Possums are scavengers and they will mostly eat carrion.
They are part of nature’s garbage disposal team!
Possums eat a wide variety of things that we consider to be pests or nuisances. Unfortunately they also eat chickens.
However, they will rarely attack or go after a fully grown chicken.
Because of this they have a bad reputation. However, of all the predators you could have hanging around your coop, I prefer the possum over them all!
Keep reading to learn how to identify possum attacks, how to stop possums eating your chickens and much more…
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What Is A Possum?
Possums are usually about the size of a large house cat, although occasionally you will find one that is larger.
You may have also heard people call them opossums.
Their body is covered with a greyish black fur and they have a long snout with a pink nose. They have fifty very sharp teeth! One of their most defining features is their hairless tail which helps them to climb and hang onto things.
They are North America’s only marsupial, which means they carry their young in an abdominal pouch.
These animals tend to live in dens and are slow moving animals who usually do their foraging at night. It is rare to see one during the day. They eat small mammals such as mice or voles, small snakes (even venomous ones), and bugs such as cockroaches and ticks. Ticks are a favorite and it has been estimated that they can eat up to 5,000 each season.
When the young are born they will stay in their mother’s pouch for 50 days until they are about 3-4 inches long. They will then leave the pouch and ride on mama’s back clinging onto her fur. They will be fully independent at around three months of age.
Do Possums Eat Chickens?
Possums will absolutely kill and eat chickens.
However, it is worth noting that they are lazy hunters.
They are primarily scavengers and will eat: road kill, dead things, small mammals, insects (especially ticks), fruits, and berries.
Possums come into conflict with chickens and their owners when they are searching for food. They will happily munch on chicken feed, eggs, small chicks and sick or failing birds. It is rare for them to attack a full-grown healthy chicken unless they are starving.
If they do attack chickens, they are most likely to attack during the wintertime when food is scarce.
It is not a frequent occurrence.
Foxes and raccoons are far more likely to eat your chickens.
How To Know If A Possum Ate Your Chicken
There are certain signs to look for in determining who ate your chicken. To check if a Possum ate your chicken, you should check:
Footprints: These are the ultimate clue and depending on the shape of the footprint, you will be able to determine your killer. They have more of a handprint than a footprint and they will be around 2 inches in diameter.
Wound Marks: A possum will bite its prey in the breast, neck, and thigh areas. It will usually only eat the crop and abdomen areas right there in the coop.
Poop: Obviously any sign of their poop is a giveaway – it generally looks like dog poop!
Trash Bins: When they attack they tend to ransack the entire area including feed sacks and trash bins.
Eggs: You should check the ground for empty shells as they will eat chicken eggs too but not the shells.
Signs That Possums Are In Your Area
It can be hard to tell who has been visiting your coop or run. There are a number of predators that might visit, including, foxes, raccoons, skunks, cats, and dogs.
However the telltale signs of possums are footprints and poop.
These two things alone will tell you if you have had a visit from this creature.
A good way to get the footprints of your mystery visitor is to sprinkle flour or some other powdered substance in the area where you suspect activity. Check for footprints in the morning before letting your hens out of the coop. A good tracking guide book will be able to tell you what sort of animal it is based on the footprints and the scat (poop).
They rarely seem to do any damage to coops and runs, they are looking for an easy meal. If they have to work too hard for it then they usually won’t bother.
Their dens are hard to find because they use old burrows and dens well away from human activity.
Which States Are Possums Most Common In?
The range of the opossum is extensive.
Although it used to be limited to the eastern states, it has now spread to all states except Hawaii. It can be found throughout North America into Canada and Mexico. The most common states to find Possums in are:
- West Virginia
Originally you would find them in rural and woodland areas, however they have adapted well to town and city life and thrive there too.
Garbage and trash contain a wide variety of edibles for a large variety of animals who have moved into the cities. Our thrown out leftovers probably seem like haute cuisine to an animal that is used to eating carrion.
Their preferred habitats are old abandoned burrows and dens, brush piles, and hollow logs. Ideally the area will be near a water source. In cities, abandoned houses, outbuildings, attics and other such secluded places provide ample private space for them.
If you have possums nesting in your house then you need to be aware that they carry certain diseases that can be spread to humans, so they need to be moved on.
How To Stop Possums Eating Your Chickens
Security is your best defense to prevent Possum attacks.
Your coop and run should be secured with standard precautions.
Wire mesh will keep them out and a mesh apron around your coop should prevent digging. Windows and vent areas should have a mesh covering to prevent access and all doors should have good, secure locks. Just remember that chicken wire keeps chickens in, but does not keep predators out.
Some folks have got into the habit of not shutting the pop door because the run is closed up. You should always close the pop door, it is one more safety layer for your chickens.
The next step is biosecurity.
This means you should keep your chicken feed secured and do not leave scraps or leftovers in the run overnight
Egg stealing is the usual problem with these creatures.
You should make sure to collect eggs frequently and never leave eggs in the nesting boxes overnight.
If your coop is secure and you follow strict biosecurity measures then you are very unlikely to have problems with Possums.
What To Do If You Spot A Possum Near Your Coop
The first thing to remember is not to panic.
You have two choices:
- Let them stay and distract them with food.
- Catch them and move them.
Personally I find Possums incredibly useful and usually harmless creatures.
I prefer to have them around to keep the tick population low. They also discourage rats, snakes and mice from becoming a plague and a menace to the flock. However I do not let them enter the coop or spend winter in the barn.
If you let them stay you can give them a bowl of chicken feed. A Possum with a full belly is very unlikely to attack anything.
Your second choice is to remove them from your coop.
Animal control should respond and move it for you, but if they do not then they are pretty easy to move along.
You can use a long pole and gently prod them to move away from the area. They may possibly bare their teeth and start drooling – this is a defense mechanism to discourage you from approaching them. If you leave them alone at this point, they will likely move on by themselves since they will not stay where they perceive a danger.
If they fall over and play dead then you can use a shovel to remove them from the area. Never provoke or corner one, as it is a wild animal and it may bite you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do possums eat chicken feed?
Yes possums will eat chicken feed. It is actually very nutritious for them.
Are they dangerous to humans?
Possums will generally not attack you. They will bite if cornered, but they will not pursue you. If you can then you should walk away and leave it in peace. It will move on once it thinks it is safe to do so.
Do they hunt at night?
Yes Possums are most active during the night as they are mainly nocturnal.
I admit I have a soft spot for these creatures.
Overtime I have found them to be useful in the garden and harmless around my flock.
They can be incredibly useful to have wandering around your property. They will keep the numbers of small creatures to a manageable size and will clean up anything that has been leftover!
Sadly as people become more detached from nature and more city dwellers, things like possums become feared and their good points are overlooked.
If you choose to encourage possums because of their good attributes you are doing a good thing, but do bear in mind that first and foremost they are predators, so take care to ensure the safety of your flock.
Make sure your coops are tight and predator proof.
If done right then your flock, you, and possums can live in harmony.
Let us know in the comments section below if you keep possums too…