Having chickens means eventually having interested predators.
Chickens are one of the best and most rewarding animals on the farm. Unfortunately, they’re also one of the most vulnerable. Many species of predators will go after your chickens. Exactly which predators you have to deal with will vary with your location and environment, but there are a few that tend to be somewhat universal threats.
Common North American Predators
Raccoons, skunks, and opossums are some of the most common culprits in poultry attacks. They’re known for taking chicks and eggs, but in some cases will also take a full-grown bird. Snakes are also common predators and can enter a coop through a small opening. Most of the time, a snake will grab an egg or a chick and simply disappear after eating it, unless the snake becomes too engorged after its meal to escape the way it came in.
Another predator with a range through most of the United States is the mink. Minks are brutal, efficient killers. They can slip through a small opening, in some cases no larger than a quarter. Unlike other predators that kill and take what they need to eat, a mink, once it starts killing, will go on a spree just to kill, often not even eating the dead birds.
Fortunately, most of the steps that will keep mink away from your chickens will also keep other predators at bay.
- Keep the area around your coop clean and mowed. Don’t provide cover for predators, and don’t leave trash or old food lying around that can attract predators and scavengers.
- Shut your birds in the coop at night, but make sure there are no cracks or openings a predator can slip through or reach through to get to your chickens.
- Elevate your coop off the ground. This not only prevents rodents from tunneling in, but also minks, which can follow rodents through a tunnel to gain entrance to a coop. Minks are good diggers themselves, and can tunnel under a coop wall and into a coop that’s on a dirt floor.
- Electric fencing can help keep predators away. An electric fence provides a shock that’s not strong enough to kill, but is enough to be a deterrent. There are many types of electrified poultry netting that can make a safe zone around a coop or chicken tractor.
If deterrents fail, your next step may need to be more extreme. Check with your local Fish and Wildlife Department before taking lethal action. Some areas prohibit trapping and killing minks. It’s also illegal in some areas to trap and relocate animals. Even if you remove one threat, chances are another one will replace it.
They also come from above
We often focus so much on ground-dwelling predators that we forget to take into account threats from overhead.
A “chicken hawk” isn’t a specific species of bird of prey, but rather a catchall term for three species that are known to prey on poultry: the red-tailed hawk, the Cooper’s hawk, and the sharp-shinned hawk. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are slightly smaller raptors that are more likely to take smaller birds, such as chicks or bantams, but a full-grown red-tailed hawk can easily make off with an adult large-breed bird.
Owls will also prey on chickens, but since owls most commonly hunt at night, keeping chickens shut in at night will protect them. Owls are notorious for eating just the heads of their prey, so if you find a headless bird outside the coop in the morning, an owl is often responsible. Ducks are a favorite food of owls, and since ducks often aren’t enclosed at night like chickens are, they can be especially vulnerable to owls.
Hawks and eagles will hunt during the day. Eagles tend to hunt at dawn and throughout the day, while hawks will hunt during the day and into dusk.
As frustrating as losing chickens to birds of prey can be, resist the temptation to take matters into your own hands. Birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it’s a federal offense to harass, capture, harm, or kill an eagle or hawk.
Preventing Bird Attacks on your Birds
One of the best deterrents to birds of prey is, of course, to keep your birds confined in a covered run. Using highly visible coated mesh works great as a top, and since birds of prey can see it clearly, they’ll be less likely to become entangled in it and injure themselves.
Roosters If letting chickens roam free is part of your farm philosophy, some risk is inevitable. Roosters are necessary for making fertile eggs, but they can also serve as an early warning system for your hens. If roosters see a raptor circling, they’ll alert their flock to take cover. Chicken tractors might be a good compromise between safety and foraging.
Reflectors Raptors may also be deterred by shiny objects hung in various places, moving in the wind. Simple things hung around the chicken area that will sparkle and reflect light, such as old CDs, may give predators pause. But be warned: Birds of prey are smart, and can quickly become habituated to reflective items, so move them around frequently.
Netting Covering your poultry runs with netting is a great way to keep your chickens in, and keep predators out. Netting is pretty inexpensive and an easy deterrent. You can tie some reflectors to the netting to warn off raptors and netting can also keep out or at least slow down opossums.
While it’s frustrating to lose a chicken to an eagle or hawk, keep in mind that they’re considered a keystone species in many areas — meaning if they’re removed from an ecosystem, an ecological disaster won’t be far behind. Hawks and eagles prey on an incredible number of rodents, rabbits, and other animals that, without predators, would quickly overpopulate and cause far more harm to crops, gardens, and the environment.
Taking a few simple steps to deter predators both above and on the ground can help you sleep easier at night, and help keep Mother Nature in balance.