Just about every carnivorous species will eat chicken and your job as a backyard chicken keeper is to protect your flock.
This article is about predators and how to protect your flock against predation.
We explain how to identify and stop obvious predators such as foxes, raccoons and hawks. But we also discuss some that you may not think about such as your pets.
Attacks by the family dog or cat are one of the most frequent causes of death or injury to chickens.
Keep reading to learn how to identify what is attacking your chickens and how to stop them…
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Hawks are one of the top chicken predators.
This includes Red Tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks, Eagles, Kites and Harriers.
They are all large enough to kill bantams or full sized chicken.
You will find lots of the smaller hawks (Coopers and Kestrels) have adapted well to the urban landscape and can be seen in towns and cities. This predator has excellent eyesight and they can spot their prey from as far as two miles away.
Hawks are not spree killers as they will only kill to survive.
- A few loose feathers scattered around.
- Dead chickens with most of the body eaten.
- No clues at all and body missing.
Hawks can fly very well and are agile.
This means they can fly into an open barn or coop with ease.
You need to keep your chickens in a secure penned and covered area.
Your run should be covered with aviary netting, or flight paths should be made difficult by stringing plastic tape, or rope across the desired area. My flock free range but they have a separate covered area near the barn where they can relax, perch and sunbathe etc. They use this are a lot as they know it is safe.
You can also plant some bushes around the yard to provide cover and shade.
While Fluffy may not attack a fully-grown chicken, some feral cats will.
It is often difficult to remember that the domestic cat has a wild streak in it, but that purring little fluff ball laid on the couch can turn into a hunter when the mood strikes.
- Wings and feet not eaten.
- Insides usually left behind.
It is difficult to train a house cat but usually if a kitten is introduced to full sized chickens they are smart enough to keep away.
Feral cats can be a problem and sometimes trapping them is the only way to cure the problem.
Make sure that your coop is secure and always check in the evenings to make sure that it is locked.
Sadly, stealing chickens has risen dramatically during the last year or so. People have got up in the morning to find all their birds have disappeared overnight.
This has led to a trend of putting up security cameras around the coop areas.
If you live in an urban area you might want to invest in padlocks and other security measures to make life difficult for these opportunists.
- Several chickens missing.
- No signs of feathers or blood in the coop and surrounding area.
- Valuable chickens missing.
Make sure to fit sturdy locks to the coop. You can also set up security cameras, audible alarms and electric fencing.
Chicken attacks by wolverines are fairly rare.
Wolverines will usually take any free ranging chickens they come across but they are very wary of humans and unlikely to approach any human habitation.
Attacks are more common in remote and rural areas.
- Missing birds.
Wolverine attacks on coops are rare but opportunistic attacks do occur.
Do not allow your chickens to wander too far from the coop – an electric fence may be helpful. You should also remove brush piles and any other possible hiding places for predators.
Much of the world should be grateful that Raccoons are limited to North America.
Raccoons are incredibly smart, intelligent and resourceful. They look very lovable and cuddly but these striped bandits are a fierce and adaptable predator. This is another predator that has adapted to city life extremely well rooting through trash and taking the occasional stray cat or small dog.
- Head and crop eaten.
- Chickens pulled through fencing and partially eaten.
- Empty eggshells in coop.
- Faint musky odor.
- 5-7 nights between each attack.
You will need to keep your chickens in a secure coop.
Around the chicken run you will need to place fencing. Make sure this fencing is buried into the ground for a couple of feet and then bent outward from the perimeter for another couple of feet to prevent digging.
Your fencing should be ½inch wire mesh to a height of at least three feet.
This will stop Raccoons from reaching through and grabbing your chickens.
If your coop has a dirt floor then put ½inch wire mesh over the dirt and attach it to the coop frame.
Finally, make sure all latches are secure and any pop door must be securely latched too.
16. Fishers and Martens
Fishers and Martens are both members of the weasel family.
A Fisher is about the size of a house cat but make no mistake if they are cornered they will attack.
The good news is that they are unlikely to attack a well-protected coop – especially in an area that has humans living nearby.
Chickens that free range in wooded areas are most likely to be taken by these fierce little predators. So you need to pay special attention to breeds like the Speckled Sussex that love to forage.
- Rear ends of birds will be bitten.
- Insides will be pulled out.
Like most other predators you should make sure your coop is well protected with strong locks.
Windows and vents should be covered with ½inch wire mesh. You should also discourage your hens from exploring the wild edges of your property – use a fence if necessary. Keep borders clear and cut and remove brush piles and anything else that Fishers can hide in.
The Coyote (or brush wolf) is becoming much more common in urban areas.
Here they will hunt for stray dogs and cats and other easy prey. They are community hunters which means they hunt in groups and are formidable predators.
- Chickens missing.
- Damage to coop and pen area.
Generally Coyotes will not bother to attack a coop or secure area.
Instead they prefer to go after free range chickens and carry them off. Keeping a large clean and mowed perimeter around your chicken’s ranging area will help. Remove brush piles and anything else that they can hide in before a sneak attack.
Your best friend Fido can be your chicken’s worst nightmare.
Many dogs cannot resist a squawking target and will want to play with your chickens with devastating results.
Unless your dog has been trained around livestock you should not leave them alone with chickens. They look like fluffy, squeaky toys to a dog.
- Chickens mauled and not necessarily eaten.
- Fencing destroyed or dug up.
- Missing chicks.
If you have dogs they should be trained to stay away from the livestock, or physically prevented from accessing the chickens.
Feral dogs can be a problem in some areas.
Your fencing should be dug down and out from the perimeter to prevent digging. Any fence should be high enough to keep jumping dogs out too (six to eight feet should be enough). All locks and latches should be strong and secure, and make sure not to leave gates open too.
A skunk attacking a full-grown chicken is rare but it does happen. Skunks are far more likely to eat eggs and small chicks.
- Dead chicks.
- Faint skunk odor.
- Abdomen eaten leaving muscles and skin.
Skunks are opportunists and as such they do not stalk chickens. They will however take eggs and small chicks if available. Keeping your coop locked and secure will prevent skunks from attacking your flock.
Both the North American Badger and the European Badger are unlikely to attack fully grown chickens.
But eggs and chicks are fair game to them.
However they are more likely to dig or climb into a coop for the feed.
The Honey Badger however is quite another matter – they are one of the most fearless and ferocious of predators. This relentless predator of chickens is mainly found in Africa, the middle East and India.
- They will literally rip apart a coop to get to the chickens.
Badgers are great diggers so make sure you bury wire that extends outward from the coop by two to three feet.
If you live in an area where there are Honey Badgers then electric fencing will help to keep them out. Guard dogs are not much help here as a honey badger will likely kill the dog.
Sturdy coops and locks are essential.
Weasels are perhaps one of the most efficient and blood thirty killers known to mankind.
They can access very small spaces and will seemingly kill for the joy of it.
This predator can fit through a 1.5 inch hole and will kill far more chickens than they need for food.
- Multiple small bites on head, neck and body.
- Bodies neatly piled.
- Faint musky odor.
Because Weasels can get in through incredibly tiny spaces you need to check your coop frequently for any new holes and plug them immediately with wire mesh.
Windows and vents should be secured in a similar fashion.
Rats rarely kill adult chickens, however you will occasionally find a young small pullet with her head pulled down into a rat hole.
They usually attack and kill chicks and take eggs from the nest. Rats and other vermin (such as mice) will crawl into the feeders and urinate or poop all over the feed which can spread disease through your flock.
- Bites on legs and thighs.
- Partially eaten chick with head pulled down a tunnel.
Rats and other vermin are very difficult to eradicate.
However there are some things you can do to help.
You should plug all access holes that you find. Also you need to keep your feed in chew proof containers. Trapping is one method of keeping the numbers down, as it poison. However with poison you need to make sure that your chickens cannot get to the body and this can be difficult to do.
A barn cat that does not bother your chickens may be an effective solution.
Snakes are particularly fond of eggs and small chicks.
They can swallow an egg whole and you may find the culprit sleeping it off in the coop since it is now too fat to escape through that tiny hole it came in through.
Despite their appetite for eggs and the occasional chick, snakes do a lot of good around the coop. They will keep down the population of rats, mice and chipmunks too so try not to harm them when dealing with them.
- Missing eggs.
- Missing chicks.
Snakes are another mixed blessing.
Although they do steal eggs they will also keep down the numbers of vermin around the coop.
Just make sure that there are not any holes larger than ½ inch for them to access the coop or run.
Some people ignore the occasional lost egg for the benefit of reducing vermin. Also depending on the snake, larger chickens like Jersey Giants will handle small snakes for you.
Bears have attacked coops to get chickens.
While it is not a common occurrence when Bears can get hungry it can happen – they are drawn by the smell of chickens, chicken feed and garbage.
- Coop will be trashed.
- Fencing ripped apart.
- Several dead or injured birds strewn around.
Bears are usually attracted by smell so you need to keep your feed in secure containers.
If you live in an area that has a large bear population an electric fence may be a worthwhile investment.
Also make sure you do not keep garbage close to your coop.
Bobcats are fairly small and not much bigger than a medium sized dog.
They try to avoid humans as much as possible but are starting to become more popular in rural or semi-rural areas.
- Head bitten off.
- Claw marks on back, neck and sides.
- Body partially covered with litter.
Bobcats are unlikely to attack a secure coop that has humans living nearby. Make sure you lock all doors at night and secure windows and vents. If you are forgetful or usually get back from work late you could use an automatic chicken coop door – read our guide here.
The mink is a member of the weasel family and is also an accomplished predator.
They will take advantage of any weaknesses in your security.
- Multiple small bites on head and neck.
- Head and neck missing.
- Small chickens missing.
- Bodies neatly piled up.
- Slight musky odor.
Secure and tight coops are essential.
Make sure to lock your coop every night and also make sure that windows and vents are secured.
5. Crows and Jays
Large birds such as crows, ravens and jays will happily steal eggs from nests for a quick high protein snack.
As a rule they will generally not attack chickens though.
- Eggs missing.
- Eggshells in nests or near the coop.
Make sure to keep the nesting boxes undercover and inside the coop. Also make sure to stop your chickens from nesting outside. It is illegal to shoot these birds in many places so prevention is best.
4. Mountain Lions (Cougar)
It is rare for Mountain Lions to attack chickens but it does happen occasionally if you live in a remote area.
They are more likely to take free ranging chickens than attack a coop. So keep a close eye on breeds like the Dominique Chicken that like to free range.
- Missing chickens.
As always secure your coops.
Try to stop your chicken from wandering too far away from their property. If you want extra protection you can install an electric fence around the coop too.
Opossums are better known as scavengers and one of nature’s cleanup crew.
They are lazy about killing things so are unlikely to attack a fully grown chicken. Chicks and eggs are another matter though and they will happily eat both.
Opossums do a lot of good by eating ticks and other disease spreading insects. They will also dispose of road kill efficiently and are usually very shy. If at all possible Opossums should be left alone and only dealt with if they are becoming a nuisance.
- Empty eggshells scattered around the nest.
- Small chicks missing.
Opossums will usually start to appear around the late Fall because they are looking for food and a safe nesting area.
Make sure during this time that you collect eggs a couple of times a day.
Opossums will eat chicken feed and I have had at least a couple in the coop helping themselves to food.
To deter them from hanging around try to catch them in a large fishing net and remove them to another part of the yard if practical – if not animal control may remove them for you. Remember that these shy creatures eat vermin and ticks and are very useful members of the community so try to avoid harming them if you can.
Owls are actually nocturnal raptors.
They use darkness as their cloak as their hearing will help them home in on their prey. Their feathers are specialized to allow nearly silent flight which only adds to the element of surprise.
- A few feathers scattered around a fencepost or under a tree.
- No clues and body missing.
- If there is a body left it will likely have deep gouges on the head and neck area.
You should keep your chickens locked up at night in secure accommodation.
Do not allow them to roost in the trees or bushes where they can easily become prey. Make sure your coop cannot be accessed by birds.
Foxes are probably the number one wild predator of chickens.
They are endemic to North America, Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia and Northern Africa. In the US the most frequently seen member of the family is the red fox. They are excellent hunters – smart, cautious, daring and efficient.
Red foxes will spend time to research and strategize an attack on a likely target.
You may never see them in cities but they are there. They have adapted to urban life well and survive on a variety of small creatures such as rats and voles. They are not adverse to taking the occasional cat or dog if the opportunity arises too.
- Digging around the coop or pen.
- Teeth or claw marks on the door or siding.
- If the fox enters the henhouse there will be several bodies missing.
To prevent fox attacks you will need a well-built coop with strong locking latches.
You should cover all openings of the coop (such as windows and vents) with wire mesh and not chicken wire.
Finally you need to maintain a clear area of at least fifty feet around your coop area. Remove brush piles and anything else that a fox could hide in.
How To Keep Your Chickens Safe (Summary)
What can we take away from this?
Everyone loves a chicken dinner.
As backyard chicken keepers it is our job to protect our birds the best we can.
It is very much an individual choice as to whether or not you keep your flock in a predator proof enclosure or free range.
Just remember if you keep them in a run then you need to make sure your security is top notch in order to keep out the diggers, climbers and opportunists.
Check your security regularly for any signs of wear and tear and replace it quickly to reduce the chance of attack.
If you live within the city limits and think that there are not any predators lurking around – think again. Foxes, raccoons, hawks and rats are all accomplished city dwellers. If you decide that free ranging is best for your flock then make sure they have plenty of cover from hawks and have a fence around the area to deter or slow down predators.
The following tasks should be done at least twice a year:
- Check your coop regularly for any holes or cracks and fill or cover them with wire mesh.
- Check perimeters for any signs of tunneling or digging.
- Check all windows and vents to make sure they are secure.
- Check locks and latches to make sure they are in good working order.
- If you have electric fencing then check it to ensure it is working properly.
Keep up with your security measures and add more if you think it is necessary.
Most of the prevention ideas are fairly straightforward and you are likely have many of them in place, but it never hurts to have reinforcement.
Let us know any of your tips in the comments section below…
Can you tell me which predator eats the heads of the chickens and then leaves the rest?
This sounds like a raccoon to me 🙁