Dealing with chicken predators is one of the toughest aspects of raising chickens, but it doesn’t have to be! Find out what wants to eat your chickens, and how to prevent them.
If you raise chickens, you very well know the daily anxiety that comes with keeping them safe from predators. Predators are smart, persistent, and they’re everywhere. Whether you’re raising chickens in the city or in the country, or somewhere in between, you need to be vigilant about protecting them from those wild animals that want to eat them.
We’ve had many issues with predators over the years, from domestic dogs making their way into our yard to fox attacks while our chickens free ranged in the woods. We’ve even dealt with hawks preying on our chickens in the middle of the city!
Through these traumatic events we’ve managed to identify the top 10 chicken predators and found ways to prevent them from killing our beloved birds.
The Top Ten Chicken Predators
1. Birds of Prey
Birds of prey, including hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls eye your chickens from the sky. Some of them hunt only in the daytime, like the hawk and some in nighttime like the owl.
Hawks are one of the most common predators for chickens, you’ll find them soaring the skies in rural areas as well as sitting on lamp posts in urban areas.
These birds will kill only one or two of your flock at a time, saving the rest for later. They usually take the head off and eat the breast meat and innards of the chicken. Some birds of prey will carry off smaller chickens and baby chicks, so you may only find feathers and blood on the ground.
Preventing attacks from birds of prey can be really difficult, especially if you free range your flock. Most birds of prey are protected, too, so shooting them is not an option for keeping them away from your flock. Luckily, there are some proven methods that can help!
To prevent owl attacks, try to get your flock in to bed early, as owls come out to hunt at dusk.
To prevent attacks from daytime birds like hawks and eagles is tricky. Your chickens are always watching the sky for hawks and they can easily run for cover, but only if there is cover to begin with! Planting heavy foliage like hedges, bushes, trees, and plants in the areas around the coop can really help to cut down on attacks.
If your chickens have a chicken run, you should consider putting a roof or at least put some poultry netting on the top to keep out predatory birds.
You can also consider buying some bird deterrents that are made to humanely scare birds away from your property. Some people place reflective pinwheels on their property to scare off birds, or you can buy special scare rods to hang from the trees. These types of deterrents might work with some birds and not others.
Coyotes are also common in all areas. I was very surprised when I found out that coyotes live in cities just as frequently as they do in the country. Coyotes love to live under porches and decks. You may even hear them yipping and yowling at night, when they’re most active.
Coyotes carry off the birds and are both avid diggers and jumpers. A coyote can jump over six feet high. Signs of a coyote attack in your coop are scattered feathers, blood, and possible paw prints.
There’s a reason why cartoons often show foxes in the hen house. This predator is very common amongst backyard flocks, and unfortunately it’s also very tough to prevent attacks.
Once a fox knows about your chickens, it will keep coming back night after night until they’re all gone.
Foxes are very smart and can easily find their way into a coop by digging under fences, squeezing through small holes, and busting through wire mesh. A determined fox is a very bad predator to have, indeed.
Foxes carry off the birds to their den and will even bury some of them to eat later.
The signs of a fox in the henhouse are much the same as the coyote: scattered feathers, blood, and there may be a smell lingering also. Foxes can hunt during the day and at night.
They’ve also been known to abduct chickens that are out free ranging, never to be seen again. Foxes are so sly that you may not even see a drop of evidence that your chicken was taken by a predator in the daytime.
Your best defense against foxes is to pull out the big guns and do some major work on your chicken coop. It helps to use a trail cam or even a video baby monitor to figure out how the fox is getting into the coop first, then take time to strengthen that part of the coop.
If you’re looking for more help, This article goes into great detail on how to protect your chickens from foxes, we highly recommend it!
These terrors kill for sport, wrapping around the chickens and biting the back of the neck. They will wipe out an entire flock in one night, or if they don’t manage that, they’ll come back again and again until every bird is dead.
Minks and weasels are notorious for killing for fun. They’ll often kill birds and leave them dead in the coop, then go kill another. Sometimes these predators will eat the chicken’s head and the entrails of the dead bird.
If you’re dealing with a mink or weasel, you have my sympathy. These creatures are incredibly smart and will easily avoid a live trap and go on killing. They can fit through extremely small spaces and go after baby chicks and adult chickens alike.
Raccoons are wily creatures and will tag team with one of the raccoons scaring the birds to one side of the coop or run where another coon is waiting to scoop them up.
They also can pull out staples, open windows, and unlatch doors. Raccoons kill and eat the birds right in the coop or run. Signs of raccoons include puncture marks by the head and partially consumed birds.
6. Stray Dogs
Neighborhood dogs and stray dogs are one of the toughest predators to deal with. Neighborhood dogs tend to attack flocks that are out free ranging, and one dog can take down many chickens in a short amount of time.
Your absolute best defense against dogs is to have a high quality, tall fence around your property so dogs can’t get over or under it. If you’ve already had a neighborhood dog attack your chickens, it’s imperative that you seek out the owners and discuss the issue. They are responsible for keeping their dog in their yard, and should pay for the damage to your flock.
Possums are scavengers and avid climbers. They don’t like to work hard for their food so they will go for the eggs before the chickens. You will find shells and parts of the egg around your coop.
When they do attack the chickens, they target the young birds.
Possums are usually very good creatures to have around your homestead as they’re experts at pest control, but they can certainly be a nuisance in the coop. Keep possums out by building as strong coop and making sure doors and windows are shut every night.
8. Wild cats such as Cougars, Bobcats, and Mountain Lions
Wild cat attacks are pretty rare, so many chicken keepers don’t even need to worry about this predator, but if you live somewhere that big cats are aplenty, they can certainly harm your flock.
Big Cats also carry off the birds, but they cover them with sticks, leaves, and dirt just like they would cover them with litter. You will see signs of scratch marks around the area where they killed the bird if one of these cats got in your coop.
Just like possums, skunks rarely kill adult chickens, though it can happen. Skunks are more likely to go after eggs and baby chicks in the chicken coop. If skunks are desperate they certainly will kill and eat chickens, generally going for the throat of the bird.
Considering skunks are more likely to attack chicks, it’s a smart idea to keep babies inside your home until they’ve feathered out and are more capable of protecting themselves.
Skunks love to live underneath outbuildings like sheds, barns, and yes, chicken coops. Don’t tempt them to make your coop their new home. It pays to take the time to reinforce the bottom of the coop and even lay a skirt of hardware cloth around the outside of the coop to prevent animals from burrowing underneath it.
Bears are some of the larger predators you’ll come across, but luckily their attacks are few and far between. You only need to worry about bears if you truly live in bear country, and even then, they’re not likely to go after your chickens unless they’re desperate.
With that said, some people truly do have issues with bears breaking into their chicken coops. And here’s the worst part, bears are so strong, and so determined, that there’s almost nothing you do to keep them out, unless you have the funds to build Fort Knox for your flock.
Here’s what you CAN do though. Do whatever it takes to make your coop unappealing to bears to begin with. Bears usually break into chicken coops because they can smell the chicken feed and want an easy meal, not because they’re looking to hunt, though if they get inside, they’ll certainly kill your flock.
So, the number one way to keep bears out of your chicken coop is to not store your chicken feed inside of it!
Also make sure you’re not leaving out kitchen scraps for your flock, and don’t leave eggs in the nesting boxes. If bears can’t smell food inside the coop, they’re much less likely to try to break in.
How to prevent predators in the chicken coop
Prepare the coop
First, prepare your coop and run with a regular check for any holes over a half inch and cover them with 1/4 inch hardware cloth. I know it’s tempting to use chicken wire since it has the word chicken right in the name, but usually chicken wire isn’t enough to prevent most common chicken predators.
Smaller predators like rats can squeeze right through chicken wire, and large predators like mountain lions can bust right through flimsy chicken wire.
It’s also a good idea to use strong hardware on your chicken coop. Clever predators like raccoons can pretty easily figure out how to open latches, so using spring loaded latches or ones that are more challenging to open will really help. Be sure to put latches or locks on the doors to the nesting boxes too, some sneaky predators can open them and climb right inside!
Lock up the hens at night
Make sure your coop is close to human activity and lock your hens in at dusk, making sure all windows and doors are locked down tight. Forgetting to close all the windows and doors even for just one night or a few hours after dark could mean devastation to your entire flock.
Make some noise
Many animals have an aversion to humans, so playing a radio all night by the coop is a good deterrent.
Get a rooster
Another deterrent is a rooster who will fight a predator to protect the hens. Outside of the pen, a guard dog or Guinea fowl are also suitable protectors.
Get Livestock Guardian Dogs
A well trained dog will respect your chickens and help to keep them safe. Most predators are afraid of dogs and will avoid your property entirely if they sense you have a dog.
Even if you don’t want a livestock guardian dog, any sort of dog will be a help to keeping predators off your property. Most animals are scared away by barking dogs, and many won’t even step foot on a property that smells like dog pee.
We’ve personally found that having a farm dog that visits the coop frequently has been a huge help in deterring predators.
Limit Free Range Time
It’s no secret that most predator attacks happen while chickens are out of the coop. If you’re having trouble with predators, you can keep your chickens in their safe run, or stay with them while they free range.
If you don’t want to fully commit to keeping your chickens inside, just doing so for a week or two after an attack can really cut down on problems. Predators will come back for a few days but likely move on for easier targets.
You can also help to protect your free range birds by planting hedges and tall perennials that your chickens can run to if they sense a predator. We also always keep the door to the coop open when our backyard chickens are out free ranging, this way they have a safe haven if there’s any trouble.
Hopefully, this list will make you more aware of what predators are out there and how to protect your flock.
If you have other tips on how to protect chickens from predators, please share below.
We are all in this together!