Possums and Foxes and Bears...Oh My!

| 12/16/2012 3:02:20 PM

 predator collage 

One of the most challenging things about keeping chickens is keeping them safe from predators, but if you can figure out what type of predator you are dealing with, it can make trapping or otherwise dealing with them far easier. This is clearly not a topic that is pleasant to think - or read - about but as a chicken keeper our responsibility is to keep our chickens safe.

Note: Before you attempt ot trap or shoot any animal, be sure and find out what the local laws are, because many predators are protected or there are only certain times of the year when hunting is allowed, although in many areas a wild animal that is causing destruction to livestock can be killed regardless.

Here is a summary of some of the predators you may have to worry about where you live. Tracks in the snow, visual sightings, night vision cameras or, sadly, examining dead carcasses are the best ways to determine which predator is causing trouble. Obviously a secure run and coop are the best deterrent, but wild animals also carry disease, so removing them from your backyard is optimal.

BEARS -found in forested areas in almost every US state

Hunting Style: Alone
Telltale Signs: Feed containers broken into
Trap Bait: N/A
Note: Bears are not generally meat eaters, although in the spring after awaking from hibernation they sometimes will eat small mammals and birds, but seem content eating only berries, fruit and fish as long as they are plentiful

BOBCATS -largely found in the western states, but also in other remote areas

Hunting Style: Alone
Telltale Signs: Hens heads bitten off, claw marks on the neck, back, sides and shoulders
Trap Bait: Raw meat
Note: Bobcats pose much more of a threat to free-range birds than those kept in runs

CATS (feral)-found throughout the US in rural and suburban areas

Hunting Style: Alone, will return each night
Telltale Signs: Missing bantams or chicks
Trap Bait: Canned cat food, tuna or sardines
Note: Cats will normally leave full-grown birds alone if there are other food options

 cat on the prowl

COUGARS (Mountain Lions)-found in mountainous regions of the West

Hunting Style: Alone
Telltale Signs: Large bite marks on the back of the neck of hens
Trap Bait: Raw meat
Note: Cougars upper canine teeth can be up to 2" apart

COYOTES -found throughout the US, mostly west of the Mississippi,
but increasingly closer to suburban areas, with significant increases in the Southeast

Hunting Style: Alone, in pairs or as a pack
Telltale Signs: Bite marks on the throat of hens
Trap Bait: Mice, chicken meat, eggs, sardines
Note: Coyotes usually hunt just after dusk or just before dawn and will try to gain access to runs and coops

CROWS (Ravens, Magpies) -found throughout the US

Hunting Style: In groups during the day
Telltale Signs: Steal eggs or baby chicks
Trap Bait: N/A
Note: On the plus side, crows will chase hawks away from your run

DOGS (Domestic and stray)-found in abundance throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone or in packs during the day
Telltale Signs: Indiscriminate mutilation with entire flocks maimed or missing chickens
Trap Bait: N/A
Note: Dogs will tear down fencing and doors to get into runs or coops, they are the #1 killer of backyard chickens

-found throughout much of the US, mainly on the coasts

Hunting Style: Alone at night
Telltale Signs: Take several hens at one time and may line up or stack carcasses
Trap Bait: Meat, fish, liver
Note: Fishers are the only natural predators that will take on a porcupine

FOXES -found throughout the US in rural and suburban areas

Hunting Style: Alone or in pairs from dusk until dawn
Telltale Signs: Kill entire flocks and will typically remove the whole hens one at a time, then keep returning for more that they will bury for future consumption (called 'surplus' or 'cache' killing)
Trap Bait: Canned cat food, canned fish
Note: Free-range hens are at more risk, foxes generally won't enter a coop or other structure, but will climb into an open-top run or pen area

HAWKS (Raptors, Eagles)-found throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone during the day
Telltale Signs: Feathers, missing hens, puncture wounds on the backs of hens
Trap Bait: N/A
Note: Most hawks and eagles are protected and not allowed to be shot

Opossums -found throughout the US, with the largest numbers in the Southeast

Hunting Style: Alone at night
Telltale Signs: Partially eaten eggs, missing chicks or bantams
Trap Bait: Apples, vegetables, sardines, bacon, canned cat food
Note: Possums really do play dead, but will hiss and bare their teeth when cornered

This little guy was prowling around the run and left some pretty unmistakable prints in the mud one night.


OWLS -found throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone at night
Telltale Signs: Feathers, missing or headless hens
Trap Bait: N/A
Note: Owls will enter barns and coops through windows and openings as small as one square foot

RACCOONS -found throughout the US in rural and suburban areas

Hunting Style: Alone or as a family group at night
Telltale Signs: Missing eggs, eaten chicken breasts and/or heads
Trap Bait: Canned tuna, honey-covered veggies, corn, bacon, marshmallows
Note: Raccoons return on a schedule, usually every 5-7 days

RATS -found in abundance throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone or in groups mainly at night
Telltale Signs: Missing chicks or small pullets, missing eggs
Trap Bait: Cheese, cereal or oats, peanut butter, peppermint candy
Note: Rats sometimes will chew beaks, bite legs or eat feathers of sleeping chickens


SKUNKS -found throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone or as a family group at night
Telltale Signs: Eaten entrails, skin mostly intact, eaten eggs, including eggs from under a broody hen
Trap Bait: Apples, pears, bananas, bacon
Note: You may or may not smell the skunk's odor after it has been in the coop

WEASELS (Minks) -found throughout the US

Hunting Style: Alone at night
Telltale Signs: Several missing hens or carcasses neatly piled or lined up
Trap Bait: Meat scraps, fish, liver
Note: Weasels and minks can fit through a hole that is only 1-inch in diameter


WOLVES -found in the Great Lakes area and in the West

Hunting Style: In a pack
Telltale Signs: Missing chickens
Trap Bait: Fresh Meat
Note: Wolves will kill for sport like dogs and sometimes leave an entire flock dead, however free-range chickens are much more at risk as wolves are hesitant to enter pens or runs

The best defense against predators:

Night Time: Lock your chickens in a sturdy wooden or metal coop at night with 1/2" hardware mesh on all open windows and vents and a predator-proof latch on the door (such as a padlock or eyehook with a clasp). Install NiteGuard solar powered blinking lights in the run to deter predators from gaining access.  Here the the link to purchase the NiteGuard

Also setting up a trail cam can be extremely helpful as an early warning system. Many predators will scope out your run and get a 'lay of the land' for a few nights prior to trying to get in. The trail cam will give you a heads up so you can not only identify potential predators but also set up your traps with the correct bait.

trail cam
This is the camera that I have and I successfully deterred a raccoon attack with it this past spring. He appeared on the trail cam one night, I set the trap the next night and caught him without a single loss of any of our flock OR damage to our run.  Here is the link to purchase the Moultrie trail cam.

Another good way to figure out what is prowling around is to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth or flour around your run or on the ramp/steps to your coop and see what kind of footprints appear by the next morning.

Here a raccoon has clearly been snooping on the bottom step.

Day Time: Keep chickens in a large completely enclosed run made of a sturdy metal fencing with chicken wire, poultry or bird netting across the top. Sink the fencing into the ground 8-12" with an apron that curves outward underground to deter digging. Make sure the run has a secure latch on the door.

dog and chicken
Additional security measures might include a few roosters, a dog specifically bred to guard livestock (such as a Great Pyrenees, Anatolian, Akbash, Maremma, Kuvasz or Komondor), electric fencing, playing a radio set to a talk station, peeing or scattering dog feces around the perimeter of the run. Alpacas will guard chickens against foxes and donkeys will run coyotes off your property.

Set traps. Be sure your trap is the correct size and baited with the proper bait for the predator you are trying to catch. Here are some more ideas for RUN SECURITY.

Some or all of these additional measures will help keep your flock safe. Because after all, a predator can make mistake after mistake and still eventually persevere....we need only make one mistake to lose a treasured pet or an entire flock.

 roo with flock 

12/18/2012 1:22:39 PM

Lisa, although I don't have any birds or animals to protect, I still have to be mindful of garden predictors. Last year was a test year at the new garden area and I saw that protection will be needed. The raccoons ate the sweet corn and the groundhog ate some of the pumpkins. My dilemma is quite the same as yours but my flock is plants instead of birds. I may have to relocate "Nebraska Phil" (the groundhog) if he causes too much of a problem. I hope that we can live in harmony. I am willing to give up some of the harvest just to have him around. He is a cute little bugger. Have a great Christmas season.

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