Everybody knows that chickens taste good (well, almost everybody). This includes predators in your neighborhood.
There is a myth that chickens attract predators.
The truth is that predators already exist in your neighborhood because there are readily available sources of food and water, like:
- dog and cat food
- bird feeders
- bird baths
- trash cans
- fruit trees
In this post, I explain the main predators of backyard chickens and the methods I suggest to protect your flock. I live in Texas with my flock of Plymouth Barred Rocks, but many of these predators are common across the US.
Main Types of Predators
I consider that predators can be grouped into two main types:
- Daytime predators
- Nighttime predators
The reason I classify predators in this basic way is that your chickens will be in a different location during the day versus night.
Each of these types of predators requires a slightly different form of defense to protect your chickens.
In general, your daytime predators of chickens include aerial predators, like hawks and eagles, and ground predators, like dogs, foxes, feral cats (sometimes), and raccoons (typically only in the early morning).
Hawks and Eagles
Depending on where you live the aerial predators of chickens include Coopers hawks, red tailed hawks, or eagles.
Typically, hawks will not try to attack a full-grown adult chicken. However, pullets or bantams are most at risk for aerial attacks since they are smaller birds and more easy for a hawk to carry off.
Some hawks will carry a chicken off entirely while others will attack it and eat it right on the spot.
When dogs attack chickens, it will usually be for sport or play. Unlike other predators, they usually will not eat chickens since they are generally well-fed by their owners.
Dogs can wipe out an entire flock of chickens in a matter of minutes. This is why it’s so important if you have a pet dog to train them that chickens are to be protected and not to be attacked.
Foxes can attack chickens during the day or night. They will hunt during the day if they have babies in their den.
Foxes can sneak into a chicken coop through very small openings and carry off an entire bird and not leave any evidence that they were there. (Which is why we have the saying about a fox in a henhouse…)
Feral cats can be a predator of chickens if they are hungry enough.
However, feral cats are more likely to go for smaller, easier prey, like mice, sparrows, and lizards. Just be mindful of this if you have a feral cat issue in your neighborhood.
Raccoons are one of the biggest predators of chickens in my neighborhood.
Raccoons are mostly out at night, but I have also seen them in the neighborhood first thing in the morning.
You can tell a raccoon has been in your backyard if you see little footprints that look like baby hands in the mud or on the dust on your car.
Raccoons love to eat chickens and are actually very violent towards chickens.
If their paw can fit into a hole in the chicken coop, they can pull a chicken’s leg or neck and pull the chicken through the hole.
One of my friends forgot to lock her chickens up one night and saw on her doorbell camera that two raccoons attacked a chicken and carried it off. Another friend had a chicken killed by a raccoon that pulled the poor chicken through a hole in the coop and injured several other birds the same night.
There are some predators that are active early in the morning that are also active at night.
As mentioned previously, raccoons are a major predator of chickens during the day and night.
Skunks and Opossums
In addition to raccoons, you have to deal with skunks and opossums at night.
You can tell a skunk has been in your yard based on their telltale odor, but you can also tell if you see lots of little holes dug up in your yard in the morning. This is because skunks come out at night and will dig in the ground looking for bugs to eat.
Owls are another nighttime predator of chickens.
Like hawks during the day, owls will most likely not go for full size adult chickens. However, they have no problem attacking a pullet, bantam, or even a sickly bird if given the opportunity.
Foxes, Coyotes, Weasels, and Bears
Depending on where you live, you can also have foxes, coyotes, weasels, and bears as nighttime predators of chickens.
During the day your chickens will be outside of their coop, unless they are laying eggs in their nesting boxes. They will be getting exercise, dust bathing, eating, and drinking in a chicken run or free ranging in your yard.
Your primary form of defense for your chickens during the day will be a fence around your yard.
Adequate fencing will go a long way to keep dogs from attacking your chickens.
Fencing will also keep your chickens in your yard and prevent them from escaping to dangerous places.
To avoid predator attacks from animals that can dig under the fence, you can provide a footer for your fencing. You can dig down about a foot and add either hardware cloth or concrete if you want something permanent.
You can also roll out the bottom of the fencing into an L or C shape using hardware cloth on the ground. This way when an animal goes to dig under the fence, their claws will get caught on the hardware cloth and prevent them from digging a hole or tunnel to your chickens.
In my opinion, a well-constructed chicken run will keep out 99% of neighborhood predators during the day.
A chicken run is an enclosed area where your chickens can stay during the day.
Your chickens will use their coop during the day to lay eggs. When they’re not laying eggs they need to get exercise, which is why a chicken run is useful.
You can store the chickens’ food and water in their run. You can also provide a dust bath in their run and additional roosting bars for entertainment (their coop will also have roosting bars for sleeping).
Chickens need exercise during the day so a run is a great safe place for your chickens to engage in their chicken activities.
Your run can either be covered using tin, hardware cloth, chicken wire, or a tarp. However, many runs do not have any type of roof.
A covered run will keep out aerial predators. If aerial predators are not a concern in your neighborhood, then you might be able to get away without having a cover which can keep the costs down.
Not everyone wants their chickens in a run and choose instead to let them free range, which is why a fence around the yard and the remaining methods of protection are important.
A raised coop will protect your chickens from both digging predators and aerial predators.
Having a raised coop prevents predators from digging up underneath the flooring to get inside your chicken coop. A raised coop is a great way to keep out digging predators like dogs, foxes, coyotes, and weasels.
If you are unable to have a raised coop (either because you already have a coop that’s on the ground or just don’t want one), then make sure you’ve got some type of flooring to prevent digging.
You can bury the walls of your coop into the ground (similar to fencing).
Additionally, you can have a flooring made of plywood or hardware cloth. The goal here is to keep predators from digging under the walls of your chicken coop and getting inside.
A raised coop can also protect chickens from aerial predators.
If your chickens free range they will need to have a place to hide in case an aerial predator is stalking them.
My chickens have hidden underneath their raised coop to hide from hawks.
Shrubbery and Trees
Shrubbery and trees can be a great place for your chickens to hide if they free range in your yard.
Shubbery can provide great protection because it allows chickens a place to hide either under the plant or inside the branches.
When my chickens were pullets they jumped into a bush in the backyard to hide from a neighborhood cat that was stalking them.
In addition, if you have a deck or anything else that your chickens can hide under this will help to protect them during the day.
Collect Eggs Frequently
Some predators are more interested in eggs, chicks, pullets or your “soft targets” and will not attack a full-grown adult chicken.
If you are not collecting eggs on a daily basis this can lead to a problem with rats and snakes attacking your eggs. However, most people who are raising chickens for eggs are collecting them everyday because it’s always fun to see what your girls laid that day. 🙂
At nighttime, your chickens will be in their coop which decreases the overall area that requires protection.
However, since your chickens will be in their coop all night long, this can give predators a relatively long window of opportunity to try to break into the coop without interruption.
Close Chicken Coop Door at Night
The number one way chickens are attacked at night is because they were not safely in their coop.
Make sure you remember to lock your chickens up every night as the sun goes down.
If you have a difficult time remembering to shut the coop door, try setting an alarm on your phone.
You can also consider making the investment to get an automatic door on your coop.
If you have an automatic door, you might want to peek out the window at night to make sure everybody got in inside the coop before you go to bed.
If possible, you want to have your coop raised off the ground.
A raised coop prevents predators from digging underneath the walls of the chicken coop and getting inside.
My chicken coop is raised off the ground and also has a solid plywood floor.
If your coop is not raised off the ground, then you need to make sure you have solid flooring that is dig proof.
Some good ideas for flooring for your chicken coop include plywood and hardware cloth.
Secure windows and doors
Windows and doors need to shut securely on your chicken coop to keep out predators.
Raccoons can unlock simple hooks and sliding latches.
If a strong toddler can open the door or window to your chicken coop, then so can a raccoon.
My chicken coop requires you to push and turn the handle to open the doors and I don’t know of a toddler that would be able to open that easily.
The window screens that came with our coop were the traditional soft mesh and I did not feel like this would be secure enough to keep a motivated raccoon out of my coop.
To reinforce the security of the windows, we added half inch hardware cloth over the window screens.
We stapled half inch hardware cloth to the outside of the windows so that you can still open the windows from the inside of the coop. It’s not super nice looking but it gets the job done.
Check for Holes
Check for any holes in your chicken coop.
A raccoon can easily stick their hand into the coop if you have a hole about the size of quarter. Raccoons have been known to grab a chicken and pull them out through the hole.
In addition, weasels and other small predators can fit into holes this size.
Our current chicken coop is a kit that we ordered. It’s really well made and is very sealed up, so there are no places for a small predator to enter.
When we had our DIY chicken coop it was more at risk of having holes. We used random materials from the yard and garage that did not fit together perfectly like our current coop.
If you do identify holes in your chicken coop the easy way to fix them is to staple up half inch hardware cloth over the holes and this will prevent predators from getting inside.
What to Do If You Have a Predator Attack
If you lose a chicken to a predator, please don’t beat yourself up.
Chickens are towards the bottom of the food chain and are easy prey. A large part of caring for chickens is to protect them from predators.
If you do have a predator attack, use the experience as a lesson in future predator prevention. Assess what you need to do to prevent a similar attack in the future. Did you have a chicken coop that had a latch that was easily opened? Did the run have a weak spot that allowed a predator to enter? Did you forget to close the coop door at night?
Losing a chicken to a predator is, unfortunately, a risk we all take as chicken keepers. Do what you can to protect your flock, but keep in mind that it happens to even the most experienced chicken keepers.