Everything for your backyard chickens, from food to bedding.Articles may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.

How to Identify Common Chicken Predators

Chicken predators include weasels, foxes, raccoon, hawks, eagles and even dogs. Do you know how to identify which predator you're dealing with?

Not long after you start keeping chickens, every predator in the neighborhood will have your coop on their radar. 

In fact, one of the hardest things about keeping chickens is keeping them safe from predators, but if you can figure out what you're faced with, it can make discouraging, trapping or otherwise dealing with them far easier.

This is clearly not a topic that is pleasant to think - or read - about but as chicken keepers, our responsibility is to keep our chickens safe. No matter what.  They're so vulnerable and everything wants to eat chickens! 

And even if you keep your chickens safe in an enclosed run, you still don't want wild animals hovering around them - day or night. 

Your chickens will get stressed, raccoons will actually try to pull chickens right through the run fencing, and many wild animals can spread disease, not to mention be a potential threat to your children, small dogs or cats.

While most predators including raccoon, coyotes, and owls are mostly nocturnal, there are plenty of other predators out during the daylight hours including fox, dogs and hawks, so if your chickens free range, they are potentially at risk.

And even nocturnal predators will venture out during the day when they're hungry and desperate, or if they sense a free meal.

We have trail cams all over our property and around our chicken coop and it's really amazing to see the predators that are lurking. Most of these photos are actually from our trail cams.

Knock on wood, we haven't had any losses since moving here to Maine, but there's always that chance when you free range. 

But the first line of defense is knowing what kind of predators you're potentially going to be dealing with.

How to Identify Common Chicken Predators

Some basic clues might lead you to identifying the predator that's killing your chickens.

Chickens that Go Missing Completely

If a chicken simply disappears, your culprit might very well be one of the following:

Bobcat

Coyote

Fox

Mink



If You're Missing Eggs or Baby Chicks

If your eggs or baby chicks start to go missing, then I would point a finger at one of these predators:

Crow

Skunk

Snake

Rat


If All You're Left with is Chicken Parts

If you find partially eaten chickens, your culprit might be:

Dog

Opossum

Owl

Raccoon


Weasels and Foxes and Hawks Oh My! 

Here is a summary of some of the predators you may have to worry about where you live.  

Tracks or pawprints in the snow, visual sightings, night vision cameras or, sadly, examining dead chicken carcasses are the best ways to determine which predator is causing trouble. 


Bears

Bears, either black or grizzly, are found in forested areas in almost every US state.

Hunting Style: Alone

Telltale Signs: Feed containers broken into

Trap Bait: N/A

Fun Fact | Bears are not generally meat eaters, although in the spring after awaking from hibernation they sometimes will eat small mammals and birds for protein. But usually bears seem content eating only berries, fruit and fish as long as they are plentiful.


Bobcat/Lynx/Cougars/Mountain Lions

Bobcat and lynx are 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, salmon and hang shiny things in the trap

Fun Fact  | About twice as large as a house cat, a bobcat won't generally mess with your dog. They're looking for food, not a fight, for the most part.


Cats (feral) 

Feral cats found throughout the US in rural and suburban areas alike.


Hunting Style: Alone, will return each night

Telltale Signs: Missing bantams or chicks, partially eaten chickens with the wings and feathers left behind
 
Trap Bait: Canned cat food, tuna or sardines

Fun Fact | Feral cats will normally leave full-grown birds alone if there are other food options, and your well-fed house cat won't be a threat to your chickens, although I would keep baby chicks protected. A cat roaming your property isn't a bad thing because it will keep the rodent population under control.


Coyotes

Coyotes are 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 

Fun Fact | Coyotes usually hunt just after dusk or just before dawn and will try to gain access to runs and coops by digging or chewing.


Crows/Ravens

Crows, ravens and magpies are found throughout the US


Hunting Style: In groups during the day

Telltale Signs: Steal eggs or baby chicks

Trap Bait: N/A

Fun Fact  | On the plus side, crows will chase hawks away from your run.

Dogs

Dogs, both domestic and stray, are a threat to chickens and can found in abundance throughout the US in all types of settings

Hunting Style: Alone or in packs during the day

Telltale Signs: Indiscriminate mutilation with entire flocks maimed and killed, killing for sport

Trap Bait: N/A

Fun Fact | Dogs will tear down fencing and doors, chew and dig to get into runs or coops. They are the  #1 killer of backyard chickens.


Fisher Cats

Fisher cats are found throughout much of the US, although 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 

Fun Fact  | Fishers are the only natural predators in the wild that will take on a porcupine.


Foxes

Foxes are 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 (but fox are notoriously hard to trap because they are so wary)

Fun Fact  | 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 and Eagles

Raptors are found throughout the US.

Hunting Style: Alone during the day, or sometimes with juvenile young

Telltale Signs: Feathers, missing hens, puncture wounds on the backs of hens

Trap Bait: N/A

Fun Fact  | A hawk usually won't actually carry off a chicken, but will start eating it alive right on the ground. An eagle will carry off a chickens. Unfortunately, both hawks and eagles are protected by federal law and not allowed to be shot, so you'l have to figure something else out to keep your flock safe.


Opossums

Opossums are 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, chickens with bites on the breast or thigh

Trap Bait: Apples, vegetables, sardines, bacon, canned cat food

Fun Fact  | Possums really do play dead, but will hiss and bare their teeth when cornered, and can transmit disease to livestock. 

This little guy was prowling around the run and left some pretty unmistakable prints in the mud one night.  He was successfully captured and then sent along his way with a stern warning! 


Owls


Owls are found throughout the US.

Hunting Style: Alone at night

Telltale Signs: Feathers, missing or headless hens

Trap Bait: N/A

Fun Fact  | Owls will enter barns and coops through windows and openings as small as one square foot. They will land on the ground and walk right into open coops.

Raccoons

Raccoon are found throughout the US in rural and suburban areas.

Hunting Style: Alone or as a family group at night

Telltale Signs: Feathers, missing eggs, eaten chicken breasts and/or heads

Trap Bait: Canned tuna, honey-covered veggies, corn, bacon, marshmallows

Fun Fact  | Raccoons will return to your chicken coop on a schedule, usually every 5-7 days. And remember, they are smart and can open all sorts of deadbolts and latches with their paws. They also love to try to pull chickens out through the fencing.


Rats

Rats are found in abundance throughout the US.

Hunting Style: Alone or in groups mainly at night

Telltale Signs: Missing chicks or pullets, missing eggs, chickens missing feathers or bite marks on legs

Trap Bait: Cheese, cereal or oats, peanut butter, peppermint candy

Fun Fact  | Rats sometimes will chew beaks, bite legs or eat feathers of sleeping chickens and will tryto pull chicks and smaller bantams down their holes.

Snakes


Snakes can be found throughout the US.

Hunting Style: Alone by day

Telltale Signs: Missing chicks or small pullets, missing eggs

Trap Bait: N/A but sulfur and cayenne pepper sprinkled around the run and coop can help repel snakes. 

Fun Fact  | Even nonvenomous snakes are sometimes constrictors that can squeeze small chickens to death.


Skunks


Skunks are 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

Fun Fact  | You may or may not smell the skunk's odor after it has been in the coop.


Weasels/Mink/Marten


Weasels and mink found throughout the US, usually near a water source.

Hunting Style: Usually alone at night, although sometimes families will hunt together

Telltale Signs: Missing intestines or carcasses neatly piled or lined up, killing for sport

Trap Bait: Meat scraps, fish, liver

Fun Fact  |  Weasels and mink can fit through a hole that is only 1-inch in diameter.

Wolves


Wolves are generally only found in the Great Lakes area and in the West.

Hunting Style: In a pack

Telltale Signs: Missing chickens

Trap Bait: Fresh Meat

Fun Fact  | 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.


So now that you have some idea of what might be after your chickens and the telltale signs that they've been around, what to do about the predator...

Weasels and Foxes and Hawks Oh My! 


The best defense against predators includes the following tips.

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).

Be sure run fencing is sunk into the ground a couple of inches to prevent nocturnal digging and that your run is also covered on top.

Install NiteGuard solar powered blinking predator lights around the coop and the run to deter predators from even trying to gain access.


Set up Trail Cams

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, so that will give you advance notice that they're prowling and you might not want to let your chickens out to free range for a couple of days.  

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.

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.


Look for Paw Prints

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.

After a snowfall, be sure to get out there and walk around you coop and run to see what's been lurking.

We're always looking for paw prints in the snow to now only figure out what's out there, but how close they're coming to our chicken coop. Here are some coyote prints my husband ran across in the woods.


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.

Additional Security Measures

Predator pee is a really effective daytime deterrent. Since wolves are the apex predator, I spray Wolf Pee around our coop and run to try to deter all the predators. 

Since chickens and ducks don't have a great sense of smell, it doesn't seem to bother them one bit.

Additional security measures might include:


  • a rooster
  • 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
  • scattering dog feces around the perimeter of the run 
  • human hair or urine placed around the coop and run area
  • alpacas will guard chickens against foxes
  • donkeys will run coyotes off your property.  

Trapping or Shooting Predators

Before you 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. 

So it's important to check with your local law enforcement, animal control or game wardens to find out what the law are where you live. And remember that by removing a certain type of predator, you're leaving that territory open to another to move in. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know. 

If you do set traps, be sure your trap is the correct size and baited with the proper bait for the predator you are trying to catch. Live traps like the ones HavaHart sells are the most humane, but be sure you have a plan in place because in some areas it's illegal to trap and release wildlife elsewhere. 

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.

For more information on Coop and Run Predator Proofing, read here and here.

For more examples of predator prints in the snow.


Pin This! 

©2012 by Fresh Eggs Daily, Inc. All rights reserved.

preorder my cookbook

chewysupplements