Identifying 12 Backyard Chicken Predators
Learn which animals are chicken predators, and what signs to look out for.
Backyard chickens are all the rage right now. You don't have to live on a farm or large acreage to enjoy fresh eggs. In fact, many people in urban areas raise chickens both for eggs and meat.
Owning chickens is a blast, and they're generally very easy to take care of. However, most chicken owners face attacks from predators at one point or another.
If you're a new chicken owner, or you recently experienced a loss, this article will help you determine which animals are out to get your chickens. Let's take a look at 12 common backyard chicken predators.
12 Backyard Chicken Predators
Coyotes are nocturnal, but have been known to hunt in the early morning or early evening at times. They're opportunistic, and won't hesitate to pick off unprotected chickens at the edge of your property.
How To Identify Coyotes on Your Property:
- Howling: You will likely hear them howling and making a ruckus at night.
- Scat: Coyotes use their scat to communicate with each other, and will usually leave it out in the open for others to see. They contain a lot of hair and bones.
- Tracks: Coyote tracks are very similar to domestic dog tracks, but are a little more oval-shaped. The best way to differentiate the tracks is to follow the path, vs. inspecting the tracks themselves.
How To Identify Coyote Attacks:
It can be difficult to figure out if a coyote killed your chickens, as you'll likely only find feathers and some blood. The bodies are usually taken away for the coyotes to finish in peace. Look for tracks and points of entry.
Both red and grey foxes are found all over North America, and unfortunately, they love to eat chickens. They're sneaky and quick, and similar to coyotes, you may not find much evidence of their attack.
They're opportunistic, so they'll hunt whenever prey presents itself, whether it's during the night or the daytime.
Even worse, they'll usually stake out your property and get a feel for where the chickens are, when you let them out, and where the weak spots are. Foxes will slowly formulate a plan before striking.
How To Identify Foxes on Your Property:
- You may or may not spot them lurking around your property.
- Fox Holes: They will dig dens, usually near the bases of trees and walls, and will have bones and remnants of old prey around the entrance.
- Scat: Fox scat is similar to coyotes, except smaller. It has pointy ends and will usually contain hair, bits of fruit, and bones.
- Tracks: Their tracks are smaller than coyotes (about 2.3 to 3.1" long).
How To Identify Fox Attacks:
- Only one or two chickens are missing.
- Little evidence of attack: a few clumps of feathers and little to no blood.
- If the attack occurred in the coop, several other chickens will be left injured, but still alive, as the fox grabbed what they could and left.
If there are hawks circling your property, you'd likely know it. They perch up high in the trees to stalk their prey and assess the situation.
Actual attacks, however, are harder to differentiate from other predators. Oftentimes, your chicken will simply disappear without a trace. Occasionally there will be a few feathers left behind.
When a hawk attacks, they swoop down and pin their prey to the ground, often killing them on impact. They can also simply swipe your chickens mid-flight, whisking them away to a safer place to eat.
Weasels are vicious! You definitely don't want any on your property.
They're wonderful climbers, and can fit through insanely small holes. Any hardware cloth you use to protect your coop must have openings half an inch or smaller in order to keep them out.
Weasels are known for decapitating their prey and hunting not just for food, but for sport. If a weasel makes their way into your coop, you can expect to find quite a scene when you check on your chickens.
If you find your chickens with bites on the backs of their necks or with missing heads, a weasel is likely to blame. And unfortunately, if you're unaware of the attack, they'll take out as many chickens as they can. They'll continue attacking until they get bored or scared.
For more information on weasels, check out our article:
Opossums are generally very lazy predators. They don't like to put too much effort into killing. Because of this, they'll usually go for sick, injured, young, and old chickens.
Unfortunately, they spread the deadly EPM disease like crazy. This can spread through bites or feces, so make sure you keep feed containers and trash in closed bins.
Bobcats may be smaller than other feline predators, but don't be fooled! Their attacks are vicious and they can have devastating effects on your homestead or farm.
They're found all over North America, not just in rural areas, but in more developed urban areas as well!
It's unlikely that you'll see a bobcat on your property, unless you sneak out at night to check on your chickens. They're highly elusive and sneaky.
The number one way to determine if a bobcat attacked your chickens (other than a security camera, of course), is to check for claw marks on the sides of your chickens body. The rumen will remain completely intact, and the heads of your chickens may be missing.
Raccoons are bad news for chicken owners. Not only are they sly (hence their reputation as 'bandits'), but they're able to unlock simple hooks and locks, especially when they know there's a meal on the other side.
Unlike many other chicken predators, raccoons relish in leaving a trail of their attacks behind, to let you know they've been there.
If you find remnants of your chickens strewn around the coop and yard, it was likely a raccoon attack. Few other animals toss the body parts around the way raccoons do.
Owls love chickens, but fortunately for you, they're nocturnal. Owls are one of the main reasons you should put your chickens up at dusk, as it's not uncommon for them to begin hunting as the sun is still going down.
They'll also hunt in the early morning, so you'll need to be on the lookout in the wee hours of the morning, or wait until the sun has fully risen before letting your chickens out.
If there's an owl on your property, you'll likely hear their call late at night.
Owls will pluck the feathers of your chickens before eating, but you may not find any evidence as they take their prey off somewhere safe to eat.
The good news is, owls are great at keeping the rodent and snake population down on your property.
While skunks aren't usually too keen on eating your chickens, they sure do love their eggs! When a skunk breaks into your coop, it's usually just to swipe some eggs, though they will attack your chickens as well.
Because chickens also have sharp talons and skunks have poor vision, they try to avoid confrontation when they can, but they will fight back when necessary, killing or injuring your chickens. They will, however, eat baby chicks without hesitation.
Because of this, it's smart to collect your eggs every day, as often as you can. If you ever catch a skunk in your coop, be careful. They're aggressive and usually won't back down when confronted!
I don't think I need to tell you that bears are dangerous. Unlike hawks, raccoons, and other small predators, running outside and banging a pot when you see a bear on your property might not be the best idea.
Bears can wreak absolute havoc on your property. They'll destroy your coop with a few swings of their paw, eating every scrambling chicken in their path.
Because bears are so powerful and strong, the main way to keep your chickens safe is through prevention. Do not give the bears any reason to visit your property in the first place. They can easily tear down fences to get to sources of food, and are excellent climbers.
Bears are attracted to the smell of cooked or processed meat, livestock feed, and of course, honey.
Most snakes will not attack your full grown chickens, though it does happen on occasion. However, they love eggs and baby chicks!
You never want to find a snake in your coop, especially if you have a hard time identifying what type of snake it is.
Collecting eggs often and keeping your young chickens separated from the flock in a safe area is the best way to cut down on visits from snakes.
For more information about keeping snakes away, check out our article:
12. Cats & Dogs
Unfortunately, even your own pets can attack your chickens, along with neighborhood pets that are let loose.
I don't know what it is about the country, but folks think they can move out there and just let their pets wander free. This isn't looked on too kindly, but it still happens all the time.
Keep your chickens safe from your pets, and more importantly, your neighbor's pets, who may not be familiar with chickens. In this case, the only way to protect them is by keeping them in an enclosed run.
Now that you're aware of which animals to look out for...
Which predator animals are a problem in your area? How do you protect your chickens from attacks? Let me know in the comments below!
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