What Killed My Chicken?
Evaluating the Aftermath of a Predator Attack in Your Chicken Pen and Run
Reading Time: 4 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.
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.
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.
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?
|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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34 thoughts on “What Killed My Chicken?”
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.
My silky rooster was killed. His head was severed and all the flesh was eaten from his neck. What killed him???
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.
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
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
My full grown rooster was killed early this morning. I found a scatter of neck feathers with a little bit of blood in the grass, and about 2′ over there was more blood and a couple of feathers in the brush. As I was looking around I discovered more scattered feathers in 1-2 foot clusters trailing through my yard yet I never found the bird. I’m in western Washington and trying to protect the rest of my birds. I have seen opossum, domestic cats, and of course hawks and eagles, and I have heard coyotes and owls. I few nights ago there was a weird noise combined with the sounds of an owl coming from my field. I would really like some insight on what to do to protect my birds.
I like the way you cool informations
We have 4 chickens and 2 were missing this morning, feathers everywhere, absolutely everywhere. One came back a few hours later beaten up, some feathers missing, but not bloody. The other one never returned. I saw some odd droppings in the backyard and outside of our fence, seedy with a white coating on top. I’d think owl but I looked everywhere for a carcass and didn’t find one. I feel horrible.
I was devastated. For the 3rd time just THIS year, I’ve lost pullets to some predator. I know it’s not rats but some are split open like being fileted while others are missing heads. Some just died of shock because I can find no injuries. I LOVE my birds. Please help me assess this so I can find a solution. I did notice Scratch marks on interior wall by the door. They are in a coop.
I really want more chickens. I have 12 adults that free range with no problems.
I have a comment , question. I left my chickens kit and a hawk flew down and made a grab at the young hen. A partridge cochin. This happene two times just to the partrich cochins. They seemed okay. I kept them penned up in coop. When I went in to check those two hens had part of their heads and neck eaten. Would rats have done that? We have been catching some large and small. Why would the partridge hens be the ones the hawks went after and why would they both be killed the same way I’m the coup? Now afraid to let them have time loose and afraid to keep confined any suggestions as to why so far just these partridge colored hens. The others are black. Would appreciate any help. Thanks donna
What would kill a hen in the coop? Found her with the ass up to the heart Aten. Intestines all gone.
That would be a opossom
Hi, I have recently lost 4 turkeys there was no blood on the ground. But off 2 turkeys there was each a leg missing. And it looks like each side is missing as well. What can that be?
Also they were more to one corner 2 were laying together one not far from that and the other one was more feathers all over. The Turkey enclosure stand about 8 or so feet tall. The top half of the pen was broken. I checked my dogs for any evidence and have seen no eveidence.
Today we found one of our three hens dead, intact, in the run. (I actually heard a squabble in the pre dawn hours but thought it was coming from my neighbors aviary and did not think to investigate it then). One of the remaining two hens had bloody head and beak. Lots of feathers everywhere. Doesn’t seem like an outside predator. Could one or both of the two have attacked and killed the one?
First chicken had the back of its neck tore up. Second chicken the next night was beheaded and licked clean. We’ve had rats and there are some fairly big tunnels. What’s killing my chickens?
Our neighborhood rooster was killed. The feathers in his back were gone and there were puncture wounds. What killed him?
In tears as I write this.. My sweet sweet Chelsea was taken an hour ago. Feathers everywhere and the dirt moved. I followed the trail of her feathers to the woods. The fence was broken into. I see no prints but it had to be big. Middle of the day. My heart is broken. She was the sweetest chicken I have ever known. She gave the best cuddles
Just happened to me. They liked to sleep in the trees in the front yard but neighbor complained that they, “were digging holes,” in their garden. So, I trapped them in their coop & my favorite happy, smiley hen was half eaten by a racoon last night. chickens go to heaven, though. Just came to read find other sad people. Let’s save the world in their names. I’ve been contacted by real angels who protect me from reptilian demons that have overtly harassed me for a yr, now. That’s because I’m exposing them and saving the world. They are going down. If anyone has problems from these filth, I can help you, tremendously. My evidence collection at Parler(dot)com(slash)tommy321. You can text me: 254-931-8233. -Thomas Jones, Troy, Tx
What’s the best time to have chickens?
Thanks in advance.
Had 11 laying hens. Now 1. 10 hens dead in their pen and only 1 had its throat ate out but did not eat on others. Killed over night. I figure a coon or coons. Your thoughts appreciated.
13 of my hens and roosters (young) were killed and their bodies were outside and inside of the pen and what ever got to it had brown fur and dug a hole and didn’t eat them but some of them had their breasts torn into, anyone know what it might have been?
We just found a Hen dead in a spot of tall plants that she likes to lay eggs. We knew that she was missing, but we couldn’t find her. The next Afternoon, we found her, and at first she looked fine,as if she was just laying there in the grass. But when we took a closer look, we saw that she had basically been disemboweled. Her feathers were perfect, her head was intact, and she had her egg laying right next to her, but her rear end and intestines had been removed, and since we couldn’t find them, we figured that her intestines were eaten. Please help us identify our culprit!
Jessica, this sounds like a opossum. They may also bite some of the breast meat. Very sorry for your loss.
One predator you didn’t mention yet is a bull snake. We were finding dead chicks, not eaten, looked like they’d been squeezed. Then we saw a hen fighting something… it was a 2 ft long bull snake. Once we took a shovel to the snake we didn’t lose any more chicks.
I’m so sorry this happened, the owl probably carried it off. But there is a chance that someone rescued your chicken.
I live in the country 11 chicken died last night heads missing body’s just laying around holes in the fences feathers everywhere all 3 chicken pins look the same. Did a dog do this? Please help