Predators of Chickens and How to Protect Your Birds

Thoroughly knowing the predators of chickens is the first step to keeping your chickens safe.

| 2011 Guide to Backyard Chickens

Fox Kits Eye a Meal

A couple of kit foxes could drag off a whole free-ranging bird, but would rarely enter the chicken coop. Kruger

Chicken keepers understand, without a doubt, that a farm is a tenuous balance of predators and prey – nature’s checks and balances. Chickens, after all, look for ways to die. So unless you build the poultry version of Fort Knox, or imprison your birds in a bunker with a concrete foundation, you will, on occasion, lose some souls to any of the predators of chickens. The best strategy for stopping thieves is vigilance.

At our farm, the 30-plus laying hens roam free in a large fenced-off pen with the goats, adjacent to the pigs. They have a homemade coop in which they dutifully put themselves away each night at dusk, as well as an old Butler grain bin in which to take shelter. An enormous, hollowed out silver maple tree is their chosen spot to roost and enjoy the shade in the heat of the day. Admittedly, much of the ground is scratched bare (all the better for dust bathing), but a large area of the chicken yard also consists of tall weeds, saplings and grass, where they go exploring and scratching for insects.

Despite all their free ranging and the “entertainment” available to them, chickens (and turkeys especially) do not like to stay put – enabled, of course, by their wings, which we don’t clip. In fact, a group of our Midget White turkeys and Dorking chickens take an evening stroll every night around the barns, investigating the new grass growth and the birds in an opposing yard. By their wandering nature, poultry are vulnerable to predation. Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to reduce your losses.

You either can eliminate predators by lethal methods or you can employ tactics that prevent their access to coops and pens. Since the former is nearly impossible and sometimes illegal, we’ll focus on strategies that deter predators, or keep them out entirely.  

The usual suspects

Before you can control predators of chickens, you must first identify them. Determine where, how and when birds are lost. What does the damage look like? Are the birds maimed, or is there just a pile of feathers left behind?

A simple, but not fail-safe, first method of deduction is to lay sand around the crime scene area. Smooth it out just before confining your birds for the night. Examine it in the morning for tracks. This requires perseverance because tracks can quickly be destroyed by your chickens, or predators may visit intermittently.

8/4/2016 9:46:12 PM

Twice now, we have found a Rat Snake in our hens nesting box. Is there anything we can put around or inside the coop to determine the snake from coming inside the coop?

2/29/2016 8:27:43 PM

Something got my chicken. Although I close my chickens in at night, last night I forgot to latch the door. This morning there were feathers and blood, and I found the body of 1 out of 6 of the chickens, hanging about 25 ft high in a nearby tree. What ever it was ate the head and guts and left the body hanging (most of the remaining feathers attached) with the neck wrapped several times around a branch. I'm new to farming so I was quite upset. I set a live trap and camera in case it comes back again tonight. Any idea of what type of predator would do this?

10/11/2015 11:26:13 AM

We just moved here to texas from phoenix,Az the house we bought is out in the country the people we bought the house from left us 24 free range chickens and 4 roosters we have 3.45 acres we have 2 chickens coops our chicken would go into the coops at night for the first week or too after we moved in now they will not go into either chicken coops at all they fly up into the trees at night we our down to 9 chickens now something is killing our chickens we bought a game camera set it up at night the only thing we seen on it are raccoons and a cat the only thing we find on the ground is just chicken feathers no body parts just a trail of feathers what else would eat the hole chicken and just leave a trail of feathers not sure I am city girl never lived in out in the country before ..Any Answers

9/27/2015 11:02:58 AM

My mother in law has lost all her caged chickens. Whatever it is comes in the night, and only kills the chickens, and leaves everything, and takes the head only what in the world would only take the head,and leave the body. This happened in Mexico all the neighbors have chickens also, and the same thing is happening to theirs also.

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