Chicken Predators: the big guys July 26, 2013

I got a call from a friend last week about chicken predators. “I was on my way to work,” he explained, “and I saw something—I wanted to let you know!”

It seems what he’d seen was a black bear–a big one!–probably a mile or two from our house, and headed in our general direction.

Are there any chicken predators around here?

Look out, you guys!

 

It was thoughtful of him to think of us and call; just in case, I carried a shotgun with me on my hike that day. I doubt my single shot gun would fell an angry, charging bear… but black bears are rarely angry and charging. They are usually shy and want to avoid humans. I thought the thunderous crack of a shotgun fired at the ground would help discourage a bear that advanced toward me if retreating didn’t work. I didn’t see the bear, however.  I didn’t really expect to.

If we see bears, it’s normally after the leaves are down, and we can see more easily down the mountain and into our hollow. Take a look at this video, which is normally how we see them: off in the forest minding their own business (although much further away!)

The bears stay far away from us, thankfully, and even though I see them regularly (once or twice a year?), the truth is that bears are no more common on my mountain than in other areas of the state. This is West Virginia, after all. The black bear is our state animal, and generally speaking West Virginians seem to have a casual but healthy appreciation for the big creatures. We name things after black bears. Lots of things. There are black bear lodges and resorts… black bear septic service, black bear insurance. In fact, Black Bear Burritos in Morgantown is practically our state restaurant… especially if you’ve ever been a college kid who likes live music and delicious, delicious eats. (They may have to grapple with Tudor’s Biscuit World for the honor.)

But the real bears, even when they’re plentiful, don’t usually bother humans… or even chickens. It’s a good thing, too! I don’t know how possible it would be to make a coop that is bear proof.  For that reason, we’re careful not to attract the local wildlife to our house. We don’t compost any actual food, not out here (just chicken manure and occasional lawn clippings), because there’s just too much wildlife we could attract. Also, if you have chickens, they’re pretty efficient eaters of tomato ends and such. We don’t have a lot of food waste.

But bears aren’t the only unusual chicken predators we have in West Virginia. We’ve seen the occasional bobcat.

And there are foxes.

… as well as coyotes.

It seems we do get more predators at this time of year every year because our apple and pear trees are getting closer to ripe, so the little animals come to eat the pears, and the bigger ones come to eat the little ones. Luckily, our chickens are generally safely locked in bed when these predators come around, so normally the bigger danger for us is not being able to sleep when members of the coyote pack determine to wail the song of their people outside the window.  That happened most recently two nights ago.

Imagine these sounds happening outside your bedroom window:

It sure can get loud when you live away from all the noises! I think the sounds of Manhattan traffic might be quieter, sometimes.

Still, all these thoughts of chicken predators got me to wondering, what are the biggest chicken predator worries in your state (or for those of you outside the US, what’s the biggest chicken predator in your area)? For most people in town, in the US, at least, the biggest worry is domestic dogs, but I’m hoping some people will share some stories in the comments about wild or unusual predators from their area.

Working at My Pet Chicken, we do hear those (sad) stories; one that stands out for me was from a person in Ohio who lost 6 of her 10 chickens to a mink, of all things. We hear stories from New England about losses from fisher cats, and from Colorado, we’ve seen photos of apparent coop damage from a mountain lion.

Please share your stories in the comments. And just as an EXTRA Friday treat, enjoy one of my favorite songs about our beautiful state, written and performed by Todd Burge:

 

26 Comments
Jenny July 26th, 2013

I live in a very populated area of Florida. In an older established neighborhood. Lots of houses, not lots of land or wildlife usually. We have 4 chickens in a fenced urban backyard. We lost one about a month ago to an Osprey which is a large bird of prey. Then two nights ago we heard a commotion and walked out back to find a Bobcat!

April July 26th, 2013

We have had to deal with dogs, opossum, and hawks going after our chickens. Two years ago we lost some young chicks and eggs to a very large black snake that was entering the coop through a small opening. The chicks would disappear without any trace, it took a while before we spotted the snake going for a broody hen to know what was going on.

John Blair July 26th, 2013

In Western Washington State, in rural areas, I’ve lost chickens to racoons (most common predator), we have long tailed weasels that will pick them off, possum’s that get them, skunks, and also occasionally either Bobcats or a Cougar.

Amanda July 26th, 2013

I live in upstate NY and the biggest problem we have had is with flying predators. We saw a hawk fly off with a chicken on day. we also have bald eagles and golden eagles but i have never caught one of those taking a chicken. also one of our own dogs broke out of the house one day while we were gone and killed 7 chickens and a turkey, we were thankful for the pond as safety for our ducks. we have also lost 1 duck to what we believe was a snapping turtle

Kathy July 26th, 2013

We may have more than one kind of predator working here. First night, 7 ducks gone with only one head and no feathers. next night a few (very few) feathers from 3 different birds, duck, guinea and rooster. next several nights ducks just disappear … gone. I really can’t tell how many chickens are gone but not very many show up at feeding time.

We’ve lost all but 4 of our ducks(out of a flock of about 20) two guinea hens, and multiple chickens. Likely more than 25 birds are gone. Most of the bodies are completely gone so no evidence of the kills. There have been parts of only 4 birds found. This morning about 5 am, there was commotion outside and the dogs were barking so I went out to see what’s getting our birds… my COWARDLY dogs remained on the patio while I checked things out. Hanna (my loyal and bravest dog) would not leave her bed! She wouldn’t even move when I pulled her by the collar. They usually take off after coyotes…so what is this predator they are so afraid of??? We are stumped. I need a Great Pyrenees dog.
I’m calling the Dept of wildlife today to see what we should do.

Garnet Brooks July 26th, 2013

I live in Memphis, TN. not even five minutes from center of downtown but the area is is over run with feral cats, dogs (not as much as used to be), raccoon, hawks, owls, falcons, fox, and I have seen bobcat and coyote less than a mile from my home. It truly amazes me the amount of wildlife that co-exist with humans. There are actually even deer stands erected between my house and the road leading to downtown. This is all a testament to how rural this area is even though I live IN the city proper… I have both chain-link and wood fence perimeter around my coop, the top is covered with hog wire sandwiched under and over wooden lattice…I have braided fence buried 10″ deep in a trough of quickcrete and treated 4×4 nailed to bottom of fence above ground level. I have lost two of chickens so far to my own dogs and both I feel were my own fault and thus attributed to the higher security measures….I hope all the work and extra security will protect my girls from any outside threat. OOOh as a last level, one which I have not put into place but have the means and the hardware if need be is an electric fence……

Lissa July 26th, 2013

For those of you who aren’t sure which predators you’re dealing with, checking out the Predators section of our Chicken Help pages might be of assistance. We talk about what kind of evidence is typical for predators to leave, so you may be able to figure out what’s going on!

George Castonguay July 26th, 2013

I live in central Massachusetts and we seem to have a day hunting bobcat causing problems with the feathery ones. A neighbor lost three ducks to the critter and there is good evidence that the chicken I lost was taken by a bobcat as well. My loss was right in the middle of the day with three men working in the area.

Jean Castle July 26th, 2013

Here in the mountains of W. NC we have the same big predators as in W.VA and Great Horned owls and big hawks can be a problem too. My worst predator by far, however, is raccoons- there are zillions of them here and they are very good at opening latches, can tear up chicken wire easily and if they cannot get in, they will pull whatever they can get thru the fence and start eating, More than once I have found a bird missing a wing or leg. They are almost as much a problem as stray dogs and I think sometimes other things get blamed for damage they do.

Jessica July 26th, 2013

This week we lost 4 pullets, 1 hen and 1 rooster to what we suspect was a dog. It also injured 2 hens who were able to get away, and one of our roosters is still loose. I’m furious, hurt, sad, discouraged…

We set up a trail cam and are building a new coop and run. I’m also in the market for a shotgun and a rifle.

Bonnie July 26th, 2013

I live in rural PA and we have many predators. Bears are usually after the chicken food as are the raccoons. Hawks and coyotes are the ones that have taken a couple, but we have seen our old rooster, Connie, chase coyotes away from his girls more than once!! Our two labs also keep it safer for the flock.

Lyndsie July 26th, 2013

We live North of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita and have the typical raccoons ransack our pens and pull at the wire. We’ve lost countless chickens this way. The most unusual thing we have discovered in our outdoor brooder is rats eating the chicks! These chicks had developed their “big girl feathers” and the weather was plenty warm outside so we placed them in a small coop next to the large run. We heard baby chicks screaming and found some babies with nothing but the head, spine, and feet. Locking them up at night and letting them out in the morning from a little “hen” house seems to be doing the truck, and a rat trap!

Marian Syrjamaki-Kuchta July 26th, 2013

One day, I heard crows sounding an alarm….definitely not their usual call. I hurried out to the backyard in time to see a red fox leaping away with a hen. I had my chicken run fencing very close to an apple tree with a low enough crotch that the fox leaped up there, down into the run, and back out again with a hen. Now I have the run situated further away from the trees, and some netting or tarps over the run to make it not so easy for a fox to get in.

I have had a skunk right in the hen house sniffing around the nest. One night, arriving home around 11 pm, I closed up the hen house chickens’ entrance door and then turned on lights and opened the people-sized door to collect eggs, and discovered I had blocked in a puzzled skunk who was sniffing around the now-closed exit door. I backed away and in a few minutes the skunk left by the people door.

Each year, I find skunks have tunneled beneath my hen house. I buried chicken wire around the perimeter of the hen house, but not all the way around. I need to complete that job and make sure there is wire barrier buried all around the base of the hen house. I just had a professional wildlife control service trap two of them this summer, and that gets expensive.

Once, when I let my chickens free range in my backyard, a golden retriever grabbed a chick and ran off.

And I once lost several hens to something….there were hen bodies strewn around the yard in the morning and my not-so-secure chicken tractor had been opened.

One summer, I had a few mallards. They were sort of a nuisance, I thought, having escaped from their enclosure, and I failed to secure them for the night. Bad choice. In the morning there were bodies in the flower beds. What predator took them, I don’t know. What predator kills, removes heads and leaves bodies behind?

I’ve had difficult lessons about keeping my birds safe in the back yard.

In Duluth, Minnesota

Dave Gibson July 26th, 2013

OK, I can’t resist. I live in upstate NY and had moved my boat to Lake Champlain. I soon noticed something odd. On the lake I previously sailed on, all the waterfowl would move out onto the water to escape predators. On Champlain, right at dusk, all the ducks and gulls would fly off to islands or trees.

Why? Champ, a plesiosaur like the Loch Ness monster. Don’t believe me? One more story.

I was sitting in the cockpit of my boat. The sun had set, and it was a perfectly calm evening. I could barely see. Then, a mother merganser with one baby came swimming by and I watched as they disappeared in the gloom. Suddenly, something very large went speeding by the boat leaving a large torpedo-type wake. There was a loud SPLASH, and then silence. Then the baby merganser, peep peep peep. Then another splash, and then silence.

Plesiosaurs hunted at dusk and dawn, and during full moons. They ate fish and waterfowl.

I know this isn’t related to chickens, but thought I’d share it anyway.

Stacy R. July 26th, 2013

I’m about 1300 feet in elevation in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California.

Hawks, foxes, raccoon, and coyotes are the biggest worries. I’ve heard a bear was sighted just a few miles from here, but I’m hoping it was an anomaly and not a common occurrence. My girls stay locked up in a large enclosed pen unless I’m going to be home all day, then I let them out to forage.

I’m looking into the electrified poultry netting to keep the four legged things out during the day, but there’s not much I can do about the hawks other than provide cover and lots of mylar ribbons tied to tree branches.

I love the [city] folks who insist that the chickens they buy be raised on pasture, but who object to pay the price that reflects the increased costs due to predation out on said pasture.

ruth July 26th, 2013

Luckily haven’t lost any yet. One day last fall the rooster was making a commotion and I walked out and spotted an old (as in smart) fox at the edge of the yard while the chickens were free-ranging. I got them back into the pen, and found the fox still hanging around, in the back yard. Had to shoo her away again.
Our chicken pen is on the other side of our dog yard (and the fence between the two is very strong and very tall!!). This probably serves to scare off any predators so far. They would have no idea that the dogs are actually separate from the chickens.
I live in Chester County, Pa, where we have lots of fox and raccoons. I have heard gossip that there may be coyotes nearby, but have not noticed any. The thought of coyotes is particularly scary – I don’t think they would be afraid of me, and they probably would not be frightened by the dogs. I am hoping not to encounter any.
I am surprised that we haven’t had any problems with hawks yet, as we have a lot of them. The chickens have a large paw-paw tree to hide in, and can go under the coop. The roosters (yes, we have two, and one is named Vera, so you know what happened there) are tough guys, and they take very good care of their girls.
So far so good, and keeping my fingers crossed!

Lissa July 26th, 2013

Sounds like you have a great set-up. Pennsylvania is beautiful. And yum, pawpaws! We planted some a few years ago, and just saw our first blooms this year…

lisa July 26th, 2013

I think my chicken coop (hardware cloth covered hoop house) may be bear proof. I have had my chickens for 6 years and no predators have penetrated it yet. There was a black bear laying on top of it one time though.

r July 28th, 2013

There is no infallible method to protect your chickens but I am really bothered by stories of countless fowl not given a bit of protection as is obvious by countless accounts of multiple losses. Bear, I understand, not easy to make completely safe. Free ranging, hawks and eagles have a great advantage, they need cover, make it if you don’t have natural cover. Almost everything else will be deterred by FENCING, locking up your birds at night, checking for snakes before they are so big they are killing full grown hens. hardware cloth, not chickenwire. You want an animal to give you eggs, meat maybe, we spend alot of money for those eggs and the lovely lawn ornaments that they are, you don’t like factory abuses, drugs and poisons that are used on regular basis but allow them to be dragged off and torn to shreds.

Kim July 28th, 2013

I have had bobcats, possums, and mostly raccoon to get my chickens. They can all get in very small holes and can climb. Have not lost any since tying one of my dogs near the coop at night. The biggest predator that got one of my hens and her 4-week-old chicks was a black bear. It tore into the cage they were in and ate all but one of the chicks. We know it was a black bear as we saw it standing in the yard popping it’s jaws at us. We scared it off and it has not been back, thank the Lord.

Debbie Vornholt July 31st, 2013

I can’t even imagine having to worry about bears! Raccoons and foxes are a huge problem in Kentucky. My chickens free range in my back yard which I have fenced but there are always the brave ones that go over the fence to roam around in the woods without a care in the world. There is a fox family that has moved in recently that not too far from where I live. They have been a huge problem this year and I have lost several of my girls and one rooster when they went over the fence. I have a large dog who likes to lay around in the back yard and I haven’t lost a single chicken in the fenced area since I got him over 2 years ago. He actually just showed up one day and decided to stay. We couldn’t find his owner. He has been a addition in my fight to keep predators from taking any of my chickens..

Melanie July 31st, 2013

Yes indeed…our biggest, the one I worry most about…bears. My aviary and coop are impenetrable to any other kind of predator..except for a bear. Hardware cloth certainly can’t stop them, and if one wanted to, and had enough time, he would easily be able to rip down the aviary, and tear those walls off my double walled coop. The whole setup is only 15 feet from my bedroom window…and although we sleep very lightly, and have a very alert Aussie, those bears are sneaky, and we don’t hear them. I will say, so far with my new coop setup, they have only gotten as far as the yard, and we’ve scared them away. We lost two girls last year, and my coop was demolished, as well as any sleep patterns we may have had. We are now on edge at night, and certainly don’t sleep as well, but as we love the girls, we will continue to come up with ideas to keep the bears out. And no..an electric fence is not doable…I live on solid granite

Mary Ellen July 16th, 2014

I live in NH and we have the typical hawks, raccoons and and fox but the surprising one was when 4 chicks went missing and the next night we found a skunk in the pen where we were keeping the babies!

Jeanne July 17th, 2017

I live in Eastern Oregon and started missing chickens. One day I went out to find the white feathers of my Brahma all over the ground. Just on the other side of the barb wire fence about 50 feet was a fox eating her head off. I got within 30 feet before he took off. Missing 3 more chickens. Foxes had babies now we have a problem Houston! heard a commotion when I was having morning coffee went out back and there is a fox at my door chasing a chicken. Foxes have to go!

Dianne Tabor July 17th, 2017

I lost my entire flock this year of 28 chickens and chicks I hatched,most rare breed too,a young black bear started killing them early this spring,I believe he was attracted by the 25 bird feeders my neighbor had string across her yard!He got 6 the first time,and I tried to keep him out,but he knocked over my small coop,and killed all my babies I had hatched,then recently he got my last two hens and a chick,I am now chickensless.My husband took all my fencing down and won’t let me get anymore.Very sad!

Lissa July 19th, 2017

So sorry Dianne! That must have been heartbreaking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *