Hawk hunting chickens

How to Easily Determine What Killed Your Chickens

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Sometimes chicken owners experience the loss of their chickens from wild animals and even their household pets. The question is, who or what killed them? You can often determine this by what was left behind — something a chicken detective would call the proverbial “crime scene.”

Let’s discuss how we can best determine what happened and what we can do to prevent it so that it doesn’t happen again.

What Kills Chickens

Wild animals – like foxes, coyotes, and hawks – are natural predators that can kill your chickens. They’re searching for food and may have found it within your chickens’ coop. One thing you shouldn’t rule out is that your household pet might be the guilty party because they are capable as well.

What can you do to stop them? First, you need to determine if it’s a fox, weasel, another wild animal, or one of your household pets. To do this, determine what part of the chicken’s body is missing! Is it their head, eggs, the abdomen, or nothing at all?

Sometimes you may come across the whole side of your chicken having its side torn out, or the head decapitated from the body. These are signs that will help you determine who the culprit is behind the killing. There are many things you can do to help prevent these animals from being able to attack your chickens a second time. This discussion is further down in the article, but first, let’s look at how to determine which animal killed your chickens.

Signs to Help Determine the Culprit Behind the Killing

After the loss of any member of your flock, you’ll need to answer the following questions to get a sense of what happened.

  • Did my chicken die during the day, or did it happen at night?
  • How did it happen?
  • Which animal could have killed my chicken(s)?

In this section, I am going to teach you all about animals, and what they can do to your chickens.

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1) Coyotes

Brown coyote

In my experience, coyotes are diggers. If you don’t take the precaution of running chicken wire a few feet outward from your chicken coop, your chickens will be vulnerable to an attack. When a coyote gets access to your coop, it will generally kill and remove the carcass for safer eating elsewhere. This isn’t an absolute if the coyote hasn’t eaten in a while, but it’s the most common scenario.

In addition to feathers, you may find excess blood as the chicken was dragged away.

2) Foxes

Red fox

Foxes are like coyotes when killing chickens. So, if your chickens disappear from your pen or chicken coop, it may be a fox. They kill a lot more than they are able to eat in one sitting and normally dig a buried storage space for the extra food.

One way to tell foxes apart from coyotes is that they swallow their food whole. Typically, leaving no bones behind.

3) Raccoons

Gray and black raccoon on tree log

Raccoons will eat the head off of your chicken and let the rest of the bird lay for other predators to eat.

Raccoons will attempt to drag the chicken through the fence surrounding your coop. As you know, the chicken’s head is small and is most likely the only thing that will fit through your wired fence. So when the chicken gets stuck in the wire, the raccoon – before it scurries away – eats the head and leaves the body.

4) Weasels

Weasels are elusive creatures and generally only enjoy the sport of the hunt. They don’t generally even eat the chickens; instead, they kill and leave them in the coop. So, if you see a dead chicken in your coop that is fully intact but dead, these critters are the culprits.

On occasion though, you may find that all of your chickens are dead and one eaten. Weasels are crazy like this; if they are really hungry, they will feast.

5) Opossums

Opossum in man's hand

These creatures are mainly nest robbers as the inside of the egg is a delicacy to them. But they also do kill chickens for food but will generally only eat a part of it, leaving the uneaten part behind.

Opossums leave wet feathers behind in the nest where your adorable baby bird was nesting. Also, if they only eat the eggs, you will know it’s them by the slimy, mushy mess that they make and leave behind. If there is no baby chick available, one of your chickens may get mauled over and have their abdomen eaten.

6) Hawks

Hawks leave no traces behind as they can carry their pray away. However, if you find your chicken lying nearby with the side torn out and eaten, it most likely was a hawk. Hawks mainly attack during the daytime.

7) Owls

Owls are similar to hawks but slightly different as they attack at night, making it impossible to catch them in the act. They also don’t leave any traces behind in the coop or pen area. Often owls will only eat the head and neck so you’ll find the chicken’s body nearby.

8) Bear

Bears don’t eat or urinate when they are in hibernation. Their hibernation periods depend on the area you live in and the snowfall. Generally speaking, hibernation is from September or October and lasts approximately six to seven months.

Bears are messy and if they’re your culprit, the coop will be entirely torn up. Even the doors or sides of the coop will have been forcefully removed.

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9) Bobcats

Bobcats are a massive threat to your chickens as they hunt with a litter. They hunt by going directly for the chicken’s head or jugular to kill them. Their sense of smell and eyesight is keen for hunting at night or during the day. Their sharp claws come out during the hunt to make the kill. They cover their prey like a house cat covers litter, so you will recognize that there are bobcats nearby.

10) Skunks

Skunks

Skunks rarely attack chickens, but when they do, they go straight toward them. You will know when they are nearby because a skunk will spray. The awful smell will travel your way, and you will know that it’s time to check your chickens. If it’s not mating season, you will be sure that they are after your chickens. If a skunk killed your chickens, the abdomen would be missing. In general, skunks are more prone to rob your chickens’ nests of eggs.

11) Dogs

They say dogs are your best friend. However, don’t let that cute little face fool you. They will attack your chickens because it is in their nature to hunt. Dogs maul over their pray but don’t eat the chicken. There only in it for the chance and hunt. I didn’t know this when I got my new puppy, but I soon learned fast. He started chasing my chickens. I am certain that if I eased up on his leash, he would have killed my chickens right in front of me.

12) Rat

A rat may be small, but they will kill your chickens, especially the tiny young chicks and baby chicks. If a chicken is missing or dead, it may just be a pesky rat.

13) Snake

It is hard to determine if a snake killed your chickens because they swallow the prey whole. For instance, they can consume an egg or chick as a whole, and the only sign of it happening is that it disappeared. The result of egg-eating differs from that of raccoon, which leaves a mess of shells as evidence. Rat snakes mostly eat freshly hatched chicks or eggs. A snake can fit through a hole that is the size of ¼ inches diameter or smaller depending on the exact size of the snake.

14) Crow

Black crow on brown rock under cloudy sky at daytime

Crows are somewhat like hawks but not as vicious. Even though a crow can take off with your chicken to their nest or elsewhere, they still leave a little behind. If you notice empty eggshells around the nest or near your house, it is a good chance a crow got to your eggs. Crows also attack your young chicks and tear them apart.

15) Cat

Even if you feed your cat regularly, they will still kill chickens, birds, and mice. One thing for sure is that cats are very messy eaters. Cats always leave pieces of their prey lying around. They even sometimes play with their prey before eating it. For the most part, they eat the meat out of the chicken and leave the rest for other predators to eat or rot. They typically go after your baby chicks or young birds.

14 Tips to Protect Your Chickens

The main thing our family wants to stress is to stay alert to what’s going on around your chicken coop. Here are some ideas that will help you to protect your flock from predators, including your family pet:

  1. To protect your flock from predators like an owl or a hawk, cover your pen with netting or wire.
  2. Introduce to your flock a single goose. These larger birds will bond with your chickens, defend them in the event of an attack, and deter predators because of their presence. It’s important to introduce only one because otherwise, geese will bond with each other and not your chickens.
  3. For rats, put some weatherproof rat poison in a safe outdoor enclosed area. You can place them in your shed, garage, or other outside buildings.
  4. Fix any holes that you see in your coop or pen that are greater than the size of a dime.
  5. Use smaller wire around your coop and for the roof covering.
  6. To keep foxes and coyotes out bury your fencing outward about two feet from the pen. It is only necessary to bury it beneath the surface.
  7. Place your chicken coop latch up high so even a toddler couldn’t open it.
  8. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your coop open at night. It may seem obvious, but if you make this mistake, anything can happen to your flock.
  9. Keep a few roosters around to protect your hens against hawks, and small predators.
  10. Add guineas! They can’t technically fight the predator. Instead, they sound off this loud alarm that will get you running in their direction. If you don’t know what guineas are or what they sound like, watch the video below.
  11. Don’t worry about noise because more is better when scaring predators off.
  12. Conduct regular maintenance on your coop or pen. In fact, check the coop and pen daily while you’re already out there feeding them.
  13. Oversee your household pets when they are outside to roam.
  14. When outside, always keep out a watchful eye for predators.

If you follow these suggestions, your chickens will be well protected from predators.

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And you and your chickens will be less stressed too.

Random Chicken Quote:

"People talk about fools counting chickens before they hatch. That's nothing. We name them."
-- Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman

35 thoughts on “How to Easily Determine What Killed Your Chickens”

  1. Coyotes are the most cunning animals I’ve ever encountered and preventing them from getting your livestock is a full time job. Sadly, I’ve lost many chickens to them.

  2. Well my chickens have been dying recently and also one of our ducks … some had their head torn off and some the guts eaten out with a pretty good sized hole, and I don’t know what it could be. Cat, opossum I don’t know!?!?!?

    1. I’ve lost 3 ducks in last 2 days ! Same thing gut stomach)eaten out. I was thinking oppossum. Did you find out what it was?

      1. Just recently our beautiful, sweet 8 month old rooster was attacked and killed. When we found him, his entire stomach/guts had been eaten, just the gizzard was left behind, so, I cut it up into small slices and froze them to use for bait. After setting up our large ‘humane’ wild animal trap upon the very spot we found him (for the added scent to lure him in,) I securely tied a fresh piece of gizzard inside at the end of the cage with strong twine. I wanted the creature to have to dig his heels in and tug away at it so that the trap was sure to spring. It worked! Next morning we had the guilty party–a possum!!!

  3. Get about 4 Great Pyrenees dogs, a few Guineas and put a goose in each pen. Coyote traps will catch coons, possums, etc. If a black bear comes around the great Pyrenees dogs will make quick work of the bear up to 600 lbs, believe me. As far as hawks and owls go, I hear farmers from the 1800’s would shoot them but that was back then.

    1. Black vultures will kill and eat livestock and pets. When they are done only a few big feathers remain and some larger bones that are picked clean and will look …old. lost a rooster and a pregnant cat. Black vultures often fly with wings flat. Turkey vultures have wings in a slight v shape.

  4. Had a friend of mine whose chicken was killed by a raccoon. Apparently the chicken was outside of the coop, although there was chicken wire around the coop so it seemed relatively safe. The next morning we saw that it had been sleeping next to the side of the wire and a raccoon had somehow reached its hands through the wire and ripped apart the chicken, taking only a small morsel of meat.
    I try not to use chicken wire for my chickens as the gaps between the grids it very large, allowing the animals to reach in and attack my chickens, and instead, use other sorts of wires.

  5. My chickens were free for the day and one was killed. The neck had all of the meat eaten off of it and there was a chunk out of the breast. What do you think did that? We have everything here, so refrain from telling me I am an idiot for letting them out. I already feel terrible.

  6. We had over 100 chickens killed in one night bodies scattered all over the yard feathers all over the coup and the yard. A few were still alive but appeared to have a broken back no puncture wounds or bite marks just a little blood around their beaks what could have done this???

    1. Wow, 100? I just lost 5 last night and I couldn’t imagine what could get all 5? But 100? I’m so sorry. I had no bodies with mine, just feathers. Hugs

      1. marianne brodrick

        Just read your post of just finding feathers. Did you ever determine what got to your chickens? My daughter lost three last night. It is her first time raising chickens and is so upset.

      2. Tammy in North Georgia Appalachain Mountains

        Lost 14 in one night . They were up in a tree. 1 hen five chicks in the shed. Nothing no feathers. I heard one cackle. Later found one body head and neck gone. Turned out to be Raccoons caught in the act later, 2 raccoons . They climb and ground kill. I imagine must have been several that night. I I don’t see an owl taking 14 and going into the shed. Weasels leave devastation and will kill until the they are tired or nothings left moving. They will kill fir sport sometimes feasting on one bird each or none at all. They leave bodies, feathers and their devastation behind. Coyotes would have had to climb high in the tree. Raccoons are natural born climbers of trees.

    2. Sounds like several dogs. They will sport kill, eating nothing. Lost 23 full-grown 8 – 10 lb birds to 3 dogs who scalled a 5 foot fence, killed them, then left a short trail of feathers. I found the 3 of them & sent them to another incarnation. No more dead birds.

    3. only one out of 4 chickens and 2 ducks was killed, the latch on the chicken coop was undone but the doors were closed. the body wasn’t found but its guts along with feathers were about 20 feet away from the coop next to our garage. and all the rest of the chickens feathers were on top of a cover for a huge dog kennel

  7. after all the stories etc.. why is no one using elec wire around their coops and pens? ive used it for horses, if you rig up the elec around the coop with insulators, and around the pen on step in posts , ground it well with three ground rods and put a gate handle on the strand across the door you use.. they wont mess with it, one hit and they take off

  8. Seems like raccoons like to go back to the scene of the crime a few times. One broke a screen to get into my barn and killed 8 birds. 2 nights later, I caught it coming back again and “relocated” it.

  9. Have a large metal trap caught something and it ate a large hole 8 inch by 6 inch Thur the wire what was that?

  10. Cheryl Mankin

    Something keeps getting our eggs. So far, they seem to leave the chickens alone, but eggs both go missing entirely and are left empty shells. We know we have squirrels and raccoons and possums. We free range our girls in the yard, with the nesting boxes in the coop; we think while the girls are out the critters get the eggs. We leave the door open so the hens can get to the nesting boxes; I don’t know how to protect them as we can’t be outside with them all day every day. We have a dog and were hoping that she would be enough to scare them away, but nope. Looking for a cat, but also concerned that a cat would see the chickens as prey too, so want to find kittens we can raise around them. It’s so frustrating, they not only get the eggs but all of our hard work in the garden, eating plants at every stage of growth. I just don’t know what to do.

    1. Try a new nesting box. We did this and it was an absolute game changer for us. Was only getting 5-6 eggs a day, then once I got a new nesting box, I started getting a dozen a day. Had no idea?!

  11. Kathy Hachlica

    I have a totally enclosed coop and something is getting in. It completely eats the bird it kills. Nothing is left but the bones and the skeleton is intact. The head is gone. There are NO feathers so they eat all but the bones. Does anyone have any idea what this could be

  12. I have had one chicken just to disappear, no feathers, bones, nothing. I had one today to die, it had been nibbled on around the neck. They are in a dog kennel wrapped with chicken wire all around and dog wire on the top and it’s lined on the bottom. Any thoughts? We have had an issue with rat snakes this year.

  13. We found a dead chicken today just outside of our fence. First, we found a pile of under feathers. Then some on the other side of the road in the thicket. We went around to the other side and in the field found the hen! The wing feathers still on the body and it was picked clean! We think it was also during the day.
    Wondering what killed it?

  14. Our 4 chicks are more like pets. Well we had to send one away to the farm down the toad as it HE found his voice and we can’t really have roosters. Now, I went out yesterday and found Fluff ripped apart, foot missing feathers everywhere. The two remaining are very traumatized.

    Whatever got in had to climb up wire mesh mesh 8 feet and squeeze through a 3 inch by 8 inch area that I neglected to close off up where the sides meet the roof.

    I’m feeling like a very bad parent!

  15. Hello! I live on the outskirts of Nashville and I am trying to figure out what might be getting my chickens. We live on 3 acres, with the front acre being open to our house and a yard. The back two acres are wooded and separated by a stream. We have lost two chickens. Both attacks were during the day and both times the entire chicken disappeared. The only evidence that it had been killed was a giant pile of feathers on the back side of our woods. It looks as if something is killing it instantly and then carrying it off to eat it. We haven’t found any bones or anything else left behind except feathers. We have recently spotted both coyotes and bobcats in the area, but I thought they hunted at night. Any idea on what it could be? Based on this post, my best guess would be either a bobcat, a coyote or a fox.

  16. my chickens were killed at night, it got in the coupe (locked ) took look off and eat the bird i n the water

  17. I lost all my 25 chickens last night .i have no idea what it is , no blood no feathers laying around all the bodies were there .some where in piles . I got five more chickens two days later and locked them in the inside coop at night. he busted the door down climbed over an 8 foot wall inside the chicken coop and killed all the chickens, dragged them over a 8 foot wall and put them in the corner . eat a couple of their heads off I have no idea what it is. Did put a hole in my chicken wire too.

  18. We lost a chicken. We think at night, found later in the day and ALL the meat had been striped from the rib cage, head and guts were missing. The feet were still in tact but even the leg meat was gone. The next day the rest of the carcass was gone. Any Ideas as to what might have been the culprit ?

  19. We lost a chicken last night right after dark. I was late going out to close the door on the coop. This girl must have been the unlucky one near the door. Our favorite of course. We heard a chicken scream and went running out. We didn’t see anything. Just feathers in a scattered trail for about 50 feet, then a couple her and there. Our dog tracked the scent to the back of our property where it must have gone under our fence. We never found our girl. What do you think it could be? Our chicken friends say raccoon, but will a raccoon really carry the chicken that far? The other 9 are traumatized, but doing ok and did not get hurt. This is the second time this has happened in the past 5 months. The other chicken was taken in the same manner during the day. Just a trail of feathers, then no trace.

  20. We live by the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Lost 7 out of 12 in our flock (rooster gone too) to what we think is a habituated bear. Has taken out birds on 5 other properties in our area in the past three weeks. All property owners are seasoned in chicken keeping (including protection of the flock). We live in bear country, but till this year, never had problem with them feasting on our birds. Made a destructive mess including tearing out the side of the coop (2 by 4’s and all). What we can’t figure out is… there was no blood…at all?? Last two to die were rooster (only back eaten) and one hen(only head taken). All other victims just vanished. If anyone has an idea, would love a response.

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