Chicken Predators – What You Need to Know

Humans aren’t the only animal that enjoys a delicious chicken dinner. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, mink, owls, and some hawks also find chickens a meaty, easy-to-catch meal. Discovering chickens killed by a mink or carried off by a fox is frustrating. Fortunately, predators can be foiled.

Predators are everywhere. No flock is completely safe from some carnivorous species that would like to eat them. Raccoons and domestic dogs probably kill more chickens than any other animals and live in both rural and urban areas. Raccoons are surprisingly abundant even in New York City!

Often the first reaction a flockowner has when birds are killed is to seek revenge.   Shotguns and traps are sometimes used but killing a chicken-eating fox or raccoon can be both illegal and dangerous. Preventing predation is far more effective than shooting or trapping an animal or two.

Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl. The best defense against night shift chicken snatchers is a sturdy tight coop. Chickens come inside at dusk and are almost comatose when sleeping. Once they get inside predators can easily pluck a plump hen off the roost.   The solution is making entry nearly impossible. That can be easier said than done, since a mink can ooze through a one-inch diameter hole while weasels can fit through even smaller cracks.

Some ways to keep predators out of the coop include:

  • At dusk and when you plan to be away until after dark, close and securely latch all doors, especially the pop hole door.
  • Cover all windows with sturdy wire mesh. Raccoons can tear through hexagonal chicken wire, so stronger wire is essential. One half inch square hardware cloth thwarts raccoons and even keeps mink out.
  • Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or around doors with concrete, caulking, wire, or expanding foam.
  • Watch for signs of animals digging tunnels under the coop walls. A concrete coop floor prevents this type of entry, but wire mesh placed on a dirt floor beneath litter and tacked to the coop’s side walls also works.
  • Eliminate predator hiding places near the coop. Piles of firewood, debris, old vacant sheds, and brush piles offer predators a safe haven as they approach. The fewer places they have to hide the less likely they are to invade.
  • Install a sensor activated light that turns on as a hungry raccoon approaches.

Preventing daytime predators from snatching chickens is more challenging as the birds are often outside. Dogs are probably the major daytime chicken killers, but several species of hawks may also prey on hens. Mink, foxes, and weasels are occasionally active during daylight hours but raccoons, opossums, and skunks rarely are. Preparing the run in two ways will reduce predation.

First, confine the flock with a sturdy fence that keeps chickens in and dogs out. Usually a stout four-foot-tall fence will prevent heavy chicken breeds from flying over it while excluding dogs and foxes. Light breed chickens are adept flyers and a six or eight-foot-tall fence may be needed to confine them.

Second, provide overhead protection. A sure-fire way to keep raptors from snatching an occasional chicken is to cover the run with wire mesh. Small outdoor runs can feature a roof that also keeps rain and snow off the ground. Chickens, like rabbits and other prey species, recognize that danger can come from the sky. They are safer when the run provides some overhead cover. A few shrubs planted in the run give chicken’s places to safely loiter beneath their intertwined branches. A picnic table placed in the run also gives birds a safe haven from the bright sun and overhead predators.

Predators are crafty and often catch chickens and their owners by surprise. Months can go by with no loss and then many birds can be killed in just a short time. Preventing predators from accessing chickens is the best way to keep them safe.

Predator-proofing your coop and run

Keep your flock safe by locking them in the coop at night

In a recent article we wrote about how to identify predators that harm your flock. Now that you’ve identified your potential predator or predators, you can begin fixing the weak links in and around the coop and run.

First, let’s establish some basic ground rules to keep your flock safe:

  • No outside roosting at night. Your flock is most vulnerable in the dark.
  • Train your birds to come back to the coop every night. This may be natural for most chickens, but if your flock fails to return to the roost, simply keep them in the coop with no access to the run for at least a week. It shows the birds that this is their ‘home’. When doing so, make sure the temperature inside the coop does not exceed 70 degrees (F).
  • Secure the coop. Do this by building it off the ground about 12 inches. This discourages skunks, snakes and rats from hiding under the coop and stealing your precious eggs.
  • Keep the coop enclosed in a poultry run with poultry wire, electric netting, or wire mesh. Consider also covering the top with poultry netting. 

Mesh fencing material is optimal material. Small (½ inch by ½ inch) mesh  will deter creatures and snakes.
Electric fencing can be used for dogs, raccoons or coyotes. 
Hardware cloth can be buried under the fence around the perimeter of your chicken run to prevent digging predators. 

  •  A coop nightlight that stays on after dark will help keep your chickens safe. Chickens do need time for rest, though, so make sure the light is not shining directly into the coop, or opt for motion detector lights outside the coop. 
  • Having a watchful eye, such as a chicken-friendly dog or protective rooster, can also keep your girls safe — and alert you to potential predators.
  • Secure feed. Feed/food scraps attract predators, encouraging them to break into the run. Making sure no feed is left in that area will help prevent pests such as mice and rats. It’s best to store feed in a sturdy, metal garbage can with a tight-fitting lid, which will also help keep out moisture.

Finally, never underestimate the unpredictability of a hungry wild animal. Protect your flock, but never put yourself in physical danger.