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Chicken Predators

As a chicken owner, you will soon find you aren't the only one who likes chickens! There all kinds of creatures that will soon take a keen interest in your coop. Chicken predators are usually not that big of an issue for commercial operations as the birds are under lock and key all the time. To the backyard flock owner it is more of a concern. In the more urban areas, the biggest dangers are probably going to be dogs, cats, and your own neighbors. While in rural areas, wildlife will probably be more of a concern. The suburbs can probably have both problems. If you free-range your birds, predator protection is an absolute must! Extra care must be taken to ensure your birds do not end up as someone's lunch. Here is a little table of the common predators in the New Hampshire area (that will most certainly differ in other locations), how you can identify them via their hunting method, and what the best defense is. I have also listed a secondary defense you might want to try, or use as a supplement.
Grey Fox Patrolling the perimeter at night. Taken with infrared game camera.
The only predators that I have personal experience with are foxes and hawks. Foxes have cleaned me out of about 20 birds over the years. Most of the time the chickens are simply gone except for a pile of feathers. Once, when I surprised one "in the act" it took off and left a chicken with a broken neck. I believe they come in kill everything at once, and then cart them off, one or two at a time. After I notice some chickens have disappeared I check the perimeter and usually, I can find where the fox dug in (and on occasion) there will be some telltale feathers here too. I have seen hawks "attempt" to grab a bird here and there but never successfully. I chalk this up to the fact that the free-range area is heavily treed and I have areas with netting. As such, this sort of defeats the hawks "swooping in fast" ability as they have to negotiate overhead obstacles. After the first hunting attempt by the hawk, the chickens freak out and run for cover, so the hawks generally only get one chance.



From my experiences, I feel you are better off with building better fencing than trying to eradicate (hunt/shoot/trap) predators. Couple reasons for this:

1) Good fencing will protect 24/7,365 days a year. Even if you successfully remove predators, more will usually move in eventually. You will only notice the problem when your birds start disappearing. I think it is better to invest in building a good fence and be done with it. Some predators are particularly cunning and persistent (e.g. foxes/coyote) and so may continue to attack/challenge/breach your fencing. In these cases, trapping may be an option, but it should be a supplement to, and not a replacement for, good fencing.

2) Trapping is difficult to do, time consuming, error prone (catching non-target species), potentially dangerous/cruel, and the legality of it varies from state to state. You need to CAREFULLY check your local regulations before you start trapping anything. In New Hampshire, the property owners tend to have the lion's share of the rights. In the more Socialist states (like Massachusetts), the government tends have strict controls on this, and there is often little a property owner can do regarding trapping and you just need to sit by and watch your livestock disappear. So fencing is absolutely critical in these circumstances.

My particular fencing strategy is designed to contain both Chickens and Goats (as they share an area) and also exclude everything listed in the table. You can refer to my "Goat-Proof fence" page for details, but in a nutshell, my fence is as follows:

1) 4X4 PT posts buried three feet (no concrete needed, but it doesn't hurt particularly for corners), spaced at 10 foot intervals

2) 18 gauge welded wire fencing 5 foot high, fixed to the post and rails with ¾" staples every 6" or so with a few 1.5" staples as extra security on the posts.

3) 2X4 Top and bottom rails

4) In areas where I keep chicks, I add a foot tall section of standard 1" hex chicken wire to both keep the chicks from sneaking through the wire and to discourage raccoons from reaching in. I sometimes use two foot sections of chicken wire and bury a foot of it underground to discourage digging.

5) I also have a 10' by 50' area completely enclosed in overhead olefin poultry netting to give the chickens some overhead cover at least in some area.

I have probably close to a mile of fencing, so I have 1 and 2 (above) at all areas and only reinforce the most critical areas (near the coop, where I keep the chicks just out of the brooder) with 3, 4, and 5. I have never yet had a predator breech my fence with all five characteristics.

All that was left of my barred rock hen, just a few feathers stuck around the fence where the fox squeezed under.
Predator
Eats
Clues
Most Dangerous
Human
Recommended Defense
Optional Defense
Adults, Chicks, Eggs
Many birds missing with no trace. Birds missing from secure areas (i.e open gates, etc.)
24 Hours
Padlocks, motion sensing lights, guard dog, basic burglar-proofing, etc.
Notify animal control. Consider live trapping for strays.
Dog
Adults, Chicks
Many birds mauled, few/no signs of birds actually eaten.
24 Hours
Exclusion fencing
Discreet infrared game camera. Take pictures, notify police. Make website and post picture to embarass thieving neighbors
Cat
Chicks, rarely Adults
Chicks missing, adults may have feathers missing, but rarely killed except by aggressive/feral cats. Birds rarely eaten by house pets. Strays may consume chicks.
Night
Exclusion fencing
Notify animal control. Consider live trapping for strays.
Mink/Weasel
Adults, Chicks, Eggs
Many birds killed by small bites on body. Carcasses may be piled, some heads may be eaten.
Night
Exclusion fencing (tight weave)
Live trapping or kill trapping with conibear or coil spring trap sets. Snaring for experienced trappers (check local regulations).
Raccoon
Adults, Chicks, Eggs
Several birds killed. Heads and crops may be eaten. Live birds with missing limbs as coons may reach through wire to pull legs.
Night
Exclusion fencing (tight weave), with overhead cover (roof or wire netting). Raccoons can easily scale fences.
Live trapping or kill trapping with conibear or coil spring trap sets. Snaring for experienced trappers (check local regulations).
Hawks/Owls
Adults, Chicks
Chicks missing, eggs broken and consumed.
Hawks: Day
Owls: Night
Exclusion fencing (tight weave), with overhead cover (wire or nylon netting)
Wires strung across encosure with streamers. Scarecrows have limited effectivenss.
Ravens
Chicks, Eggs
One bird killed/missing. Head eaten, birds huddled and hiding under overhead cover.
Day
Exclusion fencing (tight weave), with overhead cover (wire or nylon netting). Note: Ravens have been known to open simple latches!
Shooting. Ravens are extremely intelligent and won't easily be fooled by scarecrows and other similar "anti-bird" mechanisms.
Opossum
Adults, Chicks, Eggs
One or two birds killed. Only abdomen eaten.
Night
Exclusion fencing (tight weave)
Live trapping or kill trapping with conibear or coil spring trap sets. Snaring for experienced trappers (check local regulations).
Fox/Coyote
Adults, Chicks
One to many birds missing or killed. Often piles of feathers left behind. Birds not taken will have broken necks and/or feathers missing from neck.
Night/ear ly AM
Exclusion fencing (tight weave). Coyotes are notorious for digging under fences and can chew through light gauge wire. Use 18 gauge or heavier for fencing.
Live trapping or kill trapping with conibear or coil spring trap sets. Snaring for experienced trappers (check local regulations). Canines are notoriously difficult to trap.