Do Possums Eat Chickens? How To Keep Your Flock Safe

Do Possums Eat Chickens How To Keep Your Flock Safe Blog Cover

Possums, also known as opossums, are small animals found mainly in the eastern US states.

It is one of numerous predators that can attack your backyard chickens.

And yes, opossums will eat chickens.

In this article we explain how to spot the signs of an opossum attack, and how to protect your flock against an opossum attack.

What Is A Possum?

Possums Eat Chickens

Before you can protect your flock of chickens, you need to know what you are up against.

The possum is more correctly known as an Opossum (Didelphis Virginiana) and it is Americas’ only marsupial animal.

Despite sharing the same name, Americas’ possum is not related to the Australian possum. They are a completely different species.

An adult is about the size of a house cat (21-36 inches long) and weighs (4-15lb). They have a long pointed face with a pink nose, black eyes and a long hairless tail. They have a dirty white/grey fur with a white face and a mouth with 50 sharp, pointed teeth.

Whilst they are generally nocturnal, they can be found out and about during the daytime occasionally.

In terms of habitat they range from Central America to the eastern US states, parts of Canada and occasionally the mid-western US.

Their preferred environment is in forests, although any area that offers plenty of cover and food will be acceptable. They will make their dens out of tree trunks, abandoned burrows.

Areas that border along rivers, streams, marsh or swamp are ideal since the general locale will provide both food and water.

Will Opossums Eat Chickens?

Plymouth Rock with Hybrid

Primarily, their hunting skills extend to bugs, slugs beetles, small rodents and road kill – they are scavengers, part of Mother Natures’ clean-up crew.

They are opportunistic omnivores who will eat just about anything including your tasty trash, yummy compost piles and other such delicacies.

Will they eat chicken?

Yes if the opportunity arises.

Although they may not attack a standard hen, they will take bantams, chicks and eggs. There have been some recorded cases of a large possum taking a full grown standard hen, but they much prefer smaller prey that they can consume in one sitting.

They rarely consume the whole carcass, preferring the breast, abdomen and crop.

Signs Of An Opossum Attack

Golden Comet Roaming

Since possum are mainly nocturnal, you are unlikely to catch them in the act, but below are some clues to help you identify the culprit:

  • The absolute giveaway is the footprints. There is no mistaking the human look to their feet with opposable thumbs on the hind feet.
  • Droppings
  • Bite marks to the birds’ neck, breast or thigh.
  • Sometimes the only part of the bird consumed is the crop and abdomen.
  • Wounded birds with bites to the breast area.
  • They will eat their kill where they find it.
  • Baby chicks missing, no sign of them except maybe some feathers, perhaps a distressed mama.
  • Bantam birds missing.
  • Eggs missing from nest or broken shells lying around the nest box.
  • Trash has been gone through, compost pile disturbed, birdfeeders emptied.

How To Protect Your Flock From Opossum Attacks

Possum Scavenging

Security!

They are not rocket scientists, if you follow strict coop security you shouldn’t have too many problems with them.

Some people leave a radio playing all day and night, something soft you don’t need to subject your hens to heavy metal! The sounds will deter them from entering.

Many folks hang Christmas lights around the coop and run. They are quite affordable; just a few bucks at the dollar store and the light will deter many other predators’ not just possums.

It also makes the place look festive regardless of the season. You can try motion activated lights too.

Another suggestion was to stuff empty tin cans with ammonia soaked rags. You make a few holes in the can, seal the top over and place at the corners of the coop. Change the cans and rags when you can no longer detect the ammonia smell.

In the run itself you can run a hot wire around the top of the perimeter. The shock will deter most predators from trying that again.

Of course, you need to check your coop for any means of access. A possum needs a relatively large hole to squeeze into, but other much smaller predators can slip through anything larger than a ½ inch.

Some folks think that because the run is ‘predator proof’ they don’t need to shut the pop door at night – this is a very bad habit to get into. Always shut the pop door at night, and check the coop before you do, just in case! If you are away from the coop often, consider an automatic pop/coop door.

Dogs are a good deterrent as generally possums will avoid cats and dogs if at all possible.

Even with the best security an attack can still happen. Although an attack on your flock is a terrible thing, try to keep it in perspective. Ask yourself was security good/how did it get in/can I prevent it in future?

What If I Find A Possum In The Chicken Coop?

If you encounter one in the coop chances are it’s looking for food and a place to sleep.

I have found a couple in my coops over the years and I ask them nicely to leave – don’t yell and scream at them you will only succeed in terrifying them. Using a long stick I will prod them to get them out of the coop.

I have never been attacked – the possum is much more afraid of me and they are generally peaceful fellows and would rather avoid trouble than look for it.

Summary

The opossum is a very useful animal to have in your yard. It will devour slugs, snails, beetles, ticks, rats and mice – a real walking pest control.

They do not attack your chickens because they are mean/vicious/bloodthirsty – all these labels have been applied to them. They are simply doing what nature intended and looking for a meal.

Over the years when I know there is a possum around, I will leave out a small bowl of chicken feed for them in the winter months. My reasoning being if they are well fed they won’t bother the chickens and perhaps will dispatch a couple of mice in the bargain.

If I have chicks around the barn, I am more watchful for signs of attack, but I rarely see them in the summer months.

Of course you can put traps down, but once you catch them you should call animal control to relocate them. I have never felt the need to do this since they seldom have caused mischief here.

Have you had any experiences with opossums? Let us know in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Julie Wible says

    I have always had a soft spot for Opossums,and raised many orphaned babies to later release.
    Possums are known to eat 5 thousand ticks a day .
    I have them come to my coop and eat an egg or 2 but nothing can come close to the mice and free exterminating service they give us in return.
    So many people who are ignorant” kill them on site and this is truly a very sad thing. They are so beneficial to us and people should learn before they kill them. Possums are welcome here for sure.

    • Cynthiann Richardson says

      I have been feeding an opossum for about 6 months now, she comes up on my porch and she eats cat food, I even have a video of her, I was sitting on the porch, I had my music going, there’s rope lights on the each side of my porch, she’s actually come up on the porch and was eating cat food while the cat was laying right there where she could see him, she doesn’t seem to be scared of the cats, she look right at me and is really friendly, but what I’m worried about is, I know there’s possums at my son’s house back behind us that are killing the chickens and he says that he thinks that she’s killing them too, but I believe that she’s being well-fed up here and I can’t see why she would go kill chickens when she’s being fed so good, what is your feelings on this? My son says that he’s going to kill any of them that he sees! With all the grain laying around down there and the cat food in the barn he has a bunch of cats and they put out cat food for them and there’s water and stuff why would they resort to killing chickens when there’s so much food down there they can eat!

  2. John Galvan says

    Good article. I had to relocate a very large possum a month ago. It was making it’s way the ramp to the door. Just turned dark so I have learned to lock up the girls before or at dark. A very lucky learning experience. Thanks for the articles, good info.

  3. tweell says

    They’re extending their range – saw one in the Los Angeles area earlier this year. I was visiting my sister and had my Pomeranian along (he was dad’s dog, took him in after). The possum ignored the barking, ate the leftover dog food, and left.

  4. Connie Ryman says

    My experience with a possum is very similar. My dogs and cats catch a lot of moles, mice , etc which the possum usually cleans at night. Now one contradiction…we have a cat door that goes under the house and the possum uses it along with the cats occasional use. We also have a deer feeder which might contribute to the fact that everyone is living happily ever after!

  5. Karen Gaudette says

    Possums are beneficial animals for sure. Their body temp is too low to carry rabies so no worries there. I’ve caught and relocated many of them for customers. That being said, I had one a couple of years ago come in one late afternoon and kill 10 hens and a rooster. It was horrible. I caught it and relocated it far, far away. Now, I just don’t want them anywhere near my chickens.

  6. Allen Ingling says

    I have had chickens for years and encourage possums to include us in their foraging circuit. I even raised 13 little orphans last year and turned them loose in the back yard when they reached a foot long. I’ve never had one even look at a chicken. Racoon’s are another story. I bet possums get blamed for racoon’s depredations when the possum was an Innocent bystander. I’ve seen racoon’s shred chicken wire and even eat a chicken through the wire! With a game camera I watch my possums check in periodically and eat table scraps and kitten chow. i even have a photo of a racoon and a possum , nose to nose, eating from the same dish!

  7. Ann G. says

    I live in Texas and have had 3 possums within the past 2 years attack my chickens. First attack killed 3 chickens on 3 different nights. My poor rooster was in shock and died about a week later. The last attack was a week ago. I heard our rooster running for his life and found a possum in our chicken coop holding down my favorite hen. He had tore out so many feathers and she was screaming for her life. The sounds were horrible. This possum has been after our chickens as this was the second attack within a few weeks. I leave out extra hen scratch and even have a compost pile in the backyard so I don’t think he was starving.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Ann, are you closing the coop door right at sunset? You may have to take other measures. What has worked VERY well for us is putting hotdogs in a small game trap cage near the coop. If the possum is frequently visiting the coop they will go for the hotdog. We have caught 4 culprits this way.

      Claire

      • Cat says

        We caught a HUGE possum (size of a miniature schnauzer!) tearing a second hen apart, two nights ago. Sadly, she was too damaged to save, and I had to put her out of her misery on the woodblock. We had found one hen killed and half -eaten a week prior I didn’t know what had happened to her, I thought maybe she had dropped dead, and then a rat may have eaten it… but we caught the possum in the coop itself, pulling the hen off her perch and tearing her apart. In the daylight, we discovered it had pulled hardware cloth away from where it was overlapping the chain link kennel top, between the kennel and roofing, we had wired it to, and it got in to the run that way, and may have entered the coop by the egg box lid. I never could have foreseen that level of strength. Not sure what we can do other than reinforce again. That possum isn’t going to give up now that it has killed two large hens. Possums may serve a purpose, but I’m not feeling charitable.

  8. gleaner63 says

    Greetings all..:):

    …I’m very curious about this whole Possums vs. Chickens debate. I was born and raised on a farm in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Not only was farming the primary business, almost everyone had chickens, housed or free roaming, and in fact I used to work on a chicken farm that had probably a thousand chickens on it. And yet, in all this time, I cannot recall a single instance when anyone ever saw, mentioned, or even heard a tale of a possum killing a chicken; *ever*. And, being near the Savannah River, with several nearby areas that are wildlife refuges, this is prime possum country. In fact, almost every night we are visited by possums who eat along side our cats with no squabbles. But now from a few new arrivals (mostly urban folks who’ve moved to the country) I’m hearing tales about these “nasty possums” attacking and killing their chickens. One of these fellows when I questioned him closely had never actually witnessed a possum in the act of attacking his chickens however. But, for whatever reason, when one of his chickens went missing, or was found dead, the possum always got the blame. Upon further examination, his “evidence” was an occasional possum seen hanging around his chicken coop. Just call me skeptic I guess..)

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      I have to say, I do have a friend that witnessed possums harassing and trying to get at chicks, but all my past experiences has been them stealing eggs, especially in the cold months. I also have possums visit the coop to always eat left over chicken feed that hit the ground. The chickens always give them room.

      • gleaner63 says

        ..yeah, the small chicks and eggs seem like a better target for a possum than a full grown chicken. Our cats and our possum visitors get along very well here..:)…

    • Liz says

      I just woke up to our hens screaming. Ms. Possum was attacking one of our full grown hens. For the last 2 days there have been no eggs in our coop. I live in South GA. Growing up we had chickens, rabbits, goats etc. I’ve never seen a possum attack a chicken. Ms. Possum had our hen corned in the coop chewing on her. It was very strange. I figured a fox had gotten in the coop. Reading the other comments made me feel better, because at first I almost didn’t believe what I was seeing.

  9. Tim Shepherd says

    I live in the San bois mountains in Oklahoma. We have approximately 60 adult hens and 5 roosters. There are always 10 or more baby chicks ruining around as well.

    For a long time we allowed the possums here to live free and enjoy the scraps that got left behind. They cleaned up and kept varmints away. However, In the past year now, they’ve become consistently more aggressive and a few months ago killed over 20 juvenile hens and 8 adults. It seems giving them free reign over the property led them to become less intimidated by the humans and farm animals including the dog. 2 months ago my dog came back limping and we took it to the vet…absolute proof the possum had bitten the dog!

    After that we decided enough was enough and we have now had possum stew several times…and not one dead chicken. When we go out to hunt them at night, they do not act in the normal manner we had been used to. They hiss at us, charge at us and one even jumped from the high deck onto a chickens back while i stood right there watching. I know they have certain benefits to being around, but when they become a nuisance and start costing me money via eggs and chickens…they are soup.

    For eating the ticks and such around the property, we invested in guineas and no longer allow possums in our area.

    Food for thought…or vice versa

  10. Melisa says

    We had a opossum in our coop and it killed our baby chick .now months later we found another one it had eaten 6 eggs and looked like it was going after our frizzle. I realize everything,needs to eat but I can’t stand the thought of one killing another one of our chickens were now setting traps.the radio idea is a good one we will also tryvit. Thank you for the good advice.

  11. Sarah Juul-Borre says

    Live on central coast of California in a residential neighborhood. Had a full grown hen killed less than a week ago…suspected raccoon or possum…half hour ago at 10:30 I heard terrified chickens in the coop…ran out with my dog…sure enough there was a large opossum in there. Somehow got the chickens out and locked it in there…will be calling animal control in am and locking them in the coop every night after this. I can hear everything from my bedroom but the first time must have been when I was working a late overtime. Possums definitely kill full grown chickens 😔

  12. Carol Reese says

    The possum who got into my coop took one bird to eat and wounded 5 others severely. I do not like the animal and will not tolerate it. My numerous ticks and fleas are eaten by my chickens, they digest them fully and do not have any tick larva in their feces. I will send all my possums to possum heaven or to the people out there who revere them. You Pick

  13. Lin Chamberlain says

    Just awakened to my girls and 2silkie roosters screaming in their coop right out the backdoor of my bedroom. We are city dwellers and the flock has a combo of chicken tunnels and runs under and around my deck, patio, and hot tub. All 6 of my birds were bunched together on full alert. Then I saw a movement off the side and there was mr possum. He was smallish and appeared to want to run up in the deck with me. Oh Hell NO. I ran him off with a board but I’m sure he’s around. I blocked off the coup area with a couple of wood slats and the gang can get water. Tomorrow I’ll see what I can do for more security. I’ve never lost a bird to predators in the 3 yrs but I know we have possums and raccoons here.

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