If one thing has made me cry more than anything else in my 20 years of being a homesteader it has been the sight of my favorite chicken’s feathers in a pile on the grass. Was it a raccoon? A fox? Neighbors dog? Or maybe it was a Weasel? Determining the predators that had attacked would then help me build the foundation for my plan of action to prevent further losses. Understanding the predators’ identity can save you time, money and reduce your losses.
Thankfully, you do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to get some answers as to who has committed the offense. You simply need to take a look at the variables surrounding your loss.
(Image from ODNR)
One of the most common predators is a fox. A fox in the hen house is one very disheartening event. Imagine going to bed one night and finding only feathers in the hen house in the morning? Leading away from the hen house is a light trail of feathers; No survivors. A fox can hunt day or night; Do they not sleep? Is the chicken coop similar to us raiding our fridge at night as a late night snack?
To protect against fox invasions, one must protect the coop from all angles. They will dig under, as well as climb up and over walls; They are agile and swift on their feet. They will leave a couple piles of feathers, but otherwise take the whole body with them. They will fill their dens with the yummy morsels, especially in early Spring when they have young to feed. If it is later in the year you might get lucky, where it might only be a chicken or two at a time, such as what I have been experiencing this week.
How to know it was a fox? Usually you will find just feathers, but not a bloody scene. They will even take the eggs if any are in the nesting box. Check the outskirts of the pen for a place of digging if your ground is soft. You will need to bury your fence deeper and/or add rocks. Make sure your run is covered as well as all fencing secured.
(Image from ODNR)
I tip my hat to raccoons most of the time, they can be very clever when it comes to gaining access to your coop. Their little paws can turn latches as well as tear into poultry fencing and they can reach their hands through the fencing to reach potential victims. This predator will be the most tricky to stop because they have the ability to scale fences and find an access spot from all angles.
The scene left behind can be bloody and they do not always take away everything when they are done. They can leave survivors behind, for which they plan to return for the next day. Typically, they are a nocturnal predator, meaning that they will strike any time from just before dusk to just after dawn.
This particular predator tends to have more emotions involved than the other predators. It is one thing for a wild animal to come in, but what about when it is a neighbors dog who has the ability to keep them locked up?
When a domestic dog is at fault, there is a difference compared to that of wild predators. Domestic dogs are rarely killing due to hunger. It can be more of a “sport” and for the thrill. This death can often be gruesome scene left behind. Sometimes the dog does take his “catch” home and other times you will simply find the animals strewn about after being discarded.
(Image from ODNR)
Hawks and Owls
While a lot of predators come in on their four legs, one must always consider those that fly in by the air. That brings us to both Hawks and Owls. The scene is relatively similar for the two different predators, just hours of operation is a little different. Owls will attack throughout the night; whereas hawks will strike during the day. A hawk will come in and take one bird at a time and you will only find a pile of feathers left. An owl typically will take just the head the first night then come back the next night for the rest of it. Neither of these birds will take more than one at a time. I have watched an owl stick its legs through the side of poultry wire to grab the nearby Cornish Cross and hold it against the cage until the chicken dies, then taking as much meat from the chicken through the fence as possible. When it came to my ducks, there were so many nights when I could hear my ducks quacking loudly at night, I thought maybe they were having a wild party on our pond occasionally. Finally, I noticed that an owl kept swooping down on them but was unable to reach them while they were on the water.
Another interesting experience when it came to owls was when the weather was right, I would keep my bedroom window open at night, this window was close to the chicken coop. I noticed I would hear a low whistling coming from the area of the coop around 2-3 am. I realized that it was an owl whistling and as it whistled, it would create anxiety in my chickens who would eventually start clucking, and moving around in their coop. This would be a very clever tactic if a chicken had been left outside of the coop at night because the chicken would bolt from their hiding place, therefore, become a potential dinner for the owl.
(Image from ODNR)
While it can be very natural to feel angry with the predator for killing our favorite chickens, we have to realize they are only doing what they need to do to stay alive. It is our responsibility to protect our birds and the best ways to protect against these predators are to keep your flock locked up at night and have a covered run for them. Do make sure that they do not sleep close to the edge of fencing. By learning the signs of what predator is knocking at your coop door you can then take the steps to properly protect them. However, keep in mind that birds of prey are protected by law.
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