One of the more unpleasant aspects of chicken ownership is dealing with predators. Whether they come by ground or sky, sooner or later they will find their way to your flock. Protecting birds can be difficult, not only during daylight free ranging hours but also at night while they roost. Since predators hunt during the day and at night, chances are that there is always something lurking about in the distance.
There are many different types of predators that prey on chickens. It is important to consider all of them and take into account the way they operate in order to safeguard your chickens. Some predators stalk silently while others are more brazen. Others are easily stopped while some are quite crafty and can get into places that might surprise you. Some of the most common predators might even live in your house and even share a bed with you. Here is a list of the top 10 predators with which chicken owners are faced.
1. Dogs are our faithful companions but many breeds have high prey drives. Training is important to keep your dog from going after your chickens, but you also need to remember that it could be your neighbor\'s dog or another loose animal that is inclined to take a life. Domesticated dogs generally kill for fun rather than out of hunger so it is feasibly for one dog to kill several chickens and leave their remains.
2. Domestic cats can kill animals that are their size or even larger which makes them a threat to chickens as well. Cats can also offer a great means of pest control when it comes to controlling the rodent population, so dealing with cats is a mixed bag. If you are going to have cats around your chickens, it will be important to have cats that have good temperaments that are not interested in your chickens; some cats may even fear chickens.
3. Coyotes are pack hunters and often work together to kill prey. They generally hunt at night are also able to gain access to coops by digging. You may not find much evidence of a coyote attack as chickens make for small enough prey that they can be carried off and eaten elsewhere. However, if you do find remnants of a coyote attack, there will probably be puncture wounds in the head and neck area due to coyotes aiming for the jugular vein.
4. Opossums are also nocturnal hunters. They will typically go for young chicks or eggs but that does not mean the adult chickens are off limits, as those can become prey as well. Opossums have a lot of teeth and have been said \'play dead\' when threatened but this is not always the case; an angry opossum will also turn and face a threat. They will consume their kill close to where they actually killed it, often mauling it and consuming it from the abdominal area first.
5. Foxes are frenzied killers and may possibly wipe out an entire flock if they are able to get to them. There seems to be something about the panicked birds that drives the prey drive of a fox, so if a fox gains access to your coop and your chickens start moving about, the fox will pursue each and every one until all are dead, regardless of his appetite or actual hunger.
6. Raccoons are omnivorous and are sort of like the garbage disposals of the animal kingdom; not much is off limits to a raccoon. When a raccoon strikes, it goes for the head/neck/breast area, often ripping these areas open and separating parts of the bird from the body. Raccoons are nocturnal and have opposable thumbs which enable them to get into things that other animals cannot. They are also known to be excessive hunters, killing more than they will consume.
7. Members of the Weasel family (skunk, mink, badger, ferret, etc.) often go for chicks and consume from the abdominal area. They are killers of multiple animals but are generally unable to carry off their prey due to gaining access to coops through very small holes into which they can squeeze themselves. These predators kill with small bites to the head and skull and often will stack the bodies of their kills in neat piles.
8. Bobcats hunt stealthily, mostly at night but also hunt during the day as well. They are known to kill with incisors and sharp claws and leave marks on the neck, shoulders, and backs of their kills. They also start feeding on prey in these same bodily areas. After hunching down and lying in wait to secure prey, they often carry it off and it is sometimes found covered in dirt and foliage.
9. Hawks are one of the more common aerial predators you may encounter. They have a tendency to watch from afar for a good opportunity before swooping in to make their move. Not all chickens that are attacked by hawks get carried off; some do escape but wind up cut up and badly injured. Depending on the size of the hawk in comparison to the size of the chicken, carrying prey away is definitely possible. If not, consuming the head and neck on the spot occurs as well.
10. Owls hunt in much the same manner as hawks. They stay vigilant over their hunting grounds and wait for opportunity to strike, then swoop in to carry off their prey. Should that prey escape, it will likely be badly injured due to damaging talons. If ground level consumption occurs, it also begins at the head/neck area.
Animals that prey on chickens are not just limited to these ten. What is going to want to feast on your chickens will include variables such as the part of the country in which you live, other readily available food sources, and hunting programs that are in place to eradicate nuisance animals. Other animals with a potential appetite for chickens are feral pigs, bears, snakes, rodents, mountain lions, and more.
While it is tempting to do away with the predators that are doing away with your chickens, it is important to check your local laws before doing so. Conservation and hunting allow some animals to be hunted and killed year round depending on their status and classification. However, that is not true of all predators. To find out more, check your local laws. Also be aware of any applicable federal laws, such as in the case with birds of prey, as it is illegal to kill them under federal law. Doing away with predators can be very tempting at times to safeguard your chickens, but handling your predator problems must be done through means that the law allows. In some cases this will mean being able to do nothing more than take extra protective measures, but we do what we must for the chickens that we love.