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Chicken Predators: Signs of Attack and Prevention

Just last week, mid-day, I noticed my hens clucking far out from the coop, not just one hen, multiple.

They would also idle by the chicken coop but not enter the run. A chicken predator during the day is not common in this area, but I immediately went to check.

Sure enough, a younger opossum was feasting on their eggs.

possom eating eggs
Opened Nest Box To See Cracked Eggs

possum attacking chickens

Spring is coming, and peak hunger is settling on predators, so they are becoming bolder and courageous.

As a backyard chicken keeper, there may be nothing more horrifying than heading out to do your morning chores and finding the remains of a nighttime predator that succeeded in its mission.

You see feathers, carcasses, or injured birds, or you fail to see chickens that should be there and are not.

There is something that may be more horrifying than that scenario, and that is watching helplessly while a predator takes off with your bird right in front of your eyes.

In another short story, while having breakfast one morning, my younger boy shouts wolf! Wolf! Yes, he knows the story of the boy that cried wolf.

I ran to the window. Sure enough, it was not a wolf but a coyote with one of our hens in its mouth. We could save all the other hens but sadly lost one of them to the coyote.

Although no area outdoors nor any coop is 100% predator-proof, you can certainly reduce your risks of the above situations with some knowledge of what to look for and resulting proactive measures.

We can provide some of the former here. The latter measures are all on you, the responsible chicken farmer, homesteader, and hobbyist.

We will go over some of the most common predators and ways to protect chickens from them specifically.

Chicken Predators

Chicken Predators: Dogs

Cute Dog But Wants To Play With Chickens

Signs of a dog attack: scattered feathers everywhere, potentially blood in the vicinity, chicken carcass laid somewhere close to the playing quarters of the dog, footprints

Being a dog lover, my natural inclination would be to take offense at this. My sweet, intelligent, obedient lab would never be a danger to my flock.

Well….first off, using ‘never’ when referring to the behavior of ANY animal is looking for trouble.

Dogs love the taste of chicken and are hunters by instinct. Mixing in any dog with chickens before being present during multiple interactions and proper introductions is a mistake.

Even once your pet has passed the test, you still need to guard against stray or wandering neighborhood dogs who see and pounce, then take off with their prize before you can even register what just happened.

Domestic dogs don’t want to kill the chicken to eat in most cases. Instead, it wants something to play with it.

Part of playing involves pinning, biting, nipping. Our neighbors know their little Maltese can cause serious harm to our hens, don’t ask how we found out!

The key to keeping dogs from getting into trouble and making trouble for you is, for your pet, getting the animals acquainted while the dog is controlled on a leash.

The dog must know these birds are not chasing and not eating! If this desensitizing is unsuccessful, a physical barrier or an electric dog fence might be your only option.

Neighbors’ dogs and strays are more challenging to control, so any sign of repeated dog interest in your flock must be discouraged by a physical barrier around the chickens, for example, a chicken run of sorts.

Unfortunately, just because you ought to be able to let your flock free range on your property doesn’t mean your neighbor’s dogs will allow it.

It is important to mention that I have many friends, and I agree that having an outdoor dog is one of the best predator deterrents.

A dog can be your one-stop solution for predator prevention with proper training.

Coyotes and Wolves Chicken Predators

Coyotes and Wolves Will Always Take Their Prey

Signs of coyote or wolf attack: scattered feathers everywhere, potentially blood in the vicinity, chicken carcass missing, footprints

Coyotes are native to North America, mainly in Alaska, but are also seen less widely spread in the continental US.

Like the domesticated dog, both of these canines have a reasonable fear of humans, so hanging out in your back yard is not typically their first choice.

More and more, as they are pushed out of their habitats, coyotes especially are showing up hungry in suburban and urban areas, and so not only will they go after chickens, but domestic pets as well.

Much like dogs, these canines are equipped with strong jaws, sharp teeth, and paws that can dig a fine hole under fencing.

For this reason, a tall and sturdy fence with an apron or buried bottom is an essential deterrent against attacks.

Hungry coyotes have been known to jump as high as 6 feet into a chicken run, so an extra few feet of height goes a long way in fencing in your flock.

Just as, or even more important, make sure your run is covered. Even something as simple as bird netting will help against attack jumpers of any kind.

It will also help defend against attacks from our next predator on the list, birds of prey.

Birds Of Prey

red tailed hawk
Roosters Are Great Alarmists For Overhead Attacks

Signs of bird of prey attack: chicken carcass is close to an area of attack, centralized wound, tiny scattered feathers

Because most predatory birds such as eagles, hawks, and owls hunt chickens in similar fashions, and the way to defend against their attacks are identical.

We’ll lump them together as one general category.

A free-range chicken farmer’s nightmare, birds of prey commonly strike chickens wandering about too far away from the coop for protection.

Although they are only physically able to make off with one bird at a time, they will come back to the scene of the crime again and again if this food source is available and undefended.

Probably the most common strike is from a red-tailed or Cooper’s hawk, who often steak out unprotected flocks ahead of time.

Perched in a nearby tree or on a power line, they wait for the optimal time and the optimal bird to pick off.

Once one of these predators has its mind set on swooping down for dinner, it may not care who is around to watch…many times, hawks and eagles will fly in the right in front of a human, grab a hen and fly off despite any attempt to scare it away.

I have seen this personally by a red-tailed hawk, though I have not seen her around much this season.

Owls are different only because they hunt at night. Chickens not secured in a coop are primarily at risk of being preyed upon.

One of my dear friends saw free-range chickens as the most healthy and happy option available for their small flock.

Until that was, they noticed hawks in the vicinity and a near-miss with one of their older and slower hens. After that, an enclosed and COVERED chicken run was going to have to suffice for their flock.

A dead chicken is neither healthy nor happy, and an uncovered run or wandering flock is more likely to attract these birds of prey and put a tragic end to unlimited free-range freedom.

They ended up purchasing bird netting and making a more giant chicken run.

As is the case with dogs and wolves, killing birds of prey is illegal in the US. This furthers the theory that, for chicken safety, a good defense is the best offense.

Nature always has a balance. Please remember to respect the wildlife surrounding your chickens.

Red Fox Chicken Predator

red fox
Foxes Are Great Escape Artists – Build Your Coop Safe

Signs of fox attack: feathers and footprints, sometimes a faint odor resembling but not as vital as skunk may be noticeable.

Infamous for their love of chicken and lack of natural predators, red foxes are more likely to strike in urban and suburban areas rather than rural.

For this reason, small urban coops need to be protected from the top, bottom and perimeter.

Protection against fox, no matter where you live, requires a comprehensive defense. These beautiful creatures are also resourceful, strong, and very clever, as the cliche suggests.

They can both dig under and climb over inadequate fencing and find and squeeze through gaps in housing.

Protecting against fox attacks should include a fence at least 5-6 feet high and a buried or apron bottom to deter a digger.

Chicken wire is somewhat useless with foxes because of its ability to chew through thin metal. Once inside the inadequate fence or unsound coop, foxes often kill multiple birds at once and will bury some for later.

Chicken Predators: The Possum

Possums Are Rather Lazy – Will Go For Eggs And Feed First

Signs of Possum attack: feathers and footprints, evident struggle, wounded chicken but surviving, missing or cracked eggs

Possums are primarily scavengers and don’t prefer to work hard for their meals. They will target chicks, eggs, and adult chickens that are within easy reaches, such as chickens that are roosting low for the night.

Possums are not good diggers, nor as clever as fox or dog, but they are skilled climbers. Prevention from a hungry opossum ‘attack’ would include a covered run and a decently secure coop at night time.

They will usually go for eggs over anything else. Many people leave scrap outside the run to keep them scavenging instead of attacking their hens. Many times chickens survive a possum attack.

The Skunk is a Chicken Predator

Skunks Are Opportunists – Will Go For Eggs And Feed First

Signs of skunk attack: feathers and footprints, apparent struggle, wounded chicken but surviving, missing or cracked eggs, skunk odor

As with opossum, skunks are more scavengers than hunters of chicken. They are, however, very interested in chicken eggs and have been known to pluck eggs or chicks right out from under a hen sitting in her box.

Unlike opossum, skunks are more diggers than climbers. A sturdy fence with a ground apron will prevent or at least deter skunk tunneling.

Checking your existing fence for holes is also essential for skunk defense, as they are lovely wrigglers and will fit into tiny spaces.

A skunk problem around your coop might present a more significant issue of how to remove it without getting blasted with odor.

A live trap and a relocation strategy, provided you’ve first checked that your local laws do not prohibit trapping and relocating, should be considered.

You should be aware of ways to remove the spray that you will surely come into contact with as you attempt this strategy.

Another tactic, maybe more attractive than trapping, is to leave meals for visiting and hungry skunks towards the perimeter of your property.

An easy dinner rather than one they need to work for might be more attractive for skunks as well as opossums and other scavengers.

Raccoon Chicken Predators

Raccoons Are Vicious Predators And Smart – Lock-Up Coop Every Night

Signs of raccoon attack: feathers and footprints, apparent struggle, multiple brutally killed chickens, missing neck/chest regions, carcass present.

Unlike other animals who are fond of digging under, hopping over, or finding holes in coops or fencing, raccoons have the added vex of being able to manipulate latches and move obstacles aside to reach your chickens.

They have also been known to reach through fences and grab unsuspecting chickens without even bothering to make their way inside coops or fencing.

Raccoons are also somewhat wasteful after getting a hold of a chicken. Often they will consume the neck and chest area of a chicken, then leave the rest of the carcass to pursue round two, the next chicken.

Aside from the usual precautions already mentioned, using tighter weave gauge wire or hardware cloth around the run will prevent a raccoon from a reach-in and grab attack on your flock.

Also, because of the raccoon’s ability to undo latches and open doors, a door latch that requires pointed manipulation is a good idea.

Finally, the top-most area of the chicken coop needs to be secure, with no holes or gaps between roof and walls, lest these skilled climbers can enter as they scale even the tallest of pens.

Besides trapping a live raccoon you have seen lurking, again, you must research local laws to assure that trapping and relocating are allowed in your area.

Attacks may further be prevented by a barking dog, predator, including dog urine around the vicinity, and of course, a secure coop and run with no holes or gaps.

Fisher Cat, Weasel, and Minks

Fisher Cats and Minks Are Small But Attack Without Mercy Multiple Chickens

Signs of fisher cat, mink, or weasel attack: feathers and footprints, apparent struggle, multiple brutally killed chickens, missing neck/chest regions, carcass present.

Weasels, fisher cats, and minks are just some of the 55 species in the family Mustelidae, which is also commonly referred to as the weasel family.

The least weasel we will discuss here is expected in the northern US and Canada. Still, this family is carnivorous, and chances are no matter where you go in the western hemisphere, you’ll be in the territory of at least one of the species with similar attributes.

Therefore, it is essential to identify the type of animal in the family weasel that may be endemic to your area because although carnivorous, not all species in this family hunt chickens.

Weasels are particularly fond of entering coops at night and wiping out every single chicken inside.

The horror scene of opening the door to your coop and seeing carcass after carcass of dead but intact chickens is one you won’t soon forget.

Weasels prefer killing by neck biting, but there is a misconception that weasels suck the blood of their prey, and this is not the case.

This idea came from the fact that the snout of weasels after killing their prey is covered with blood. These are animals you really would like to stay away entirely from your birds.

Protecting your chickens from weasels, fisher cats, minks, etc., means a thorough check of the coop, top to bottom, for holes or gaps that these weasels can capitalize on.

The galvanized wire may be a good option for coops that have a gap between roof and walls, and also a good deterrent for digging predators (weasels included) is added to the coop floor.

FAQs on Chicken Predators

Why do foxes kill chickens?

Well, first off, foxes will eat chickens. So chickens are prey.

Secondly, foxes are opportunist hunters. If the prey is large enough, the fox will kill it and leave it, only to return and find a place to put it.

Foxes are not only in rural areas. They are also prominent in urban environments. Urban environments do not deter foxes at all, and they are still a problem because they will kill chickens quickly and fiercely.

How do skunks kill chickens?

Skunks almost always attack the head by tearing out the throat and neck of the chicken. It’s a brutal way to go, but this is how skunks kill their chicken prey quickly.

If the opportunity presents itself, skunks will also steal chicken eggs and chicks if they’re around.

What animal bites heads off chickens?

Believe it or not, it’s usually raccoons that will rip the head off of chickens. This happens when they try and grab them through a fence and can only happen when they can get the head through and not the rest of the chicken.

Owls and weasels will also bite chickens’ heads off too.

Will raccoons eat chickens?

Yes, raccoons eat chickens. They are an infamous chicken predator you must be on the lookout for.

They are by far one of the most intelligent and persistent chicken predators.

Chicken Predators: Summary

Keeping any animal requires a certain degree of responsibility to ensure its well-being. Owning chickens follows suit, and one of the primary responsibilities of keeping them is protecting your flock from harm.

We can only do our best, but regardless of where you live, there are predators, and there are general ways a chicken owner can prevent these predators from attacking.

Most importantly, fence in your coop and run. Free-ranging carries with it a vast degree of danger, and a large fenced-in run might instead be an option to save your chickens from predators and yourself a lot of grief.

Fencing needs to be sturdy, tight and buried as much as possible to prevent diggers.

A safe coop that is securely latched at night, and enclosed with hardware cloth over windows, roof gaps, and floor, if possible, is ideal.

Deterrents such as predator urine, electric fencing, guardian dogs, automatic chicken coop doors, etc., should be employed when possible.

We, as chicken keepers, can only do our best, but our best requires consideration of potential predatory animals and proactive measures to ensure our flock’s safety.

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Chicken Predators

28 thoughts on “Chicken Predators: Signs of Attack and Prevention

    1. I recently sent this link to a friend that just got her first chickens. I’d also like to share my experience with with decoy birds ie. Eagles and Owls.
      About a year ago one of my favorite birds was attacked by a hawk. We rushed her to a local avian vet that happens to be one of the best avian vets in the country. We’re unbelievably grateful he’s in our area.
      After stitching her up we discussed predator proofing
      Decoy birds don’t work for one simple reason. Birds are smart! They figure fairly quickly there’s someone amiss with a “bird that doesn’t move.
      We use two decoys and switch them up. Some days the own some days the hawk. Whichever we use gets moved around everyday in the area our chickens free range during the day. 15-20 feet each time. We have them on a long spike so it’s not too much trouble to move. Along with other proofing we were already using this works pretty well and have not seen anything stay very long. We also use an old mirror often found on roads with blind sunspots. I’m not sure it does anything but between our new proofing like i said not much will stay or circle more than a few min. Once it’s spotted it’s gone.

  1. You did not address Bobcats! Although we do have most of the predators you’ve mentioned, the most trouble we’ve had with them are a few missing eggs. But a hunting new momma bobcat hunts during the day. She is quick, and only leaves a pile of feathers behind. In jFlorida, bobcats are a protected species, unlike most of these other predators mentioned. What can I do? My girls haven’t been out for months.

    1. Bobcats and other protected animals is always a challenge. Do you have a dog? You can purchase predator odor spray and mark your land.

    1. Rats do attack chicks, very good insight, I didnt think about mentioning because of chicks most usually being under extreme care. I am going to add that. Thanks for input!

  2. I had years ago and attack that was horrible. Went out one morning and about 1 1/2-2 feet up off the ground the fence had been pulled apart and about 6 hens were without heads, necks and no blood and no feathers laying around.. I sure fixed that. Also lost 1 duck to fox, 1 to bobcat and q to owl. Took awhile but all are safe now.

  3. Bears, they just rip the door off the coupe. If not for our dogs the bears would win every time. I put fishing bells, like 10 of them all around the coupe. The dogs hear the bells before us. 19 years of this, usually a shotgun blast in the air works to run the bears off.
    Sometimes not.

  4. It is nice you wrote this article, but it has some weaknesses that can get chicken owners into more trouble than less. Your primary defense against chicken-eating predators is to kill the predators. You can trap them on their way to or around the coop, using live traps in most cases, or simply shoot them when you see them. But allowing predators to multiply and simply hang around your coop without fear only emboldens them. In a kill-or-be-killed world, killing these predators that brought the fight to you is the right thing. It is the only thing to do.
    Coyotes are not being “pushed out of their habitat,” they are broadening their habitat. That is because they are newcomers to the entire Eastern US. Eastern coyotes are hybrids of western coyotes and red wolves from Canada, and they are expanding pretty much everywhere. Their populations are robust enough to sustain 24/7 hunting seasons 365 days a year in most states.
    Weasels do not “suck the blood” of chickens. Goodness gracious, where did that one come from!
    You are correct to advise making a very strong and well defended chicken coop, but in the end, if you do not deal directly with predators on your property, they will kill your chickens. Sure as shootin’ they will

    1. Thanks for your comment. You are RIGHT. Weasels do not suck the blood, and this has been corrected, it comes from the fact that they will lap it up and their muzzle will be covered with blood giving the illusion.
      Now its funny you mention coyotes, because we JUST HAD a run in with them. I was sad to lose 2 chickens and we were not quick enough to dispatch the coyote. (It was actually a COYWOLF) Next time we will be ready, they are starting to overpopulate just like you mention here. I will have to update the post with the option of terminating prey, but I want everyone to be very cautious and understand local and federal laws.

    2. A fisher will take off heads.Looks like a 3 ft. weasel.One got into my locked henhouse and strangled 14 and beheaded 4 .A friend said to put hard boiled,peeled eggs in a have a heart cage and the next day the door of the cage was slammed shut with the fisher looking at me.Golly gee,gotcha you son of a you know what

  5. My sisters chickens were attached. One dead, 3 others wounded but survived. My question is- are those eggs still safe to eat? Can the wounded ones have rabies or any other diseases? My sister gives us eggs weekly and I’m worried about feeding them to my kids.

    1. They should be safe to eat, there is always potential for disease transfer but chickens do not get rabies.

  6. What attacks leaving just feathers no noise we lost 10 last night no blood feathers in coop on lower deck in yard

  7. I just noticed you didn’t mention bears. Two years ago a bear came in and pushed a large tomato plant against the chicken pen grounding out the solar electric then ripped apart one house and entered another through a screened window. She killed 14 chickens eating only parts of a few chickens. She totally missed the older girls in a separate house.

  8. After a chicken attack by a racoon, the remaining hens won’t return to their coop. What can I do to help them go back. They used to return to their coop in the evening on their own.

  9. We discovered the hard way that we have some particularly brutal ravens in our area. Ravens are extremely clever. One got 6 of our juvenile birds in the middle of the day. They were hiding in the coop, but it went in the coop to get to them. We discovered that day how necessary it is to cover the top of your run. Even if you think your birds are safe.

  10. The last 3 nights something has been getting in my coup and killing 1 chicken dragging it to the fence. It tries to pull the chicken through the fence and when it fails it eats the entire chicken except the bones and wings. Any idea what animal this could be?

  11. We have lost one rooster fully closed in left bones and wings and a foot. Cane back next day ate the rest of it and killed 3 baby ducks. Then it has came and took a whole leg off of our laying hen also through a closed off rabbit hut. We have tried to use a spring loaded trap. Bait is always gone no foot prints and door normally doesn’t closed but baited with a whole dead chicken. The one that the keg went missing. Door was shut and chicken was gone. I have no clue what this could be. Please I need help on catching this thing to save our animals!

  12. Just last night smth attacked our hens coop and killed all 16 hens 😭 two of hens head were torn apart and rest of the hens were just lying there dead with there heads intact.
    I have no idea who did it because we have never experienced anything as such.
    Feathers were everywhere and blood on few places too. Even I didn’t hear any sound from hens coop last night when they might be struggling 😣
    What sort of attacker could it be?

  13. We have our chickens in an old mobile home with a hatch that cannot be opened, and the whole business is enclosed with wire. Somehow a weasel got in; we think it made its way in through the floor, so we put plywood skirting right to the ground. No more weasel attacks. However, then a skunk apparently dug under an imperfection between the plywood and the ground, so I soaked a rag in ammonia, threw it under the mobile home, and then put several ammonia-soaked rags in the half of the chicken coop where the chickens weren’t. It took about a week, but the skunk has not been back. Hoo-Rah!

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