest of eggs or chicks in a single night.
Red foxes are a widespread species common in most of the continental USA and are infamous for their love of chicken. Unlike other predators like hawks or opossums who will kill one bird at a time, foxes will kill as many chickens as they can catch, and stash the remains for later meals. Because of this, they can easily clean out an entire coop in just one night, making a single lapse in security absolutely devastating.
Foxes are extremely clever, resourceful, and strong. They can chew through chicken wire, dig under fences, climb over walls, and squeeze through small gaps. They seem to instinctively know when bad weather or human error has left the flock vulnerable, and because they are so adaptable, they won't always be deterred by proximity to human dwellings. They are far more common in town and in urban settings than they are in rural areas, due to the absence of their own natural predators, but foxes can attack in the country as well, so it is important to defend against them.
Foxes kill multiple birds and stash them, and will often pick off birds without leaving evidence behind. If you smell an odor similar to skunk but not as strong, that is a good indicator foxes have been around. Buried birds, piles of feathers, or bodies with only the heads eaten off are signs of a fox attack as well.
Rather than attempting to individually address every unique species of raptor that might prey on your chickens, we will discuss the category of hawks, eagles, and owls collectively since they all hunt in relatively similar fashions and are defended against in the same ways. Birds of prey come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, and their collective range covers almost the entire United States, even extending into urban environments.
The most common species to predate chickens would be varieties like Cooper's hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, as these are species that prefer to hunt birds, but even species like eagles and red-tailed hawks will hunt chickens if they are hungry enough and there is sufficient opportunity. Owls will hunt chickens as well, but because they hunt exclusively at night, there is little risk of them killing birds in a secured coop and run.
Birds of prey tend to strike while birds are free-ranging, though they have been known to exploit gaps in coops and runs that allow them to enter from above, cornering their prey in the coop where the chickens have nowhere else to run. They generally only kill one bird at a time. Unlike predators who roam on the ground, birds of prey cannot gorge themselves or they'd be too heavy to fly, nor do they have stashes like foxes where they save food for later.
When they consume their prey, raptors will often pick the ribcage bones clean in a distinctive manner. They will not leave tooth marks on the bones like other predators will, allowing you to rule out land predators if you find the remains. Smaller birds like chicks and bantams may be carried away completely, leaving no sign of the attack, while larger birds have to be eaten on-site since they are too heavy to carry, leaving a gory scene behind. Given the option, hawks prefer to carry their food away to a safer spot to eat, so if birds of prey are your culprit, your smallest birds will likely be the first casualties.
There are multiple species of skunk in the US, including several that are referred to as "spotted skunks," but they all hunt in the same manner and pose similar risks.
Skunks are not avid chicken hunters as a rule. They are primarily scavengers, but they are happy to raid nests and have been known to pluck eggs or chicks right out from under a broody hen. Attacks on adult birds by skunks are rare but possible. Usually, though, the sign that a skunk has infiltrated your coop will be broken and emptied eggshells, possibly with a whiff of their signature aroma left in their wake.
As with birds of prey, there are far too many snake species to address them individually, so we will discuss them all here. For starters, we must emphasize that the vast majority of the time, snakes are beneficial and not a threat to your chickens. Most species are too small to pose a threat to either chickens or eggs, and others are crucial in the efforts to maintain local mice and rat populations. Without snakes, your property (as well as your neighbors') will be thoroughly overrun with vermin, which is a health hazard not only to us but to our chickens as well.
Generally speaking, the variety that vexes chicken owners the most are the various species of rat snake. Some rat snakes will get a taste for eggs, and inexplicably, a hungry snake will sometimes kill a chicken in an apparent attempt to eat it. Of course, even the largest rat snake is far too small to eat a grown hen, so it is a waste, but fortunately, such events are extremely rare. It is far more likely that the snake will eat your eggs, leaving no trace of their disappearance, though it may also eat small chicks if it has the opportunity.
Rat snakes—as their name suggests—are far more likely to eat rodents than birds, but if they do take to predating on your chicks or eggs, you will find no remains with which to identify the culprit as they swallow their prey whole. A full-grown rat snake can swallow several eggs or chicks at a go, so if you suddenly find that four or five chicks have gone missing without a trace and no sign of struggle, a snake is your likely culprit.
Most snake species in the US are too small to pose a threat to chickens and are more likely to be eaten by the chickens themselves than the other way around.
It may seem odd to include mice and rats on this list, but they are a genuine threat to your birds. Not only are they unrepentant egg eaters, but they also carry deadly diseases in their droppings, and rats may chew on sleeping chickens, causing them life-threatening injury. Often drawn by spilled feed, it can be very difficult to keep them out of your coop and run completely, and even knowing that they are there may be a challenge unless you recognize the subtle signs of their presence.
Rodent droppings, tunnels in the bedding, cracked and empty eggshells, or even mysteriously sick and dying chicks may be the only evidence you get of an infestation. If you actually see a rodent while tending the coop, then the infestation is likely already severe.
Weasels and minks encompass a sizeable family of species, including the mighty wolverine, but some species are more likely to pursue chickens than others. It's important to research weasel species that are common in your area, as some may not present a significant threat to your flock. If weasels are a threat, you need to address it before it becomes a problem. One weasel can wipe out a small flock in a single night, and to add insult to injury, they may only bite the necks to drink the chicken's blood, leaving everything else to waste.
One of the most common chicken predators is actually the domestic dog. Most dogs are able to coexist with chickens just fine, especially with some training from their owners, but stray dogs or neglected pets running at large may be another story. Dogs are devastating predators because once they have access to the flock, they will kill every chicken they can catch for the sport of it. If you find multiple piles of feathers and dead birds that have been killed and left where they lie, dogs are the likely culprits.
Bobcats are widespread in the United States, but because of their inherent fear of people, they usually avoid habitated areas and homes. As such, they are uncommon chicken predators but will resort to hunting our flocks if food becomes scarce or they have young to feed.
Bobcats will hunt at any time of day, but their preferred hunting times are dawn and dusk. If they leave any remains for you to find, they will likely have distinctive claw marks, leaving little doubt as to the culprit.
Bears are a unique challenge if you live in an area that has them. Their impressive strength renders most prefabricated coops utterly useless, as they can tear through wood and wire with ease. once in, they will eat your chicken feed, eggs, and any chickens they can catch. In all likelihood, if a bear has visited your coop, you will know right away from the damage it does.
Coyotes and wolves usually have a healthy fear of human beings, but if prey is scarce, they are overpopulated, or inexperienced young are hungry enough, they may venture into your yard for a meal. In some areas, coyotes especially are more tenacious than others, and will more actively hunt domesticated prey, even coming into towns and suburbs to hunt.
Unlike domestic dogs, if wolves or coyotes prey on your flock, they are unlikely to be wasteful. They will try to eat what they catch, which means it is unlikely you will find remains of your birds unless the animals are interrupted while feeding. Tooth marks on dismembered remains will be the most likely indicator of your culprit.
Raccoons are perhaps the most vexing of chicken predators because, unlike other animals that exploit existing gaps or weak points to enter your coop, raccoons will actually manipulate latches to open doors, windows, or nesting boxes. They may also reach through fencing to grab birds, allowing them to kill and eat your chickens without setting foot in the coop or run. They also seem to exploit bad weather to access birds, attacking during storms that may drop tree limbs on your coop and run, or blow open doors for them.
Raccoons will often kill more than they need and only eat the neck and chest area of the birds. Birds that have been consumed in this fashion or maimed through the fence are likely victims of raccoon attacks. Another tell-tale sign of raccoon attacks is their preference to dismember their prey. If you find a leg here, a wing there, and the head somewhere else, a raccoon is likely the culprit.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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