What Killed My Chicken?

Evaluating the Aftermath of a Predator Attack in Your Chicken Pen and Run

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What Killed My Chicken?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Gail Damerow – Keep a flock for long and sooner or later you’ll be asking yourself, “What killed my chicken?” Many marauders love our backyard chickens as much as we do, and each leaves a calling card that offers a clue as to which predator you’re dealing with. Having raised chickens for several decades, I’ve had my share of signs to evaluate — the feral cat that persisted in nabbing newly hatched chicks from under my mama hens, the fox that made off with two of my layers, the bobcat that carried away a turkey and came back for more.

Sometimes identification is easy, like the time a hawk swooped down and grabbed a bantam hen right before my eyes. (Learn how to protect chickens from hawks.) But every now and then I get stumped, mostly because not all predators have read the same manual, so they don’t always conform to the standard operating procedure for their species. The best you can do is try to examine where, how, and when a bird turns up dead or missing.

Missing Chickens

A flat-out missing chicken could have been carried off by a fox, coyote, dog, bobcat, hawk, or owl. Unless the bird was small, an owl is more likely to leave the carcass behind, with the head and neck missing. If your coop is near water, a mink may be the culprit. Do raccoons eat chickens? You bet. A raccoon killing chickens may carry away the entire bird, in which case you may find the carcass in the proximity of the coop, the insides eaten and feathers scattered around.

Chicks that disappear could have been eaten by a snake or by a house cat, domestic or feral. A rat, too, will disappear baby chicks without a trace.

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Dead Chickens

A chicken found dead in the yard, but without any missing parts, was likely attacked by a dog. Dogs kill for sport. When a bird stops moving, the dog loses interest — often to chase after another bird.

Like dogs, weasels and their relations (ferrets, fishers, martens, mink, and so forth) also kill for sport. If you find bloodied bodies surrounded by scattered feathers, you were likely visited by one of them. Weasels can slip into a coop through an opening as small as one inch, and a family pack can do significant damage to a flock in an amazingly short time.

Which parts are missing from a dead bird can help you identify the culprit. A chicken found next to a fence or in a pen with its head missing was likely the victim of a raccoon that reached in, grabbed the bird, and pulled its head through the wire.

When you find a bird dead inside a chicken pen and run (or a coop, for that matter) with its head and crop missing, your visitor was a raccoon. If the head and back of the neck are missing, suspect a weasel or mink. If the head and neck are missing, and feathers are scattered near a fence post, the likely perpetrator was a great horned owl.

A bitten bird, either dead or wounded, may have been attacked by a dog. If the bites are on the leg or breast, the perp was likely an opossum. If the bird is quite young and the bites are around the hock, suspect a rat. A bird bitten in the rear end, with its intestines pulled out, has been attacked by a weasel or one of its relatives.

Missing Eggs

When you’re raising chickens for eggs, losing eggs to a predator gets discouraging. Missing eggs could have been eaten by rats, skunks, snakes, opossums, raccoons, dogs, crows, or jays.

Rats, skunks, and snakes make off with the entire egg. A snake eats the egg right out of the nest. Jays, crows, ’possums, raccoons, dogs, and occasionally skunks leave telltale shells. Jays and crows may carry empty shells quite a distance from where they found the eggs, while a ’possum or ’coon leaves empty shells in or near the nest.

I hope your flock remains safe from predators. But should one visit your coop and run, the following table (adapted from my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens) offers a starting place to help you identify what killed my chicken.

What Killed My Chicken?

Clue Possible Predator
One or two birds killed —
Entire chicken eaten on site hawk
Bites in breast or thigh, abdomen eaten; entire bird eaten on site opossum
Deep marks on head and neck, or head and neck eaten, maybe feathers around fence post owl
Entire chicken eaten or missing, maybe scattered feathers coyote
One bird gone, maybe scattered feathers fox
Chicks pulled into fence, wings and feet not eaten domestic cat
Chicks killed, abdomen eaten (but not muscles and skin), maybe lingering odor skunk
Head bitten off, claw marks on neck, back, and sides; body partially covered with litter bobcat
Bruises and bites on legs rat
Backs bitten, heads missing, necks and breasts torn, breasts and entrails eaten; bird pulled into fence and partially eaten; carcass found away from housing, maybe scattered feathers raccoon
Several birds killed —
Birds mauled but not eaten; fence or building torn into; feet pulled through cage bottom and bitten off dog
Bodies neatly piled, killed by small bites on neck and body, back of head and neck eaten mink
Birds killed by small bites on neck and body, bruises on head and under wings, back of head and neck eaten, bodies neatly piled; faint skunklike odor weasel
Rear end bitten, intestines pulled out fisher, marten
Chicks dead; faint lingering odor skunk
Heads and crops eaten raccoon
One bird missing —
Feathers scattered or no clues bobcat, cougar (aka catamount, mountain lion, panther, puma), fox, hawk, owl
Fence or building torn into, feathers scattered dog
Small bird missing, lingering musky odor mink
Several birds missing —
No clues coyote, hawk, human
Feathers scattered or no clues fox
Chicks missing, no clues snake
Small birds missing, bits of coarse fur at coop opening raccoon
Chicks or young birds missing cat, rat
Eggs missing —
No clues human, rat, snake
Empty shells in and around nests dog, mink, opossum, raccoon
Empty shells in nest or near housing crow, jay
No clues or empty shells in and around nests, maybe faint lingering odor skunk
Adapted from: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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What Killed My Chicken

10 thoughts on “What Killed My Chicken?”
  1. Took 24 adults off roost. Took hen and 5 chicks from shed found one cactus away from site near fence. Head and insides eaten headless cactus intact not a feather found besides the one hen dropped possibly spooked by me and my horse. I heard one small cackle that night and a thumb done the dide of the shed. Then silence. Investigating every chicken and rooster were gone.

    1. It was most likely a racoon they will tear up necks and eat them. I’m so sorry this happened. I have 18 new 6 week old chicks and I’m doing my best to keep them away from predators.

  2. Couple of months ago found my rooster dead in hen house. Had a small circular bite on head. Now 2 months later same thing only a hen this time. What is killing my chickens. No other parts of chicken appear to be touched

  3. My mama hen and two of her 8-week old chics were killed two nights ago. Only feathers of the mama were found, but no bodies. Also, no animal hair found in chicken netting or wire. Not even a paw print. What took my girls?

  4. My rooster disappeared without a trace, no feathers, no blood, just not in the coop when I got home from work. Thought it was a hawk as I saw one circling the next day. Then four days later, something went inside my coop and inside the nesting boxes. Two chickens were missing. Everything tipped over, nesting boxes crashed through and fell to the ground, feathers everywhere. Had to be small enough to fit through the small door and go up the small ramp. Found the other two chickens freaking out in my backyard. Were these two separate predators?

  5. I recently lost a hen, found dead in my small coop with no marks of any kind. It looked like her neck was broken and I surmised something startled her and she flew up and hit her head on the floor of the coop’s second story and broke her own neck. My coop and run is protected on all sides and underneath with 1/2″ hardware cloth and overhead by bird netting, so I don’t think this was any predator.

  6. Had a large rooster with a large Spurs killed last night. His head was mauled but there. He was torn open, breasts torn out efficiently. Everything else was still intact. He apparently never had a chance to use a Spurs. He was left in place where he was killed a few feathers scattered about

  7. 2 adult layer chickens missing. Leaving a ton of features behind. No chickens or remains found or evidence left behind.
    My chicken coop is pretty secure haven’t had any problems for a year. I put them to bed every night. They roost on top a heavy Truck tire on top of a dog kennel and tall shelving if they need to be higher. The coop is covered.
    Chicken coop was locked up, it’s located near a ditch with running water. With a combination of hog, horse, chicken and rabbit fence to secure it . With landscaping wood hammered into the ground with hog fence under it. 2 heavy truck tires in front of the gate with 2×4 shoved in any cracks. What got in??? leaving behind only feathers from 2 adult chickens . There were so many it looked as if they were plucked clean and then taken. There was no hair or feathers caught on the fence or outside of the coup either. Or even paw prints or any real sign of a struggle. Just feathers lining the fence about 6′ in length x 12″ in width.
    I figure it to be more human but could be wrong. Help solve a mystery.

  8. I had two chickens go missing at some point between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.. they were free-ranging during that time but at 9:30 all of them were in the coop except for two. No feathers to be found anywhere or signs of chickens.
    And again I am missing another chicken which was in a secured coop one small spot something may have got in but these chickens are full grown hens 3 years or older. Again no signs of any others in the coop or any other chickens missing or any feathers or anything in my yard.

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