Whether your chickens are free-range or not, backyard chicken predators are a big danger to your flock. They can come from the air, from the ground, even underground! And once a backyard chicken predator finds your flock, it won’t stop. They’ll keep coming back until you get rid of them.
Here are the top most dangerous backyard chicken predators, how to identify them and how to get rid of them.
Dogs – The most common predator
The most common backyard chicken predator is a familiar face: dogs. Whether they’re wild dogs or a dog that has escaped from your neighbor, they may attack your chickens just for fun.
Fortunately, they’re easy to identify them since they’ll mostly attack during the day. Plus since they’re big it’s easier to keep an eye on them before they become a threat. Not all dogs will attack your flock, some may even protect it! If you’re introducing a dog to your garden, make sure there’s a barrier in between the dog and the flock. That way it’ll be easier and safer to train him to protect the flock.
Another backyard chicken predator that is yet again a regular pet. Unlike the dogs however, all cats have instincts to kill and eat birds and other small prey. Although cats are small and may not be able to bring down a big chicken, they’ll often leave chickens wounded.
Cats are also agile and flexible so they can slide into your flock’s area if it’s not sturdy enough. As we said before, a grown chicken may be able to defend itself against a cat, but a chick won’t. If they can’t break in they usually wait till a chick gets close enough to the fence for them to grab them. If your coop has been attacked by a cat you’ll notice chicks missing or a chick’s remaining close to the fence since they don’t eat the feet and wings.
Another chicken predator that loves to prey on chicks, rats will feast on your chickens’ food, eggs and may even attack fully grown chickens! If your flock is under attack from these nasty predator you’ll be able to notice by their feces around the coop, missing eggs and chicks and wounded chickens.
You’ll need to look out for two types of backyard chicken predator birds: diurnal and nocturnal.
The birds that will prey on your flock during the day are usually hawks, like the red-tailed hawk. Hawks will almost always kill their prey on impact and take it somewhere else to eat, leaving no clues. The only indication is usually a missing bird and sometimes a few feathers. Since they aren’t really big they’ll usually attack smaller birds, like bantam chickens or young ones, but leave big chickens alone. In some rare cases however they may attack and eat a bird on site.
If a bird is attacking your flock at night it’ll most likely be a great horned owl, since most other owls don’t bother poultry. They’ll usually attack birds on site. However, since by the time owls are out your chickens are usually in their coop, you won’t usually have to worry about them, as long as your coop doesn’t have big gaps or your chickens are in a barn or some other building.
Most predatory birds are protected species so unlike other predators you won’t be able to attack back.
Raccoons are another common chicken predator. They’re vicious and they’ll attack on site at night, killing more than one bird. They also go for eggs, eating them not too far away from a nesting box. Raccoons will often kill a bird and take it outside of the coop to eat it, then come back for another bird. If they can’t reach the chickens, they’ll often try to grab one through the fence and bite off whatever they can grab.
Foxes – The classic backyard chicken predator
The most common type of fox that will prey on your chickens is the red-tailed fox. They’ll usually attack a bird and take it away to eat it in a safe place, usually a den. Like with hawks, they’ll leave very little evidence behind. Usually all you can find are some scattered feathers or some drops of blood.
Foxes also like eggs, breaking them and licking the content off. You’ll most likely be able to find the egg shells in their usual place.
Another chicken predator that will leave no clues are coyotes. They’re good climbers and can jump up to 8 feet. Although you may see them during the day they’ll usually hunt in pairs at night and they’ll keep coming back until there are no more chickens to feast on.
Usually the only ways to identify them are by their paw prints since they’ll eat the bird elsewhere.
Although more rare, bobcats can become chicken predators, specially if you live close to their natural habitats. If they decide to eat the bird on site, you’ll find a carcass with a head bitten off and claw marks. They’re very agile and flexible and, although they may look not much bigger than a house cat, it can be very dangerous to confront them.
Skunks attack both small chickens and eggs but will leave big birds alone. They’ll kill the bird and eat it on site and attack other birds as well. They may not leave their telltale odor behind tho, but even if they don’t you can identify their attacks quite easily since they will typically eat all the eggs they can find along with the birds.
Another backyard chicken predator that loves eggs are snakes. As you know, they’ll swallow their prey whole so they mostly go for eggs and small, young chickens. If you have heat lamps they’ll like to curl up and rest underneath one after eating.
Identifying them can be hard but you must remember that they’ll need a hole in your coop not only big enough to enter, but big enough to exit after they’ve eaten.
Protecting your flock from backyard chicken predators
Your best way to protect your chickens is a sturdy coop. Avoid normal chicken wire and instead replace it with hardware cloth. To make your coop more resistant you may want to install the hardware cloth underneath the coop to avoid snake attacks and other digging predators. Or better yet, get a coop that’s raised off the floor!
Make your chickens’ common area unappealing to predators. They typically will avoid hunting in open spaces with no places to hide so make sure the grass is cut and your coop isn’t below a tree or any other possible hiding space. Use hanging feeders to avoid attracting rats and other prey that will attract predators.
You can also protect your flock by attacking back with a dog or a rooster, specially if you have free-ranging poultry. We’ve recommended dogs before and roosters will protect their flock relentlessly, since that’s their main purpose other than mating. They’ll attack any chicken predator, alert their hens (and you!) and defend their flock with their life.
You may feel tempted to install motion-activated lights but chicken predators will get used to them pretty quickly. Instead you can use these predator lights from Amazon. They’re made to imitate eyes’ shine and since they’re solar you can forget about charging them.
Finally, do your research. Check what type of predators are most likely to attack your chickens and be prepared for them. Hopefully, if your coop is ready, you won’t ever have to lose a single bird to a backyard chicken predator.