20 Predators That Will Take Your Chickens (and how to protect them)

I think if there is one thing that 20 years of keeping chickens have taught me it is that almost every predator on the planet will take a chicken or her eggs given the opportunity.

When I first started keeping chickens, I seriously underestimated how much of an impact the danger of predators and potential predators would have on my hobby.

Over the years I am sad to say I have lost chickens on numerous occasions to predators. In this article, I will highlight 20 different predators that most people will find themselves battling against at one time or another.

Some of the predators on this list are obvious, and I think most people around the country will have the same potential issues. Rats for example are to the best of my knowledge a worldwide problem, and almost everyone who keeps chickens will at some point have to deal with rats.

Other predators may be more location specific. I don’t believe chicken keepers based in Florida have to deal with bears very often, and I am not sure the fine people up in Alaska have too much of an issue with snakes.

However, many of the principles for protecting your flock from a predator attack are universal and good practices will protect your hens from almost all potential predators.

20 Predators That Will Take Your Chickens

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and I suspect many readers will face predators that I have not listed. Tigers for instants are not an issue where I live, but I have no doubt a tiger would happily eat a chicken or two given the chance.

The 20 main predators I could think of are;

  • Foxes
  • Snakes
  • Bobcats
  • Bears
  • Rats
  • Coyotes
  • Dogs (domestic and wild)
  • Raccoons
  • Weasels
  • Skunks
  • Opossums
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Mink
  • Badgers
  • Domestic Cats
  • Cougars
  • Crows and Ravens
  • Wolverines
  • Humans

1. Foxes

So whilst this list is not meant to be in any particular order, I suspect foxes take more chickens than any other predator on my list.

Foxes have become the masters of survival and they now live in rural and urban areas alike. Urban foxes are adapting to survive in our world, and whilst they spend a lot of time rummaging throw our trash cans looking for food, they will also take chickens from our back yards.

I have spoken to countless chicken keepers who kept hens in their backyard, without the slightest concern for predators, only to wake up one morning and find a fox had paid them a visit in the night.

I myself have lost hens to foxes in the past, and on each occasion, it is something that affected me for a long time.

In my experience, the worst thing about a fox is that he doesn’t just take a single chicken to feed himself and his family, he will kill every hen in the coop, then just take one or two of them to eat.

When I lost a flock to a fox the first time, there was just total devastation with all my hens killed, but only three were taken.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to protect your hens from foxes by building them a fox-proof run.

Using thick wire mesh that the fox can not chew through, and burying that wire about 12″ (30cm) underground around the perimeter of the run, should stop all but the most determined foxes from accessing your birds.

If you have returned to your coop to find nothing but a mass of feathers, the chances are a fox has paid you a visit.

2. Snakes

I am pleased to say, where I live there are no snakes large enough to take a whole chicken, but in many parts of the world there are.

With that said, there are numerous species of snake in my area, and in many other places, that would happily take either a young chick or the chicken’s eggs.

The two major issues with snakes are first that you will rarely know they have visited your coop, and secondly, they are incredibly difficult to guard against.

Whereas a rat will smash open an egg to eat the yolk, leaving a clear sign something has been in your coop, snakes can swallow an egg whole. You may have no idea you have been visited by these slippery little critters.

Plus, as mentioned above, how do you guard against a snake that can squeeze through even the smallest of gaps in a wire fence?

In my experience, there is little you can do to guard against snakes. However, I have read credible reports that keeping Guinea Fowl with your chickens helps as Guinea Fowl are known to kill smaller snakes. I am not sure they will do much against a much larger snake, but every little helps.

One thing to bear in mind is, that if you have snakes present around your chickens, there is a good chance those snakes are keeping the rodent population under control. I would not go out and actively try to rid your homestead of snakes, you may land yourself with a worse problem further down the line.

3. Bobcats

Bobcats are widespread across the USA from Southern Canada down to Northern Mexico.

These elusive predators are about the size of a small dog, and they will actively avoid people and built-up areas. However, Bobcats can be an issue in rural and semi-rural areas and they will take a chicken if the opportunity presents itself.

If your hens have been attacked by a Bobcat, finding a headless body is a classic sign a Bobcat was to blame. They may also try and bury their kill by scratching up the dirt around it in an attempt to conceal the body.

Preventing a Bobcat from attacking your chickens can be as simple as keeping the hens in a secure run. Actively spending time around your chickens will also deter Bobcats as they try and avoid human contact at all costs.

Unless a Bobcat is desperate for a meal, they are unlikely to venture towards a coop where people have been recently.

4. Bears

There are a number of different species of bears living in the US (and to be fair many other parts of the world), and whilst it is rare that they will attack chickens in their run or coop, it does happen.

Bears are incredibly strong, and there isn’t much you can do to prevent a determined bear from getting into a run or coop.

However, if you are unlucky enough to suffer from a bear attack, I have no doubt you will know it was a bear.

Firstly, bears are incredibly destructive. There is nothing subtle about the way a bear opens a run or coop. Everything will literally be ripped open.

Bears are also messy eaters. If you have half-eaten carcasses with feathers and intensities spread around the place, the chances are it was a bear.

Finally, bears poop, a lot, and they don’t care about pooping right where they are eating. If the area of destruction has lots of poop around after the attack, it’s another good sign it was a bear.

5. Rats

I have to say, there is no doubt in my mind, that rats are the predator most people are going to come up against, no matter where in the world they live.

Rats are a problem on many different levels. For starters rats will happily go into a coop and break open the eggs to get at the yolks. They will also take chicks from the nest if they find them.

I have also spoken to other chicken keepers that tell me they have had rats attack a weak chicken or one that was unwell. It is almost like rats can tell which hens are going to be easy victims. They can tell which ones are least likely to defend themselves.

Rats can also be a problem in another way. Rats will take a surprisingly large quantity of feed from your feeders. If you have ever uncovered a rat’s nest, they will often have chicken food (or grain) stored in a number of different chambers in their nest.

The other issue rats have, which is a potential problem for us humans, is the fact rats urinate continually, and that urine can contain a number of diseases we can contract, some of which may be fatal.

Dealing with rats can be tricky. It is almost impossible to prevent them from entering the run, although we can make it tricky for them to enter the coop by making sure all holes and cracks are either filled or covered in hardware cloth.

I have managed to keep the rodent population in and around my own homestead under control by using covered bait boxes. These boxes have a small entrance hole the mice and rats use, but they make it almost impossible for birds or other mammals to access the poison.

Do be cautious however using poisons around chickens. Firstly, poison tends to be administered by coating grain with it, grain the chickens will happily eat if they come across it.

Plus, if a mouse or rat dies after consuming the poison grain, and they die in reach of the chickens, the chickens will happily eat the dead mouse or rat, thereby consuming the poison in the process.

6. Coyote

The Coyote is a wide-ranging predator that inhabits large areas of the US. It is a formidable predator that hunts in groups, allowing it to take prey as large as a bison.

Whilst coyotes are extremely unlikely to attack chickens that are secured in runs, they are opportunistic and will take free-ranging chickens, especially if those hens are far from the farmhouse.

As coyotes approach potential prey they use large bushes and areas overgrown with vegetation as a way to stay out of sight of their prey.

You can reduce the chances of coyotes taking one of your hens by keeping the perimeter of your chicken grounds well trimmed, ideally strimming all tall vegetation to the ground.

The only real tell-tale sign a coyote has had your chickens is if one or more hens are gone without any signs of the body. Coyotes will kill and then carry away one or more hens at a time. They rarely leave any sign they have been but the occasional footprint.

7. Dogs (domestic and wild)

Many of us keep dogs on our homesteads or in our backyards. Typically our own dogs are not a problem.

It is more when a wild/stray dog or someone else’s domestic dog visits your property that things start to go wrong.

Most dogs will not actively try and break into a secure coop or run, but if your hens are free-ranging, and a neighbor or even a passerby allows their dog onto your property, there is a good chance the dog will chase, and possibly catch one of your chickens.

Chickens are great at avoiding danger in the short term. They can jump and run a few feet, but there is no way they could outrun a dog.

If dogs are a problem in your area, consider building a 6′ (1.83m) high fence around your chicken area. It does not have to be strong. Dogs will not generally try and force their way in, and dogs typically are not good at climbing. They can however jump, and a 4′ (1.2m) fence may not be high enough to keep a large dog out.

8. Raccoons

Raccoons are one of my least favorite predators. Not only are they smart, certainly smart enough to work out a simple bolt or clasp, but they are also extremely wasteful.

If you live almost anywhere in North America, you will at some point have to deal with raccoons.

Believe me, from personal experience, if you just lock your run or coop with a simple bolt or clasp, raccoons will quickly (and I mean quickly) work out how to open the lock.

Worse than that, if raccoons get into your chicken run they will kill your chickens, but then not even eat much of them. If you come home to find dead chickens that have either not been eaten, or just bits of them have been eaten, there is a good chance you have been visited by raccoons.

To prevent raccoons from getting to your chickens you will need to use a complex lock, ideally a padlock to keep the raccoons out.

Bringing the chicken run fence out about 2′ (60cm) on all sides will also stop the raccoons from digging under the fence.

Finally, make sure the fence mesh is a maximum of 1/4″ wide. If the gaps are any larger, then raccoons will reach in through the mesh and grab a chicken. They will then try pulling that chicken through the mesh fence, inevitably pulling the chicken’s head off in the process.

As I said, raccoons are my least favorite predator!

9. Weasels

You have to admire the weasel. It can fit through seemingly impossibly small holes to access its prey. I once opened one of my coops to find a weasel come shooting out the door at a rate of knots. I could not fathom how this little blighter had gotten into my coop. I thought the coop was damn near impenetrable.

Anyway, it turned out the hardware cloth had come away from one of the air vent holes, which was barely wider than 1″ (2.5cm). The weasel had squeezed himself in through that tiny gap.

After I was done admiring his ingenuity, I was saddened to see he had killed a number of the hens in my coop. Weasels are extremely efficient killers, and much like a fox, they will kill just because they can.

There was no way the weasel that entered my coop could eat the 5 chickens himself, but he killed them all anyway.

One of the main tell-tale signs a weasel has killed your chickens will be the fact many or all of them are dead, but not actually eaten.

Weasels will also sometimes pile up the chickens they have killed. I have no idea why they do this, but I have read numerous reports of homesteaders opening their coops to find all the dead hens placed in a pile in one corner.

To protect against weasels, make sure EVERY hole in your coop is either filled or if required for ventilation, covered in hardware cloth. I now try and cover both sides of my ventilation holes with hardware cloth as a double precaution.

10. Skunks

Skunks can be found across much of the US, although they are typically found in rural areas rather than in our towns and cities, so urban backyard keepers have less to fear than their rural cousins.

Typically, skunks tend not to kill and eat adult chickens, although it has been knowns. Skunks are more of an issue when it comes to eggs. Skunks are more than happy to enter a coop and break open chicken eggs to eat the yolks.

Skunks will also kill and eat chicks given the chance.

Although skunks are proficient diggers, they prefer to use tunnels and burrows others have dug, so they are unlikely to dig under the fence to access your chicken run.

Skunks are however very good climbers, so a run without a roof is easily accessed by a skunk. They are more than capable of climbing trees to steal honey from bee hives.

Skunks happily tolerate people, and so they will not be put off by your presence like a bobcat might. In fact, skunks are frequently found living under people’s houses without the homeowner even being aware they are under the house.

If you are opening your nest box to find multiple broken eggs, along with that famous, musty, skunk smell, you may well be able to tell who the culprit is.

A well-fenced, covered run is probably the best solution to keeping skunks out of the hen house.

11. Opossums

Opossums are found across much of the central and eastern USA, and they are actually surprisingly useful creatures. They are often referred to as nature’s clean-up crew as they frequently eat dead animals, including roadkill (which is where most people end up seeing them).

Opossums rarely kill adult hens. They are more than capable, but they are just too lazy. However, much like skunks they will certainly break and eat the eggs. They will also take baby chicks given the chance.

These slightly strange-looking critters are usually very shy and you don’t frequently see them in your backyard. If you discovered a number of your chicken’s eggs are broken, and the nestbox is in a real mess, the chances are an opossum is to blame rather than the somewhat tidier skunk or even rats.

To prevent opossums, ensure your chicken run is well fenced and you close the coop up securely at night. Opossums don’t actively try and break into a coop, but they will happily wander in through an open door.

Collecting the eggs at least two or three times a day will also reduce the chances the opossum will eat them.

Whilst you can fairly easily catch and remove opossums from your backyard, do remember they probably do more good than harm, especially when they eat vermin they find living near your home.

12. Hawks

The word Hawk covers many different species of birds of prey, and the chances are, no matter where you live, there will be a species that can and will take your chickens.

It can be incredibly hard to protect your flock from these fast, agile birds, and the only reasonable way to stop a hawk from taking one of your hens is to keep the hens in a fully covered run.

If you allow your chickens to free-range across your land, you will at some point lose one or more to the hawks.

Hawks are not deterred by people and many species have adapted well to the urban world, and you are now just as likely to become a victim of a hawk attack as you are living in the country.

There will be few tell-tale signs a hawk has taken one of your chickens. You may end up with a small patch of feathers left after the commotion of the chicken being grabbed, but even these frequently blow away in the wind, living no sign the hawk has been, except the lack of a chicken of course.

If you free-range your chickens on a regular basis and you notice every now and then your flock has dropped by one or two hens with no signs of dead bodies, there is a good chance a hawk is to blame.

13. Owls

Owls are much like hawks, with the one major difference, they tend to hunt at night. In my experience, your chickens are only in danger from owls at dusk, or if they are still out after dark (which is unlikely).

However, if you ever allow your chickens to roost in the trees at night, you seriously increase the chances of an owl killing one of your chickens.

As with hawks, there will be few signs an owl has taken one of your chickens. The only likely sign will be a few feathers shed by the chicken at the attack site.

I have heard people suggest an owl will enter an open coop at night and take a chicken from its roosting bars, but I find this highly unlikely.

Owls attack using stealth and swooping down on their unsuspecting prey from above. They don’t attack from below or the side.

To keep your chickens safe from owls, make sure they are in their covered run before dusk, and ensure they have all roosted in the coop by the time night falls. Never allow your chickens to roost out in the open.

14. Mink

Mink are very similar in appearance and attitude to weasels. They are from the same family and it can be hard to know which one you are dealing with if you find a dead chicken in your coop.

Mink will usually bite the chicken’s head, either repeatedly or take it off completely. Like weasels, mink may well kill more than one chicken, piling the dead bodies up in one corner of the coop.

The best way to protect your hens from a mink attack is to ensure the coop is securely closed and locked each night and to make sure all holes are either filled or if they are for ventilation, covered in suitable hardware cloth.

As mentioned above, I now cover my coop ventilation holes on both sides, just to be sure mink and weasels can’t use them to enter the coop.

15. Badgers

Badgers are found across the Great Plains region of North America as well as across much of Europe.

Badgers are powerful predators, and it can be hard to stop a determined badger from digging into a run or even breaking into a coop.

Badgers are not fast movers, and they are unlikely to catch a full-grown chicken. They will however happily take young chicks and eggs from the nest. Badgers will also consume chicken feed if they find it.

If a badger has entered your coop, there is a good chance the signs of his presence will be unmissable. He will literally rip his way in, pulling the hatch to the nestbox open or breaking the coop door down.

If you need to deter a badger, your best bet is to bring the fence out underground, extending it about 2′ (60cm) along all perimeter edges.

If the underground fence doesn’t stop the badger, consider using an electric fence.

16. Domestic Cats

Few of us would look at our pet cat, and think of it as a chicken killer, but it does happen.

On my own homestead, we have pet cats, that live in the house with us, and barn cats that live out of the homestead. The barn cats are employed mainly for pest control, which is something they do exceptionally well.

None of our cats have ever shown an interest in the chickens. Even our bantam hens are too big for the cats to tackle.

However, cats will take chicks if they come across them. I have heard from others that have had their pet cat bring chicks into the house as ‘gifts’ after they caught them from the homeowner.

Cats are fast and their hunting instincts are strong. If they see small chicks waddling around the run or free-ranging outside with their mother, there is a good chance they will pique the cat’s interest.

If you live in an urban area and your neighbors have cats, be aware a neighboring cat may come into your backyard and attack your chickens.

If you have chicks, and you know there are cats nearby, keep the chicks in an enclosed run, and always make sure the coop is securely closed at night. Cats love to hunt after dark.

17. Cougars

Most of us do not have to worry about cougars (or mountain lions as they are sometimes called). Even those who live in areas where cougars are present rarely find they attack chickens, but it does happen.

If your chickens are free-range, and free-range far from the coop, there is a greater chance a cougar will take them.

Cougars tend to approach their prey slowly, remaining undercover using trees and bushes until the last minute.

If you have lost a chicken to a cougar, there is a good chance there will be no chicken body left. You will just notice one or more of your birds have gone missing.

To prevent a cougar attack, always keep your chickens in an enclosed run. Cougars don’t really dig under fences, and they don’t tend to bite through a wire run, even though they could probably do so if they choose to.

Keeping a yard dog near your chickens will also help deter a cougar from wandering onto your homestead.

18. Crows and Ravens

I have put crows and ravens together on my list, as they essentially pose the same problem as one another.

Crows and ravens are both big birds. Ravens in particular can be much bigger than people imagine.

Although neither of these birds are actually large enough to take a chicken, and they are unlikely to venture into the coop to take an egg, both birds will happily take a small chick.

Ravens and crows will pick up and swallow a small chicken whole.

Both these birds will however break and eat eggs if you allow your chickens to nest outside the coop. Sometimes, when chickens are allowed to free-range permanently, they will nest outdoors, and this is when their eggs are most vulnerable.

19. Wolverine

Wolverines are not widespread throughout the USA, but they do live in many parts of Washington, Alaska and much of Canada.

Wolverines are powerful creatures that have the ability to kill animals much larger than themselves. Whilst attacks on chickens are rare, or at least poorly documented, they do happen.

These creatures are wary of people and they rarely venture close to areas where people are living.

However, if you find yourself living in a remote area, and you allow your hens to free-range far from your home, there is a chance a wolverine may take one of your hens.

There will be few signs a wolverine has visited your hens. A hen or two will be missing when they come home to roost. Other than that you will have very few clues to go by.

Preventing a wolverine attack simply means keeping your hens close to your home.

20. Humans

According to recent data, the number of people reporting chickens being stolen from their backyard has risen 10 fold in the last 5 years.

It is a sad state of affairs we individuals are going around stealing both hens, and eggs from coops either in their neighbor’s backyard or homesteads.

Whether the chickens are being stolen for their eggs or because the thieves are butchering the hens at home and eating them is unclear.

Fortunetly, where we live we rarely see another sole, so the chances someone will walk onto our land and steal our chickens are slim, but I have spoken with chicken keepers who live in built-up areas, and stories of whole flocks going missing over night are becoming more common.

Prevention of people stealing your hens is relatively simple. Adding locks and security cameras to deter would be thieves is a must. Gate mounted alarms also work as they sound when someone enters your property.

How Can We Protect Our Chickens From Predators?

If there is one thing we can learn from the list above, it is that there is no one size fits all solution to predators. Snakes will not be stopped by a fence and even a locked coop won’t stop something as large as a bear.

All we can do is take sensible precautions to make our chicken coops and runs are secure as possible.

Many predators are opportunists. They are waiting for that day we don’t shut the coop door or we leave the run unlocked. It only takes one slip up on our part, and some or all of our flock can be lost over night.

Whatever else you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking ‘I live in the city, there are no predators here’ because the chances are, at the very least, rats, hawks, cats, and dogs are lurking just around the corner.

Below I have listed some of the measures I would take as a minimum.

  • Check the coop has no large cracks or holes
  • Cover ventilation holes with hardware cloth
  • Ensure the door to the coop closes tightly
  • Provide an enclosed run

Once you have these measures in place, it is worth carrying out either weekly, monthly or annual checks to make sure your security measures are holding tight.

Such checks might include;

  • Check the perimeter of the run for tunnels or attempted tunnels
  • Check vents are still covered
  • Check locks and latches still work and are still secure
  • Check the coop for cracks or holes

In Conclusion

It is a sad fact that just about every predator on the planet finds chickens irresistabel. Some predators are opportunists, just waiting for you to make a mistake. Others are more active and will try their best to enter your coop or run and take some of your chickens.

Bear in mind some preadtors will be after your chicken’s eggs, while others actively seek out young chicks. Many will simply take the adult hens.

We can reduce the number of hens we loose by putting in some simple security measures.

If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of a predator, make sure you learn from the mistake and prevent future hens from meeting the same fate.

If you found this article helpful, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ’10 Ways To Help Your Chickens Survive A Cold Winter’.

Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
Poultry Editor

Article Sources:

  1. Bobcat nationalzoo.si.edu
  2. American badger Animal Diversity Web