This last week, I lost some of my chickens to predators. One day my neighbor’s dog got into my yard and got one of my chickens. Next day, I caught an owl in the act of feasting on another one in the run. If you are going to keep chickens in your backyard, then it’s important that you know what chicken predators you need to be on the lookout for. Here, I’ll not only list different predators that you are likely to deal with, but I will also help you determine what killed your chicken. When you know what type of chicken predators you have, then you will be better able to protect your flock.
Table of Contents
- Chicken Predators Identification
- Chicken Predators – What killed my chickens?
- How to Protect Your Chickens from Predators
Chicken Predators Identification
Many people who own chickens are horrified at the thought that their dog might ever attack them, which I understand, but this is more common than you may think. Even if you don’t have dogs yourself, you need to keep an eye out for any dogs in the neighborhood who tend to wander, as they may find themselves at your home and may be checking out your chickens when you’re not paying attention.
Raccoons are predators that love to go after chickens since they are fairly easy prey that won’t fight back. Not only will they target your chickens, but they tend to be incredibly vicious, which is why you don’t ever want them hanging around your coop. If you have a lot of trash outside of your home that isn’t stored in bins, then you may be inviting these animals to your home without even realizing what you’re doing.
It’s really easy to forget that the sweet cat purring and drinking milk is related to big cats, which are predators, but given the chance, your cat or the neighborhood stray will be just as happy to eat your chickens as they are to eat the food you give them. If you see a stray cat that’s hanging around your flock, then you need to be aware of their location because they can move very quickly, and a chicken won’t stand a chance.
Not everyone with a backyard flock needs to worry about coyote attacks, but it’s important to be aware of these predators and how quickly and easily they can infiltrate your coop and get your birds. Coyotes can easily jump 8 feet high and are great at climbing, which means that they can easily get into your coop unless you have taken special care to provide your chickens with extra protection.
I find that many people underestimate bobcats and their abilities to damage your flock since they are much smaller than other animals, such as wolves and coyotes. Even though they’re not much bigger than your housecat, they can cause a lot of problems and kill your chickens. Bobcats are the most commonly found wild cat in the United States, and they love to travel and roam, so even if you haven’t had bobcat problems in the past, you aren’t free from the risk.
Just as all of the other chicken predators on this list, foxes can do a great deal of damage if they are able to get in with your chickens. These predators are nocturnal, so unless you have a livestock guardian dog that is going to alert you to a fox in the henhouse, you are very unlikely to ever actually catch them in the act. This can make it difficult to tell if they are the one who killed a chicken.
Even though snakes can’t generally eat a whole chicken, these are predators that will sneak into your coop and try to eat chickens or eggs. I know that it can be incredibly difficult to seal off your coop or your pen to prevent snakes from entering and killing your chicks, but because this chicken predator is so sneaky and can fit through small spaces, you do need to do your best.
Just like snakes can fit through small spaces and sneak into your coop, these predators can also find very small weaknesses and get to where your chickens are. Due to their small size, it can be very difficult to keep them out of your chicken coop. Additionally, they are incredibly sly and unlikely to give up easily once they have found that they can get in with your chickens.
Luckily, these chicken predators are much larger than some of the others on this list, which means that they have a harder time getting into your coop. Unfortunately, once they have gotten in, they can do a lot of damage. While many people don’t realize that there’s a lot to fear about opossums, I have learned how quickly these predators can decimate your flock if you aren’t careful and don’t take steps to prevent their entry.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned that skunks are actually chicken predators and will stalk and eat your chickens. They love eating eggs and will do everything that they can to get into your coop so that they can get the eggs out from under your chickens and eat them. If you have skunks in the area, then you will want to take extra steps to make sure that your pens and coops are all secure.
Surprisingly enough, rats are omnivores and love to eat chicks as well as eggs. While you likely only thought that you had to worry about these predators because they steal feed and spread germs, they will also cause havoc if they are able to get into your coop. For these reasons, I think that this is a top predator that you need to watch out for if you are lucky enough to have chickens.
The main problem that I have found with owls is that since they hunt at night I can’t easily protect my flock, and the chickens don’t see them coming. Because owls tend to be so quiet, they can easily swoop down into the pen and attack a chicken without making any noise. While it takes a very big owl to carry off a bird, they can easily do it, depending on the size of the chicken.
Hawks are very common chicken predators and tend to hang around your coop waiting for the best moment to strike. They are more likely to attack during the day and are incredibly strong and fast. This means that even if your chickens see the hawks coming, they are not likely to be able to escape, due to the size and strength of the predator, as well as how fast they are.
This chicken predator is much rarer than some of the others on the list. But it seems that if you have chickens and a bear wanders through your yard, the bear may try to attack your flock. Because of their size, it can be difficult to keep the bear out of your coop or your pen. Their attacks are much more common during the spring, summer, and fall.
Chicken Predators – What killed my chickens?
#1 Missing Chicken Eggs
If you are missing eggs in your chicken coop and don’t see any signs of struggle from your hens then you can quickly narrow down what predator was in your coop eating your eggs. Generally, rats and snakes are going to be most prone to eating whole eggs and will remove them from the nesting box without making a huge mess. If there are a lot of pieces of shells left behind, then you are dealing with a different chicken predator. You may also be dealing with a skunk if you are missing whole eggs, but the obvious smell of skunk will let you know you have this predator.
#2 Missing Chickens
If you only have one chicken missing, then it is very likely that your chickens were attacked by a hawk or an owl. Because these chicken predators carry off their prey to eat it, you aren’t going to see a lot of feathers or body parts left behind as signs of a struggle. If you are only missing smaller chickens or chicks then you need to consider that a cat, fox, raccoon, or even a snake was in your coop, but these predators aren’t going to be able to carry off a full-grown chicken easily. Read what Justin Rhodes has to say.
#3 Decapitated Chickens
It’s really common for raccoons to grab a chicken and try to pull it through the wire surrounding their pen. When this happens, they often pull off the head of the chicken and leave the body behind, as the body is too big to fit through the wire as well. This chicken predator is very smart and will continue to try to catch birds that wander too close to the wire, which means that they can easily decapitate a large portion of your flock before you even know what is going on and are able to stop them.
Hawk or owl feathers are an obvious answer to what predator you have in your chicken coop, but some predators will leave behind chicken feathers, as well. Foxes tend to leave behind a lot of feathers in their wake, partially because they are so violent and will attack as many birds as they can. I have also noticed that bobcats and coyotes will also leave behind feathers. If you see chicken feathers and are missing the rest of your bird, then you need to turn your attention to these predators, as they are likely the culprit.
#5 Messy Eating
Some chicken predators are much messier than others and will leave bits of your birds behind, pull out their organs, and leave behind wings. Even though cats are fairly neat predators, they will often leave behind wings because they are unable to eat them. The main culprit, however, is the opossum. While these predators prefer younger chickens or eggs, they will attack and partially eat an older bird if the opportunity presents itself, which is why you always need to be on the lookout for these predators, as they can do a lot of damage in your coop. Weasels are also notorious for pulling the intestines out of their prey.
#6 Scratch Marks in the Ground
Bobcats are notorious for trying to cover up the chicken that they killed. Just like a housecat will attempt to scratch and cover up their waste in a litter box, bobcats will do the same thing when they have gotten into your chicken coop or pen. If there are really large scratch marks in the ground, and your dead birds have dirt and other debris tossed on them, then you probably had a bobcat attack. These cats will try to cover up their prey and, in doing so, make it very clear for you what kind of predator you had in your chickens.
If there are large pawprints in your coop or pen, then you can start narrowing down what chicken predator you are dealing with. Generally, unless you have a very good tracking book, you will rely on pawprints in combination with other clues to determine what animal you are dealing with. With some animals, such as cats and bobcats or foxes, dogs, and coyotes, you may have to consider the size of the print to really narrow down what predator you are dealing with. Clear pawprints will allow you to quickly determine that you are not dealing with a predatory bird.
#8 Buried Food
If you suspect that you have foxes that are attacking and eating your birds, then you will want to poke around to see if you can find any chickens that are buried. This is because foxes, in general, will kill more chickens than they can actually eat at once. When this happens, they like to bury the food in a storage space in the ground, so they will have something to eat at a later time. If you are having trouble narrowing down what predator is eating your chickens, and you find an underground storage, then you likely have foxes.
#9 Dead Birds That Are Intact
One of the most frustrating things to deal with when you have a chicken predator is one that kills your chickens and leaves them dead in your coop. If you have piles of dead chickens, then it is very likely that you have a weasel. These small animals can cause a lot of problems and love to kill chickens without any purpose. Dogs will also maul chickens to death and then leave them without eating their bodies, so if you have chickens that have been mauled, and the fence of your coop or pen has been damaged, then it is more likely that you’re dealing with a dog or a fox than a weasel.
#10 Distinct Smell
One of the easiest chicken predators to identify leaves behind a noxious odor that most anyone can pick up and recognize. While skunks very rarely will attack and kill a chicken, it does happen, and they tend to be very violent predators. Additionally, they love to rob eggs from nesting boxes, leaving nothing behind. While there are other chicken predators who engage in the same activity, the smell of a skunk is one that really stands out and will make it clear rather quickly when you are dealing with this predator in your henhouse.
#11 Look at the Chicken’s Shells
Opossums are incredibly messy eaters and love to suck out the inside of eggs, leaving the shells behind in the nest. Raccoons will also tend to crack open the eggs and eat the inside, leaving behind shells rather than carrying them off to eat in another location. This is frustrating, as these two predators are very sneaky and do a great job at finding and exploiting any weaknesses in your coop or your pen, which means that it can be incredibly tricky to keep them out once they have found a way to get into your chickens.
How to Protect Your Chickens from Predators
Improve Fencing and Housing for Increased Protection
One of the most important things for you to do when you are going to be getting chickens is to make sure that you have provided them with a safe and secure place to live. Keeping your chickens safe from chicken predators should be a top concern, and I have found that improving your fencing and housing is a great way to protect your chickens when you are faced with a predator.
This is especially important if you did not do a great job building a secure home for your chickens in the first place.
While many people think that chicken wire has its name because it’s ideal to be used to keep chickens safe, all it does is keep chickens in one location. It is not nearly strong or durable enough to prevent predators from breaking into your coop or your pen. If you have used this material, then you need to upgrade it immediately to offer your chickens the protection that they deserve.
Field Fence for your Chickens
Welded wire or hardware cloth is great options as they are much more durable and significantly stronger than chicken wire is and will do a great job at keeping chicken predators away from your flock. To ensure that your birds are as safe as possible, it’s a good idea to bury your wire a few inches to a foot below the ground. This will help to prevent animals from tunneling underneath your fence and gaining access to your flock that way. Here’s a great article to help you select a fence option.
Protect your Chickens with Daily Checks
I have found that regularly checking the condition of my coop is important, as small access holes can quickly form and be made larger by a hungry predator. Any access holes, even ones that you think are too small to be a problem, need to be blocked immediately. Weasels can easily sneak through a hole that is only ½ inch, and larger predators can get through a hole that is not much bigger, which means that they can kill your chickens without you knowing it. Locking up your birds in a secure house each night is the best way to keep them safe. Check out these 21 tips here.
For Predator Protection Rely on Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD)
Livestock guardian dogs are a great way to keep your chickens safe, although there are some considerations that you have to make before you decide if they are the right choice for you and your flock. I think that these dogs are great because they can easily protect a very large number and variety of animals from predators, including your chickens, sheep, horses, and goats. Since they will bond to the animals that they are protecting, they are great to keep younger animals in particular safe from predators.
Bond Your LGD to your Chickens as Puppies
Before you opt for livestock guardian dogs, you need to make sure that you not only choose dogs that are suited to protect your chickens from predators but also that you get them early enough. You want them to bond with your chickens so that they will be willing to protect them, so it’s important to introduce your new pup to your flock when they are between 8-16 weeks old. This article explains the keys to getting your livestock guardian dogs bonded, so they will do a much better job protecting your animals for you.
Training Your LGD to Guard Your Chicken against Predators
While you may think that you can simply turn your new dog loose with your chickens, you do need to provide them with some training so that they will understand how to interact with you, as well as how to deal with your chickens appropriately. When we first got Luna at 8 weeks old she wanted to play with our chickens which sometimes meant using them as chew toys.
Therefore, speaking from experience, make sure that you are very careful with your new dog around chicks until they have proven themselves able to handle the babies without hurting them.
Predators Beware of the LGD Team
While we chose to only get one LGD to start, I fully understand that these dogs often do better in a pair. They love having a job and taking care of your chickens and will even trade off the time that they are watching over your flock, which ensures that invaders and predators aren’t able to get anywhere near your birds. They do a great job working as a team to ensure that when an invader is near, one can chase it off, and the other can guard the chickens to keep them safe from another predator. If you’re thinking about getting an LGD to guard your chickens give this article a read.