Chicken Predators and Pests – How to protect your flock!
Raising chickens is a wonderful experience, but there’s no doubt that it can also be fraught with difficulties and tough decisions.
One of the greatest challenges doesn’t come from the chickens themselves, but rather from their enemies. Hungry for a snack, these animals will often stop at nothing to get into your coop – and once they’re in, things can get ugly.
So, in the name of saving our chickens, here’s our comprehensive article on the most common and dangerous chicken predators, and how to tell which one killed your chickens.
What Killed My Chicken? Chicken Predator Identification 101
Before we dive in, let’s make one thing clear. This is not an article about tiny critters like mites or flies. It’s about larger pests (think the size of a rat and up), that want to hunt your chickens, their chicks, and their eggs.
We’re talking about the creatures that leave you wondering, “what is killing my chickens at night” or, perhaps the other way around — that keep you up all night wondering “what is killing my chickens during the day?” (Both are a possibility!).
What animals eat chickens?
As you can imagine, there are many animals that love to eat chickens. After all, the little guys are small and, apart from a beak and some pretty pathetic talons, they can’t do much to defend themselves against a determined attacker. This makes them easy targets for anything as small as a rat or snake, to as large as a mountain lion or bear.
Most predators that hunt chickens are hungry, and they’re simply following nature’s call to eat. After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog — or perhaps we should say, dog-eat-chicken — world out there. It’s just a fact of life.
What you need to do, however, is convince them your chickens aren’t a great (or easy!) option, and that they’ll need to get their food elsewhere.
Animals don’t always eat the chickens they kill, though...
What animals kill chickens without eating them?
If you’re new to raising chickens, the question might sound odd. What kills a chicken and just leaves it?
But the truth is, there are some nasty predators out there that have some serious bloodlust issues, and once they start killing, they continue killing... for sport.
Sure, they might grab a quick snack along the way, but a weasel, mink, opossum, raccoon, dog, or even a coyote can do far more damage than just a single kill. This makes them a problem that must be dealt with immediately!
Our Chicken Predators Chart
Here is an overview chart of the top threats to your coop. Below the chart, we break down each predator, where they live, how they kill, and how you can prevent it from happening.
Birds of Prey
In this forum from backyardchickens.com, chicken owners voted on which predator they considered the worst. Can you guess the result?
Believe it or not, raccoons came in with a whopping total nearly one and a half times that of the runner-up, which was dogs. Third and fourth places were hawk and fox, respectively.
The Criminals, The Signs, and What You Can Do About It
All right, it’s time to answer that nagging question asked by chicken owners the world over, “what killed my chicken?”
Keep in mind that we are not going to be specific about where within the region the predators tend to live. Migrations and expanding or decreasing populations can change these boundaries on a regular basis. So, if you live in an area that deals with a particular predator, you may want to do some follow-up research to see how serious of a threat it is where you live.
WARNING: ALWAYS call animal control when dealing with a serious wildlife situation, especially if the creature is big enough to harm you OR if it may be protected by law.
#1. The Criminal: Raccoon
Region: North and South America, Europe, and Asia
- Bites on neck and head of chicken
- Decapitated bird, limbs torn off
- Torn and chewed breasts and crop
- Eaten entrails
- Stolen eggs (generally eaten within thirty feet of nest)
- Multiple kills in one attack
- Can attack during the day
What you can do about it: Keep your coop well-secured, using mesh, hardware cloth, and good bolts and locks. Raccoons are clever and have nimble hands that can fit into very small spaces, whether they need to yank open a window or grab a chicken by the throat. Also, keep garbage to a minimum. This often attracts raccoons initially, at which point they notice that a fresher meal can be had nearby.
#2. The Criminal: Opossum
Region: North America
- Always attack at night
- Gashes on a chicken’s abdomen, bowels, and neck
- Particularly gruesome mauling that almost always results in death
- Chickens, chicks, or eggs may be eaten
- Chewed and mashed leftover eggshells
What you can do about it: Again, things like open garbage or pet food can attract opossums initially. Cover them and you may control the problem. They also hate noise and light, so using things like radios or Christmas lights can be effective in keeping them out of the coop.
#3. The Criminal: Weasel
Region: All continents except Australia and surrounds
- Bites on back of neck and posterior
- Decapitated chickens
- Intestines ripped out
- All living things in the coop are killed
- Not all chickens are eaten
What you can do about it: These are sly, small, thin creatures, so a well-secured space is imperative if a weasel is around. You may also want to consider setting a trap, although actually catching one can be very difficult.
#4. The Criminal: Mink
Region: North America
- All living things in the coop are killed
- Many dead chickens are uneaten
- Attacks during day or night
What you can do about it: Like weasels, these are small, quick, and agile animals. Secure any openings in your coop, and consider setting a trap with bloody meat or fish.
#5. The Criminal: Fox (Especially Red Foxes)
Region: North America
- Scattered feathers
- Missing chickens (they take their prey far from the site of the kill)
- Fewer signs of blood, slashing, or gnawing
- Eggs eaten (only slightly opened and then licked clean)
Occasionally multiple birds or a whole flock missing
What you can do about it: Foxes generally hunt at dusk and in the early morning, especially in the spring when they need to feed their young. Having other small animals can attract foxes and lead them to your coop, so keep small pets indoors during these times, if possible. Traps may be your best bet, as hunting is usually not an option on a smaller suburban or inner-city homestead. However, you will want to be as cunning as the fox or they’ll sense the trap and avoid it. A guard dog is also an excellent consideration.
#6. The Criminal: Snake
- Missing eggs (with nothing remaining, not even the shell)
- Missing chicks
What you can do about it: Even figuring out that a snake is the problem in the first place is impressive, as they leave very few signs of their activity behind. If you know a snake is poaching your eggs and/or chicks, though, make sure the base of your coop is fortified with very fine mesh, hardware cloth, etc. You can also set out and remove any nearby piles of compost, rocks, etc. that could serve as a breeding ground for the slithering thieves.
#7. The Criminal: Bobcat
Region: North America
- Claw marks on the neck, shoulders, or backs of dead chicken(s)
- Chickens killed during dawn or dusk
- One or two chickens killed and missing
- The chicken is more or less completely eaten, especially around the ribs and shoulders
- Carcass can be dirty from being dragged around
What you can do about it: If bobcats are an issue for you, make sure to construct solid walls to your coop. You can attempt to trap a bobcat (although it’s difficult), or you can try using things like predator urine (including human urine!) or guard dogs to help deter them from your coop.
#8. The Criminal: Skunk
Region: North America
- Raid is at dusk
- Chickens are maimed or hurt but not necessarily killed or eaten
- Eggs eaten (only slightly opened and then licked clean)
- Stolen eggs are within a few feet of the nest
What you can do about it: Skunks will dig under a fence easily. Make sure to have a good predator apron installed, gather your eggs regularly, and keep your chicks safe in their brooder! As is the case with many of these smaller predators, you also have the option to try to trap the intruder. Just don’t get sprayed!
#9. The Criminal: Cat
- Bites to the chicken’s neck
- Victim is a smaller, younger chicken
What you can do about it: If you have a cat, try to acclimate it to your chickens in the hopes that they can co-exist together, much like a guard dog. Keep your coop tight and make sure any smaller or older chickens are safe inside at night!
#10. The Criminal: Rat
- Wood or chicken wire is chewed through
- Chicks and/or eggs are eaten or missing
- Chicken feed is missing
What you can do about it: Gather your eggs regularly, move your feeders up off the floor and out of reach of the pests, use traps, and keep your coop well-secured! Learn more by reading our article on how to banish rats from your coop.
#11. The Criminal: Bear
- Destroyed part of chicken coop from forced entrance
- Bear tracks
What you can do about it: Prevent them coming in the first place! If you know you’re at risk of a potential bear attack, ensure your coop is incredibly strong and able to take the weight and muscle of a large animal. Also make sure your chicken feed is covered and your garbage is inaccessible, as these are often what attract a bear to a coop in the first place. Bears love an easy meal, so a strong coop and even an electric fence can be handy in convincing them to look elsewhere.
#12. The Criminal: Mountain Lion
Region: The Americas
- Internal organs removed and/or eaten
- Chickens are completely missing
- Paw prints
What you can do about it: If a mountain lion is a threat (which is unlikely, but possible, in a suburban or urban setting), make sure your coop is strong and that all of your wiring is both durable and firmly attached. Hardware cloth is preferable to chicken cloth. Also make sure the roof of the coop is secure, as mountain lions can jump very high.
#13. The Criminal: Coyote
Region: Central and North America
- Chicken missing or found dragged away from coop
- Chicken bitten in neck
- Chickens killed for sport
- Raid takes place at night
- Feathers scattered
- Signs of a forced break-in
- Tunneling under your fence or coop
- Coyote tracks around the coop
What you can do about it: Coyotes are similar to foxes in the sense that they are sneaky and smart. But they are not as suave in their approach, opting for a forced entry or tunneling under the coop, rather than climbing the fence (as a fox might do). So, make sure your walls are strong and intact and you have a good predator apron installed! Also consider putting up a motion sensor light or electric fence.
#14. The Criminal: Dog
- Birds are chased but not killed (or have died from shock)
- Birds are killed for sport
- Body is maimed or mangled, but not eaten
- There is no sign of “skill” in the kill, just random biting and dragging
What you can do about it: If it is your own dog, observe the breed to determine if it is prone to guarding or hunting. If you have two or more dogs, a pack mentality can set in, and cause them to egg each other on in antagonizing your chickens. If you cannot prevent them from attacking through training, make sure you have a strong fence and coop. You can try to leash them near the coop to help them acclimate to the chickens as a part of their environment. If the dog is a neighbor’s, try talking to them to figure out a solution, especially before a problem arises!
#15. The Criminal: Eagle
- Chickens that have been pierced through
- Birds with a broken spinal cord
- Missing birds with no sign of a struggle
What you can do about it: Keep the roof of your coop and run secure, and don’t let your birds out to wander around or free range if you know an eagle might be nearby. Remember that in the case of birds like eagles, hawks, and owls, you cannot hunt them by law (at least in the U.S.).
#16. The Criminal: Hawk
- Raid during the day
- Breast of chicken has been eaten and feathers plucked out
- Chicken is missing
What you can do about it: Of course, securing the roof of your coop and run are good first steps. Also, avoid free ranging chickens when hawks are a regular threat. However, if you are determined to free range, you can try hanging shiny things like CDs from trees, having a good rooster or Guinea fowl that can sense a hawk’s presence and alert the hens, or keeping a guard dog as a deterrent. Remember, though, no hunting allowed!
#17. The Criminal: Owl
- Chicken goes missing at night (although the day is also a possibility!)
- Bird is missing entirely
- Bird is found with neat cuts in its neck, as if made by a knife or scissors
What you can do about it: Once again, protect your chickens from attacks from above. Secure the roof of their coop and run and make sure all chickens get back inside at night as long as an attack is a real threat. And one more time, say it with us, don’t hunt the owls!
How to Protect Your Flock
Even if you’re unaware of a particular threat, having a well-protected flock is always a smart idea.
We strongly recommend completely pest-proofing your coop, whether you’re dealing with them yet or not. You never know when they may be an issue in the future, and you know what they say – prevention is better than cure!
Once they’re protected from the small stuff, there are a few other rules of thumb that can help ensure your chickens are in safe hands.
Building your coop with a raised foundation can easily deter many smaller predators, especially those who might be tempted to chew through wood or dig under a floor. If the coop is even just a little bit higher than the ground, many predators will leave it alone.
Consider getting a bird-friendly protector
This one came up several times during our list, and with good reason!
A dog, cat, or other pet that knows (or can be trained) not to eat your chickens can be a great help in the battle to protect your coop. The main problem is making sure they actually do their job and don’t just wander off, leaving the coop unattended.
Still, having a pet protector around can help minimize the damage, even if they’re only on duty part of the time!
Cover your openings
Use very small, fine mesh — we’re talking ½” wide holes or even smaller — to cover any holes or points of entry for a potential pest. This includes things like windows, doors, and any other holes.
Install a predator apron
If the floor is just dirt and can be burrowed under, you’ll also want to consider putting mesh around the exterior floor of the coop — something called a predator apron — to keep animals from burrowing in under the fence.
Here’s a great video tutorial on how to properly install a predator apron:
Try a spray or light option
These can be hit or miss, but there are plenty of options available. You can get a pee spray that literally uses urine from predators such as wolves to deter animals from getting too close.
There are also light systems available that create the appearance of an animal’s eyes. This can strike fear in a predator and send them scampering back where they came from with an empty belly.
NOTE:: DO NOT use poison to deal with smaller pests like rats. The problem here is twofold. First, if a rat can get to the poison, there’s a good chance that your chickens will be able to, as well. Secondly, once a rat has died of the poison, there’s nothing stopping another rat from taking its place. So, while a strategically placed poison can work as a temporary measure, you’ll want to make other long-term plans.
Chicken Predator FAQs
Many of the following questions were touched on in the article, but for anyone skimming or looking for some more detailed, specific answers, here they are!
Do owls eat chickens?
Yes, they sure do! However, some owls are more likely to bother your flock than others. While barn owls and screech owls have been known to eat chickens at times, the most common one dropping in for a visit is the great horned owl. Their diet includes all kinds of fowl, and they live in a variety of areas all over the world… including suburban and more densely populated areas. So don’t rule them out as a possible factor just because you live in a city or suburb!
Weasels killing chickens: Do weasels eat chickens or just kill them?
Weasels (and their relatives, minks) are an interesting breed of chicken predator. To answer the question directly, yes, weasels do eat chickens, but, like a trigger happy hunter, they also tend to get carried away with the thrill of the hunt. They can go on “killing sprees,” slaughtering entire broods in a single raid. BUT, that doesn’t mean they’re not hungry, too. They’ll eat eggs, chicks, and full chickens, often dragging away leftovers for later.
What types of hawks eat chickens?
There are literally hundreds of kinds of hawks around the globe, but there are a few in particular that crave chicken. These include the Red-Shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Red-Tailed Hawk. You can read a summary of these hawks here.
Do possums eat chickens or just chicks and eggs?
While technically different from the North American opossums, possums, which are indigenous to Australia, have similar tendencies to go for easier prey. So, if one gets into your coop, they’re likely going to go for eggs and smaller chicks. Occasionally, though, they will attack an adult hen, and when they do, the signs are pretty clear. They don’t go for a “clean kill.” If a possum’s been in the coop eating a chicken, you’ll find a severely mauled animal with the carcass left behind since they generally eat on the spot, and are not smart enough to truck away their leftovers for later.
Do skunks eat chickens or just maim them?
Skunks are opportunistic hunters and will try to get the easiest meal they can. So, as you can imagine, they don’t tend to “hunt” adult chickens very often. However, they do love eggs and chicks, and if they come sneaking around for a quick meal, they may encounter an adult chicken, which usually ends up maimed or killed. If the latter happens, they will eat what they want then and there and leave the rest.
Do raccoons eat chickens during the day?
Yes, raccoons have been known to eat chickens during the day. In fact, while there are general times for all predators to grab a meal, it’s not a hard and fast rule. When you consider things like winter weather or feeding their young, it’s easy to see that the desperation of a hungry predator can have them out hunting at any time. So, don’t let down your guard just because the sun is up!
What animals bite heads off chickens?
Some of the most common animals that bite off or remove the heads of chickens are weasels and raccoons, while opossums and foxes have been known to do so occasionally as well.
Keep Vigilant, Chicken Guardians!
While chickens are not completely defenceless, they are certainly more like sheep than lions, and they require an active and involved owner to keep them safe. So make sure to keep an eye out for any signs of predators, do your due diligence in preventing attacks in the first place, and, when you do get hit by an attack, remember to come back here to find out who it was and what you can do to stop them!
If you’ve dealt with raids in the past, we’d love to hear how your experience went. And please consider sharing the post with any other chicken loving friends you have, to help them keep their broods safe, too!