Chicken Predators and how your Chickens can easily become 'Sitting Ducks'
Chicken Predators must always be a consideration when raising backyard chickens. It is wise to remember that as chickens are such docile creatures there will always be predators around. Many chickens have been bred to be heavy bodied to please our aesthetics and our taste buds so when the hobbyist decides to let her chickens out, to range in the green grass and warm sunshine, the poor chickens become 'sitting ducks' to various neighbourhood predators. Once it has been discovered that chickens live at this address, certain predators will then make a determined effort at getting into the coop, too.
The most legendary predator of the hen house is the fox. It is usually nocturnal and a stealthy hunter. The fox will frequently show up for the first time in the spring when there is a den of cubs to feed. Though normally a night time hunter it will adapt to the schedule of when the chickens are most readily available. When a fox comes upon the chickens free ranging it will sometimes just take a single chicken at a time and doesn't seem to rile up the others in the process it is quick and efficient. But if the fox gains access to your coop however, then havoc will ensue and many birds could be killed both by the fox and by the panic this most common Chicken Predator causes.
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click here to read Foxes and Chickens back to basics
Birds of Prey (or raptors )are another common chicken predator that comes from above. Birds of Prey includes hawks, falcons and eagles they search from their gliding heights, using keen eyesight to spot small mammals and slow-moving poultry. Chickens do have an instinct to recognize the outline of a raptor (and can distinguish it from a harmless scavenger such as the vulture) this will cause them to run for cover, such as a bush or into the chicke coop or poultry run. This is a good reason to make sure your free ranging chickens always have access to this kind of cover if they do not have poultry fencing or poultry netting overhead. Chickens are usually too heavy for a raptor to carry away, so they will kill and eat it right there in the garden or yard.
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Other predators that rob the chicken coop to be aware of are raccoons and weasels. Raccoons are known to open latches with their nimble fingers. Sometimes they are only attracted to the presence of the feed or eggs, but they can create havoc on the flock of chickens too. If the birds are roosting within reach, the raccoon may grab out handfuls of tail feathers and generally create a riot in the coop. The chaos alone is enough to kill chickens.
If you find either the head of a chicken and no body, or the headless body, this is a clear indicator of a weasel. They are said to prefer the blood of the chicken, not the meat, hence the decapitations. In USA there are very large weasels called fishers, or fisher cats. They will eat through chicken wire and wood, bend back metal siding, fit through an incredibly tight space and will kill everything. We have a friend who lost 45 chickens to the visit of a fisher.
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Snakes can be a problem. Usually this is when the birds are young and small, and have not begun to roost. Once they are roosting snakes are not usually an issue.
Another class of chicken predator is the dog family. Depending on where you live this could be wolves, coyotes or wild dogs. They don't tend to come close to human habitations unless driven by extreme hunger, but they will take any poultry, pet cats and sometimes the young of farm animals. And finally, the neighborhood dog can be your chickens' biggest enemy. He is well fed so just comes to have fun chasing and killing everything in sight.
Unfortunately we are not the only ones who love our backyard flock of hens. All we can do is make them as safe as possible and then realize if the chickens are to have any freedom, there will always be risks.
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