Nothing is more disheartening for someone who keeps chickens than to find their valuable and carefully raised livestock killed by some kind of predator. There are quite a few creatures that would love nothing more than to have a chicken dinner. Find out what the top 10 chicken predators are and how to protect your chickens.
The good news when it comes to predators is that you can often prevent attacks, many times without killing or relocating the predator. Killing and relocating are generally out of the question due to local and federal laws. Here is a listing of predators that are common in our area, Central Missouri, though they are also common throughout most of North America as well.
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Hawks are the number one threat from above. They hunt during the day swooping down from high in the sky striking a chicken with sharp talons- often killing it instantly. Hawks generally carry their prey away with them, devouring their victim. They will either eat it whole if it is small enough, such as a chick. Or they will use their sharp beak to tear their meal into smaller bites.
There are many species of hawk throughout North America. The most common species that prey on chickens in my area is the Red Tailed Hawk. Red Tailed hawks need an open area to hunt. They strike from above. Some other types of hawks fly and hunt well in forested areas.
How to Protect Chickens from Hawks
Provide your chickens with some kind of shelter in the form of a covered run or, if they are in the pasture, some kind of shelter such as bushes or a covered structure. We have both our runs covered. Orange netting seems to work well as hawks can see it easily. The other run is covered with a special roof that is made from an arched frame with a tarp-like cover (link?)
Make sure if you use a covered structure, the hawks can’t gain access from the sides. We built some shelters and have yet to try them out.
Furry little bandits that will rob your chicken coop at night, these nocturnal visitors can decimate a flock in a single night. They may even kill several chickens at a time. They kill with sharp teeth by biting into a chicken’s neck or head, sometimes ripping off the head of the chicken.
Raccoons usually hunt for food, but they have been known to kill more than they can eat and leave the carcasses behind. Raccoons also eat eggs, carrying them away from the nest and will eat young chickens and chicks just as readily as an adult chicken.
How to Protect Chickens from Raccoons
It is important to have secure entrances and doors with either locks or sliding bars that are strong enough that the raccoon can’t slide it. Raccoons can sometimes operate latches that aren’t secure. It is surprising what they can get into! Chicken wire is often ineffective against raccoons, so some kind of hardware screen is generally better. We have had some issues with raccoons before we took extra precautions to prevent raccoon attacks.
The only North American marsupial, this odd little creature has been known to dine on chickens and their eggs. Like raccoons, they hunt at night sometimes killing multiple chickens, though not more than they can eat. Opossums use their sharp claws to kill chickens. Opossums eat eggs, but unlike raccoons, they messily eat the eggs right in the nest.
How to Protect Chickens from Opossums
Similar precautions to those taken with the raccoon should be used to secure the coop from opossum attacks.
Neighborhood and even stray dogs can pose a significant threat to chickens. If a dog attacks, it will sometimes kill an entire flock of chickens. Unlike many other predators, dogs kill to satisfy their hunting instinct and often will not eat their prey. Some breeds of dogs are protective and can be used to guard a flock but most breeds (even some small dogs) have the potential to be chicken killers.
Dogs’ hunting instincts can sometimes become more pronounced when there are multiple dogs as pack behavior starts to kick in. Dogs can attack at night or during the day and will attack any age chicken but usually don’t eat eggs.
Wild dogs such as coyotes and wolves hunt at night and usually kill what they will eat. They usually hunt in packs, though so it can be devastating when they attack.
How to Protect Chickens from Dogs
We have some roaming neighborhood dogs, but since I use a fence around my pastures, I haven’t had any problems. Make sure if you do have a fence that a dog can’t easily dig to get under it.
Our barn cats have never killed a chicken. Even when my turkey poult got loose they didn’t bother it. Housecats will sometimes kill chicks or young chickens and have even been known to occasionally kill and eat an adult bird.
How to Protect Chickens from Cats
Having a secure coop will prevent cats getting to your chickens at night. Though cats do hunt during the day too, instances of cats attacking chickens is somewhat lower than that of other predators.
Foxes are another predator that I have seen roaming our property. We suspect foxes of killing several of our turkeys as they tend to fly outside the fence. Foxes will sometimes hunt during the day, and a few of our turkeys were killed in daylight. Our chickens have remained safe from foxes since they mostly stay behind the fence.
Foxes not only eat adult and young birds but also eggs. A fox will carry its victim with it to a den or other safe place to eat it, leaving only feathers and a small amount of blood as evidence of the attack. When a fox eats an egg, it opens one end of the shell and licks out the inside.
How to Protect Chickens from Foxes
A secure coop and keeping the chickens in a fenced in run or pasture goes a long way in stopping fox attacks.
A skunk is another unwanted guest that you may want to leave off of your invitation list. Skunks love to eat eggs, chicks and an occasional adult bird. Usually when a skunk attacks, it will kill one or two chickens, possibly severely wounding a few others. Though the attack on the adult birds looks very similar to an opossum attack, skunks eat the eggs differently. A skunk will open a hole in one end of an egg and lick out the inside.
How to Protect Chickens from Skunks
Make sure to keep your fences and coop secure. Keep an eye out for any fencing that could be easily broken into and fix it. You can also use hardware cloth to keep skunks from getting into the run or fence. Put away any food at night so skunks will not be attracted to it.
Owls hunt almost exclusively at night. Great Horned owls are usually the culprit if there is an owl involved. Most other species of owls don’t generally attack chickens. If you keep your chickens in a coop at night, chances are they will be safe from owls. We don’t have much experience with owls though we can sometimes hear them outside at night and even occasionally during the day.
How to Protect Chickens from Owls
Give chickens shelters, bushes, trees or overhangs that they can hide under when they see an owl. Or, if the chickens are in a smaller run, covering it will take care of the problem.
Snakes are on this list even though they don’t present much of a threat to adult chickens. They can be a bit of a hassle when it comes to eggs and very young chicks. Snakes will swallow the egg whole.
The size of the gap required for a snake to enter the coop depends on the size of the snake. Gaps less than a ¼” wide will prevent snakes large enough to pose a threat out of the coop. Most of the time snakes need enough space to safely exit the coop with an egg inside their stomach but some will eat it in the nesting area.
How to Protect Chickens from Snakes
Find any gaps or holes in your coop that are more than ¼” wide. Fill the gaps or holes. Cover them with hardware cloth if they are too big to fill.
Active both day and night, these tiny predators are vicious killers. The Least weasel is the weasel that most commonly causes problems for chicken owners. It can squeeze into impossibly small gaps. If the predator leaves behind bodies that show only a small bite at the base of the head, you could be dealing with a weasel. Weasels sometimes only drain a chicken’s blood, leaving behind the almost intact body. Other times a weasel will eat only the internals, ripping them out from the cloacae.
How to Protect Chickens from Weasels
Make sure you are using a good hardware cloth with ¼” spacing if you have trouble with weasels. Cover all openings in the coop and keep an eye out for places weasels could enter.
Tips for Keeping Predators out of Your Chicken Coop
Here are some tips to keep predators out of your coop: (chicken coop essentials video)
- Make sure there are no gaps in the doors or windows to allow predators in. This includes making sure the door can’t be pulled out enough to allow something to squeeze in.
- Make sure any openings are covered with sturdy hardware cloth- chicken wire isn’t enough.
- Any latches and hooks on doors should be secured in such a way that a predator with nimble fingers (raccoons) can’t undo the latch. We use luggage locks after having lost a few chickens to raccoons.
Tips for Keeping Predators out of Your Chicken Run, Pasture or Yard
Keeping predators out of your run or pasture is important as well, so here are a few tips to keep your chickens safe as they roam:
- Use a sturdy fence to keep out coyotes, dogs and foxes. Inspect the fence regularly to make sure there is no digging into the fenced in area. You may have to extend the fencing by burying it into the ground to prevent persistent diggers.
- Provide shelter from aerial predators such as hawks. You may want to cover your run or plant bushes your chickens can hide in.
- Keep a guard animal such as a dog. The dog should be trained and of a breed that is protective of livestock. You don’t want to add to your problem by having a dog that kills the chickens it is supposed to protect.
- Learn about the behaviors of your local predators. You can modify the area around your chickens by either clearing or planting trees and planting or clearing other vegetation.
Steps to Take to Eliminate or Reduce an Existing Predator Problem
If you do have a problem with a predator, here are some steps you can take to reduce or eliminate the problem:
- Identify the problem predator. Use tracks, habits, kill patterns, and even time of day to determine what the threat is.
- Secure any area that might be a weak point in your defense. Sometimes even the smallest cracks can be exploited by a persistent predator.
- Contact your local wildlife agency before taking any steps which might harm the predator. Hawks, owls and eagles are all federally protected. There may be regulations that protect other predators in your area.
- Your local wildlife agency can be a huge asset in your fight to protect your chickens from predators by providing you with tools to identify them and possible ways of preventing them.
Keeping Chickens is so rewarding! It's worth all the effort of protecting your chickens from these predators. You will be happy you took precautions to make sure that your little friends are safe.
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