Predators of Chickens and How to Protect Your Birds
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Many domestic dogs (including your dogs) may kill for sport, simply maiming the bird and leaving it to die (they lose interest once the bird stops moving). Dogs who kill for sport often kill large numbers of birds at once. However, some dogs kill and devour the entire bird, leaving just the feet and head, and a sea of feathers.
Domestic and feral cats will eat small chicks entirely, but leave the wings and feathers of young birds. Cats have been known to kill full-grown chickens; they’ll consume the meaty parts, leaving the rest scattered around.
Raccoons hunt alone or in tandem with their family group. They’re nocturnal, so they’ll attack at night, kill more than one chicken, and eat mainly the guts. You may find the carcass(es) far away from the coop. They also steal and eat eggs from nest boxes.
Raccoons also have the tendency to reach into a pen and pull off a chicken’s head or leg – whatever it can grab – so if you find a bird with its head and crop missing, a raccoon should be at the top of your suspect list.
Opossums hunt alone, and they attack and devour small birds on the spot. In addition to robbing nests of eggs at night, opossums will sneak up to sleeping birds on roosts and take a bite out of a breast or thigh.
Skunks hunt alone at night. They are notorious egg snatchers, often leaving shells behind, and you may or may not smell their telltale odor afterward. Once they’ve killed a chicken, they’ll eat the entrails and leave the rest.
Rats carry off baby chicks and roll away eggs. They’ll also chew off beaks, gnaw on legs and pull out feathers from roosting birds. Look for rat droppings (supersized mouse droppings) around feeders and/or feed storage bins to confirm your suspicion. Install hanging feeders for your chickens to deter rodent-snacking.
Most birds of prey (hawks, eagles, owls) have the ability to carry off a small bird (young or bantam), and you’ll find only feathers. Owls and hawks will enter barns or coops through small openings or fly through windows; they’ve been known to sidle up next to sleeping chickens on the roost.
If you find a bird with its head and neck missing, the killer may be an owl. If you find just feathers scattered near a fence post, the thief could have been any flying predator that perched on the post just prior to its attack.
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