Top 17 Chicken Predators & What To Know
There’s nothing worse than waking up to a chicken coop viciously attacked by chicken predators. Before that ever happens to your flock, understanding the 17 common chicken predators can help you identify them, have a better understanding of how these predators attack, and what you can do to protect your birds.
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 chicken.
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 one chicken forum, 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. The 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 will not be specific about where these common chicken predators tend to live within the region. Migrations and expanding or decreasing populations can change these boundaries regularly. 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.
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
They might look harmless, but raccoons, with their intelligent nature, can open latches and even dig through the chicken coop. In some cases, if these chicken predators can’t get inside, they will grab the eggs and run off with them up to 50 yards! (1)
If a raccoon cannot get in the coop they catch or grab birds or eggs through the wires of the enclosure and will eat what they can through the wire (generally only the heads of the birds.”
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 because it will attract the raccoons. If they notice that a fresher meal is nearby, they will grab the opportunity.
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
Although they do not snatch up chicken or eggs through the wire, you should look for opossums too! These predators are known for mauling and killing one bird at a time, smashing the eggs in the process.
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 effectively keeps them out of the coop.
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
Given their small size, weasels can enter the chicken coop without any detection. They are not as gruesome and vicious as raccoons and opossums, but this smallest living predator needs to consume food four times its body weight (2). This means it can wipe out your flock in one night! If it sees an opportunity, it will kill for food.
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 can install extra wires around and under the coop. You may also want to consider setting a trap, although catching one can be very difficult.
Region: North America
- All living things in the coop are killed
- Many dead chickens are uneaten
- Attacks during day or night
Minks can also attack and kill chickens. These predators, which are part of the weasel family, will kill all living things in their paths. Just like weasels, they don’t eat every victim. Sometimes they hunt and kill only for fun (3).
Minks are notorious for leaving untouched carcasses of their prey.
What you can do about it: Like weasels, these are small, quick, and agile animals. You will need secure any openings in your coop. You can also catch minks by setting a trap with bloody meat or fish.
Foxes (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 a fox, or they’ll sense the trap and avoid it. A guard dog is also an excellent consideration.
- Missing eggs (with nothing remaining, not even the shell)
- Missing chicks
Snakes can also enter and wreak havoc on your chicken coop and kill the flock. But instead of killing adult chickens, they, specifically the rat snake, go for defenseless victims like the hatchlings. If you don’t have chicks in your, they will eat eggs instead.
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 chicken shelter 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.
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, you will need to construct solid walls. These predators are big; they can knock down flimsy coops with their weight. Another option in keeping your flock safe from a bobcat is to set a trap. You can also try using predator urine (including human urine!) or have guard dogs to help deter them.
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. To prevent this, you will need to have a good predator apron installed, gather your eggs regularly, and keep your chicks safe in their brooder! Since skunks are elusive, you also have the option to try to trap them. Just don’t get sprayed!
- Bites to the chicken’s neck
- Victim is a smaller, younger chicken
Being a member of the Felidae family, it’s no surprise that even domestic or feral cats can be predators too. Unlike their larger cousins like the bobcat or mountain lion, cats do not kill large chickens in your flock. They go for the younger chickens and chicks.
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 let smaller or older chickens of your flock inside!
- 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 property well-secured! Learn more by reading our article on how to get rid of rats in chicken coop.
#11. The Criminal: Bear
- Destroyed part of chicken coop from forced entrance
- Bear tracks
What you can do about it: Prevent them from 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. You’d also want to cover your chicken feed and store your garbage at an inaccessible area in your property, as these are often what attract a bear. 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 suburban or urban areas), you’d want to reinforce your coop and ensure that all of your wires are both durable and firmly attached. Hardware cloth is preferable to chicken cloth. Installing higher fences around your property can also dissuade these predators from entering and killing your chickens. 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 don’t have the same suave predation approach. These predators opt 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 dog, observe the breed to determine if it is prone to guarding or hunting. If you have two or more domestic dogs, a pack mentality can set in and cause them to egg each other on in antagonizing your chickens.
Not all dogs will attack chickens. There are livestock guardian dogs that you can train to protect your chickens.
If you cannot prevent them from attacking through training, you can build a strong fence and coop. You can try to leash domestic dogs near the flock to acclimate to the chickens as a part of their environment. After a few tries, they will eventually lose interest in the chickens.
If the predators are neighborhood dogs, you can find the owners and try talking to them. You and your neighbors can figure out a sensible solution to keep the dogs away from your property, 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
The primary food source of some birds of prey like the eagle is fish. However, these predators are very opportunistic, especially if it’s an easy chicken dinner.
What you can do about it: Keep the roof of your chicken pen secure, and don’t let your chickens 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
Birds of prey like the hawk can also attack and kill chickens, especially when you have a free-range flock. They often kill adult birds, but won’t shy away from baby chicks, especially when it’s an easy meal.
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 these predators 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 this bird’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
Another bird of prey is the owl. Since owls have razor-sharp eyes even at night, they can easily target your flock as its next tasty chicken dinner, but these birds may also attack in broad daylight (4).
What you can do about it: Birds of prey like owls attack from above. An exposed roof can make your flock an easy target! You will need to cover and secure your roof if you don’t want these predators swopping up your flock in the middle of the night. You should also never let your flock roam in the backyard at night.
How To Protect Your Flock – Top 5 Tips
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 predators 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.
Elevate Your Coop
Building your coop with a raised foundation can easily deter many smaller predators, especially those who chew through wood or dig under a floor (5).
Raising coop enclosures off the ground can discourage animals from sneaking underneath to steal eggs and young. Make sure the bottom of the coop is structurally sound.
If it is even slightly 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 domestic cat, or dog, 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 flock. The main problem is making sure they actually do their job and don’t just wander off, leaving the flock unattended.
Still, having guardian dogs and other pet protectors around can help minimize the damage, even if they’re only on duty part of the time!
Cover Your Openings
Don’t forget to cover the openings of your coop and run too. 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.
You don’t want to use a chicken wire with wider holes. Predators like the raccoon can fit their hands through the wire, grabbing the neck or head of your chicken.
Install A Predator Apron
If the floor is just dirt and, predators can burrow under and reach your floc. To prevent this, you can put a mesh around the exterior base — 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 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. If you don’t have a commercial anti-predator lighting budget, you can repurpose unused CDs or DVDs and hang them up around the property.
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, nothing stops 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.
While chickens are not completely defenseless, they are certainly more like sheep than lions, and they require an active and involved owner to keep them safe. You should 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 chicken coops and broods safe, too!
An animal that kills chickens without eating them can be a weasel. These predators love the thrill of hunting and killing, but it doesn’t mean they won’t eat chickens. They usually attack the entire flock and kill every single chicken and then only eat one or two. They leave the other victims untouched. This predation behavior is also evident with minks, which are part of the weasel family.
A chicken predator that leaves a pile of feathers can be a fox. This predator is known for killing more victims than it would normally eat in one sitting. Predators like hawks or owls can also leave a pile of feathers since they take their kill to another place.
Raccoons are known for biting the heads off of chickens. This predation normally occurs when these predators can’t get in the coop but can grab the chicken heads through the chicken wire. Other predators known for biting a chicken’s head off are birds of prey like the hawk or owl.
- Predator Management for Small Scale. Retrieved from: https://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ID/ID245/ID245.pdf
- Basic Information About Chickens. Retrieved from:
- Mink. Retrieved from: https://wildlifepark.novascotia.ca/animals/mink.asp
- Are All Owls Actually Night Owls. Retrieved from: https://www.livescience.com/56146-are-all-owls-nocturnal.html
- Raising Poultry In New Hampshire. Retrieved from: https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/documents/chickens.pdf
Alex lives in the sustainability capital of Australia (Byron Bay) where the local community thrives and strongly supports self-sufficient living and green tech entrepreneurship. He began Eco Peanut in 2014 with the mission to spread bite sized sustainability advice to the masses.