Ask the Expert: Predators
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How do I keep red tail hawks away from ranging flock of chickens? I usually let out from 3:30 until dark!
Hawks are a problem in my area, too! I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t lost any to raptors (raccoons are another story) while they’ve been picked out of my neighbors’ yards. But the biggest reason isn’t luck; it’s because of overhead obstacles. My last house had a huge overhanging mulberry tree, that provided shade, and a six-foot wooden fence. Hawks didn’t have enough room for the downward swoop they would need to get under the tree. Of course, when I moved my farm to a more-rural location that had more hawks and fewer trees, I had to make my run enclosed. Any overhead obstacle can deter hawks, such as an old car-shelter frame with netting draped over the top. But you will need to design or move the birds to an area where they can stay under shelter at all times because hawks are some of the smartest animals I have seen.
Good luck with your chickens (and those hawks!)
I have a situation on our farm that I have not seen the likes of and not sure what to do. I have tried to trap it, hunt it, poison it, take a picture of it, and nothing. Something has killed almost my whole flock of chickens at an alarming rate. In one night, it has eaten an entire bird in the pen plus 15-20 eggs and took one with when it left.
What does that? And please don’t tell me it’s a raccoon. The pen looks like a slaughterhouse and I just don’t see it capable of such a thing and my opinion of them would be all wrong. I need to know if maybe a bobcat is to blame; I have looked into that and I just don’t know. I live in Pennsylvania near Fort Indian town gap at the base of a mountain. The first picture happened last night. I have four birds left out of 18. I am in need of some answers, can you help? Thanks.
— Mitchell Miller
I hate to tell you this, but your descriptions of eggs and birds missing, with a little carnage left in the coop, best describes raccoon behavior. A common indicator of raccoon attacks is finding chicken carcasses with the heads missing. They are extremely smart animals who work to figure out the weaknesses in your coop then often attack in groups, working together to do a lot of damage. I’ve heard so many people say, “It can’t be raccoons. I never see them.” But raccoons attack at night, often in the hours we are most likely to be asleep, such as 3-4am. Not many other animals, which cause the type of trauma you showed, also take the eggs and don’t leave shells.
Here is a great guide, from eXtension.org, which details how to determine what’s attacking your flocks, based on trauma, carcasses, and tracks. Good luck finding and dealing with the culprit!
Hen Found Dead
I found a Bantam in large shed dead on the shelf with its head, neck, and crop missing. Thirteen birds in total use the shed and all the others are okay. What killed my chicken?
It sounds like your Bantam is the victim of a raccoon. The head and crop missing are sure signs that a raccoon found its way into the shed.
It’s good to hear your other birds are fine. But, once a raccoon finds its way into your coop, it will keep coming back for an easy meal. Make sure to thoroughly inspect your coop for small openings and secure it so your raccoon’s future dinner efforts will be thwarted.
Stopping Fox Attacks
Do you have any tips or hints for foxes? I have one that’s thinning out my flock of guineas and all I ever get is a glance of him when they sound the alarm. My rifle is sighted in and at the ready but the fox always manages to be where I don’t expect him. Sly fox!
Foxes are perhaps the hardest predators to stop. They are smart and they are patient. They’ll watch to get used to your routine so they know the best time to strike. With guineas, this may be hard, but try letting them out to free range at different times of the day. If you have a dog, make sure that it’s able to get to the places your guineas roam. The dog droppings will discourage the fox. Even if you have a dog, male human urine can discourage predators.
You can also try using the red flashing predator lights and leaving a radio on near the coop during the night.
Because predators do get used to a routine, vary up your techniques. It’s harder for them if they can’t quite figure out what you’re going to be doing.
The sad reality is that even with using all these techniques, it’s almost impossible to stop all predators. It’s best to move forward and try to learn from each encounter how to do better next time.
Hope this helps!
I have a couple of questions.
The first one is, will ravens and crows eat chickens? We have a couple of ravens living in our neighborhood. I know that ravens and crows will steal and eat eggs if given the chance and that they are scavengers and eat dead animals, but I haven’t been able to find out if they eat actual chickens. I am not as concerned for our bigger chickens as I am for my Silkie bantams because they are so much smaller. I wouldn’t want one to be anybody’s supper!
My second question is, what do I do about hawks? Our chickens have been free ranging in our backyard ever since they were big enough to find their food and water by themselves, and not slip out of the yard. They have plenty of human interaction because my sister and I “baby” them. But, the past month or so, almost every time I let the chickens out, a black hawk and his buzzard buddy show up. Hawks have not been a problem before. The buzzards don’t bother the chickens, but I think these two teamed up with a deal: Buzz[ard]: “Hey Ace, how ‘bout we swing over and grab a chicken? I scout, you catch, and we split the meal?” “Sure, Buzz, but those kids won’t let us near their chickens,” Or something like that. It sure seems that way.
We have a large yard, and we live on the side of a hill, so one side of the yard is higher than the other, so it would be hard to put mesh over it. The fence isn’t incredibly high either. Because shooting BB guns at the birds is illegal here, whenever I let the chickens out, I stand guard over them, with the hose turned on full blast and a squirt-gun something-or-other on the end of it and whenever the hawk gets too close, I squirt it into the air. But that only lasts a little while because whenever I leave the girls, I have to pen them up again; and so they get bored and they eat … and eat, and then they gain weight. So the food bill goes up, and nobody likes fat laying hens. They also have started purposely started eating eggs because they’re so bored. Help!
Your advice will be greatly appreciated!
Ravens and crows could be a problem for baby chicks as they are snack size and present an opportunity for an easy meal. Since baby chicks are so vulnerable, it’s best to keep them protected at all times.
With that said, ravens and crows do not like hawks and other birds of prey in their territory. They will often run off birds of prey. So they can be a useful tool in protecting your larger birds and also your Silkies.
As you stated, birds of prey are protected by law. It is illegal to harm them.
Birds of prey get a bad reputation and are not usually the biggest predator problem a chicken keeper will face. The onslaught usually comes from ground-dwelling predators.
With that said, there are ways to protect your chickens from birds of prey when they are free-ranging. Make sure they have lots of bushes and structures where they can duck under and hide. You can also buy a fake owl or hawk from your local farm store and/or put up a scarecrow. Move them around every few days and the birds of prey will be wary. A good farm dog helps to keep your flock safe. And, a good rooster is invaluable when looking to the sky, spotting danger and sounding the alarm.
This online story is also helpful.
Wishing you a happy and safe flock!
Thank you very much!
It’s nice to know that ravens can help. Our chickens have a few bushes, trees, their coop, and our playhouse to hide under and inside of, and they’re pretty smart. The only rooster we have is my Silkie named Buffie, but I’m not sure if he watches the sky like he should. Our Dog, Emmie, is very sweet with the chickens, It’s almost like she’s their nanny. So we can trust her to protect them!
Treating a Wound from a Predator
My dear chickens have had two predator attacks in the past few weeks, resulting in some head feathers being ripped off one of my Ameraucana hens. It healed and we put her back in the coop. The next day her head was quite swollen on one side. This resulted in her being unable to open her eye; she is now in our basement. We don’t know if it’s infected or there is something wrong. Please get back to us as soon as you can. I don’t know what to do. I’m not that experienced, but please help! It’s much worse now than in the picture at this point.
It’s so sad to hear about the predator attacks! It’s hard to diagnose from a picture, but it seems like your hen has some type of infection from the wound. Bite marks can certainly spread germs. And open wounds are an invitation to infection. It’s a good idea to try calling a local veterinarian. Even if they don’t normally take chickens, an infection isn’t just specific to chickens so they should be able to handle the situation. If you’re having trouble finding a veterinarian, try looking for one that treats pet birds. Although not exactly the same, it’s similar enough that they may treat your hen.
Until your doctor’s appointment, try drawing out the infection with a warm, not overly hot, compress at the wound site. Make sure the wound is clean and then cover it with Neosporin. Do this two to three times a day.
Good luck with your hen! Here’s to a speedy recovery!
Keeping Your Flock Safe
Last year it was raccoons, opossums and maybe a fisher who raided and took half my chickens — 20 in number! They even opened the door to one coop! We hired a professional trapper to eliminate the problems. Since my husband’s death four years ago, my chickens give me a reason to get up and get going every morning. New year, new problem! I watched a Peregrine falcon as he captured one of my two little brown bantam hens, just outside my kitchen window! Falcons are protected; my chickens are not. No, I cannot fence them and cover the pen with a net, as the Game Commission suggested. I need my chickens to free range, to control fleas and ticks around my house. I am hoping for a wonderful way to discourage the falcon.
Your frustration is understandable. It’s important to reinforce something you mentioned. Birds of prey are a protected species, so you can’t legally harm them in any way.
With that said, there are ways to help. For more information, there is a link below to an article we have online about protecting chickens from hawks. For the most success, use a number of different methods at the same time. Put scarecrows in your yard and move them frequently. A fake owl, purchased from a local farm store and moved frequently, can be helpful. A diligent rooster is always watching the sky and warning the ladies if danger is near. And perhaps best of all, provide your flock with lots of cover including shrubs and standing structures, like a deck, where the flock can take cover.
Standard-size chickens are not a favorite for most hawks and falcons as they’re often too big to make an easy meal. But, bantam chickens are another story. They are the same size as many of the wild birds that hawks and falcons eat on a regular basis. With a healthy raptor population, you may want to consider switching from bantams to standards in the future.
REPLY: Thank you! We have them all: raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes even an occasional fisher! Last summer we hired a professional trapper after half of my chickens were victims. 36 varmints left with him! We have used old CD discs to discourage hawks around the coops, but Mr. Falcon was right outside my kitchen window! I think he has cleaned out all the chickens and pigeons and the coyotes have taken all the small rodents in our area, so I think the falcon has to look hard for his food source. I really appreciate all the information and we will be considering all our options!
Can a Guard Goose Be Effective?
Which variety of goose is a better selection for chicken flock protection?
As you probably know, geese are naturally territorial and they will defend their space if threatened. They can be an effective watchdog for a flock of chickens. Interestingly, when people use geese to protect their flocks, they will normally have just one goose and raise it with the chickens. The theory behind this is that if you have more than one goose, they will bond together and become a flock unto themselves with little concern for your chickens. A single goose will bond with the chickens and they become part of its territory.
Some people have favorite goose breeds for guard duty, but just as many say that any goose will do the job. When you’re considering a breed, you may want to pick a larger and louder goose since protection is your goal. Mixed breeds work well too.
A Bad (Good) Dog
I have a five-month-old mountain cur pup who has a bad habit of chasing my chickens. She has killed two of my four-month-old Silkie Bantam chicks. How can I teach her to leave them alone? She only does it when nobody is around.
Thanks for the great magazine.
Junior Wengerd, Millersburg, Ohio
It’s best not to leave your new pup alone with your chickens until she is properly trained. There are many techniques that are discussed in the chicken world about how to train dogs to leave chickens alone. While some may work and others may not, it’s better to be safe than sorry. A dog trainer that will come to your house is probably the best course of action. Many chicken owners report excellent results when working with a professional.
Can Dogs and Chickens Be Friends?
I would appreciate your advice of what species of poultry that I might consider acquiring in order to have the meanest type.
I have a two-year-old Blue Heeler and she has killed several chickens. Are turkeys or guineas more defensive, or is it a losing situation to think that a dog would stop attacking any poultry species once they have killed one?
Well, we would suggest an ostrich. That might scare off the dog, but we doubt that’s going to be your best solution. Ultimately, we would suggest adding a fence to separate your dog and chickens. You are correct in your assumption that once dogs discover a taste for chickens, it is hard to ever be sure when that instinct will or will not return. So, our suggestion is to keep them apart at all times.
Blue Heelers are cattle dogs, which are generally okay with poultry, but there are always exceptions. If you’re looking for a good dog who can work with your poultry, breed and history do matter. Some dogs who have a higher prey drive should be lower on the list, including hunting dogs like terriers and retrievers, abused or mistreated dogs, and dogs that weren’t bred to be family animals, like Huskies. Shepherding dogs can be trusted more, and the Pyrenese and Akbash are among the most trustworthy, according to Marissa Ames, one of our expert poultry raisers and writers who lives out in Reno, Nevada. She added in a recent piece for us about it: “Age matters. This includes the age of both dog and chickens. When we started socializing our dogs with our chickens, we didn’t let them roam around together unless the chickens were full-grown. The dogs got their noses pecked and they learned from the bossier hens that they were not to be messed with. By the time we had this established, I started training them with the babies. And as stated earlier, Tater chased the chickens when she was younger. Now that she’s four years old, she doesn’t bother them at all.”
We also remind everyone that the master matters, too. Training is very key, and you have to teach your dogs to respect the chickens. And in the meantime, while you are training them, build that fence.
Good luck with your flock. We hope peace returns to them soon!
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