8 Common Predators of Your Free-Range Chickens
Dogs are a very real predator threat to chickens based on their sheer numbers alone. In many cases, they are a family pet or living in the neighborhood. They have easy access to chickens from their familiarity, ability to scale a fence, and chances of finding a property or garden open. A sturdy perimeter fence goes a long way in keeping dogs out and away from your chickens.
The subject of domestic dogs and chickens is a tricky topic. Not all dogs are predators of chickens. Some dogs share a garden and are totally comfortable with free-range chickens. They’re happy to guard their family’s chickens from any intruders.
Dogs usually chase and roughhouse chickens, either shaking them and breaking their necks or chasing them into danger. Dogs don’t really kill chickens for food, but more for the chase. Dogs as predators leave a big mess of feathers, sometimes blood, and deep puncture marks in a chicken’s body. Dogs can pick up a dead chicken and take it to another yard or spot, or discard it where it was killed.
Raccoons are a real threat to chickens. They’re found throughout the United States in urban and rural settings. Raccoons are active at night, and they don’t necessarily need to live near water. Raccoons eat chickens and eggs. Raccoons usually kill several chickens at once, and are ruthless in tearing chickens apart. They can carry diseases such as rabies and parasites.
Raccoons are cunning when accessing chickens. They have the ability to scale fences, open chicken coop doors, and tear through chicken wire. (Chicken wire is a chicken-resistant solution to protect plants, and not a viable material to protect chickens from predators.)
Coyotes are the size of a small dog and can run in packs or as lone animals. They’re nocturnal mainly, but can be seen any time. The distinctive noise of coyotes killing at night is chilling. Coyotes used to be found in rural areas, but have adapted to more urban neighborhoods as urban development has eliminated their habitat.
They can feed on rabbits, domestic cats, small dogs, and chickens. Coyotes scale fences, and they’ve been known to violently break into a chicken coop. Coyotes try and break into secure outside pens and chicken coops as well as surprise attack free-ranging chickens. Coyotes eat chickens and can eat their eggs.
Foxes are found throughout most of North America, mainly in rural areas. They hunt mainly late in the evening and during early morning hours. Foxes will enter a chicken coop if the door is open after dark, and can dig to access a coop. They can also prey on free-ranging chickens.
Foxes generally kill a single chicken, carrying it away to eat it. After a fox finds a vulnerable chicken coop or flock, it will repeatedly return and kill. If you have a fox problem, stop free-ranging your chickens entirely.
Birds of prey
Also called raptors, birds of prey can be a serious predator problem to chickens. They have the advantage of aerial assault, sky visibility, and keen eyesight to help them hunt. The best offense in protecting chickens from birds of prey is to avoid pure white chicken breeds, provide a layered garden structure and landscape for limited visibility, and to screen the tops of outside pens.
The red-tailed hawk is one of the common birds of prey known to attack and kill chickens.
Birds of prey, such as hawks, owls, and eagles are justly protected by federal law in the U.S. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to harm or kill them. If you have these raptors in your neighborhood, they’re great rodent hunters and should be considered part of your delicate wildlife ecosystem.
Minks and weasels
Minks and weasels are usually rural predators that like a close water source. They’re active during the day as well as at night. They shun human activity, so it may be difficult to see or trap them. Their favorite food is rodents, and they can be effective in keeping rodent populations down. However, they will eat chickens and their eggs, too.
Minks and weasels prefer to bite off the heads of chickens, and kill more chickens than they can eat at one time. They’re sly creatures that can squeeze into mouse tunnels and holes to enter a chicken coop.
Snakes can be a chicken predator, and prey on chicks and eggs, too. Chickens have been known to eat small snakes, similar to their ability to eat whole mice. Be cautious of larger exotic snakes and some species of rattlesnakes, like cottonmouth and copperheads. It’s wise to know the snakes that can potentially kill and eat chickens in your area.
Although domestic cats are generally not considered a predator and threat for your chickens, there is always the exception. Be very cautious when acclimating your domestic cat with your chickens. Usually a domestic cat in a garden is more interested in hunting mice or other rodents.
Domestic cats can be more tempted by chicks, so ensure chicks are raised in a safe and protected shelter away from your domestic cat. Be aware that feral cats can be considered a chicken predator, especially if there is a problem with feral cats close to where you live.