As far as domestic animals bred for food, chickens are perhaps the most popular and widely spread across the world. In 2018, estimated populations were of about 23.7 billion.
While many chickens are reared as part of industrial efforts in factory farms, specifically for wholesale purposes, a very large number are kept by people in their small holdings or houses. Their meat and eggs can be consumed in equal measure, and they breed relatively easily, so they make a great sustainable source of food.
Chickens also have a lot of natural predators, and one of the key challenges of a household keeping chickens is preventing these from attacking their pens. Let’s have a look at the top predators of chickens.
Beyond a doubt, humans remain the number one predator of chickens. Whether bred for their eggs or for their meat, more than 50 billion chickens are brought up every year in the world. Unfortunately, 74% of poultry meat and 68% of eggs come from factory farms, and many concerns have been raised about the methods employed and the quality of life of the birds in these farms.
However, when looking at home-grown chickens, or chickens raised in family farms and small holdings, the story is quite different. These enjoy a good quality of life, having the opportunity to roam through large gardens or farmland, and the layer hens (used for eggs only) can live a long time. Chickens farmed for meat are called broilers, and typically take about six weeks to reach the size you would want to eat, with organic or free-range broilers being slaughtered after 14 weeks of age in general.
Foxes are the main antagonist for all small holders and regular households with a chicken coop. Wild foxes are nocturnal and will approach the chicken coops at night. In recent years, urban foxes have proliferated, as they are less afraid of humans and traffic because they get used to this as they approach houses and rummage through bins for food. This is how an increase in fox attacks to small chicken coops have become prevalent.
If you are planning to grow chickens, you need to therefore invest in good fencing and lift your coop off the ground, so chickens are less easy to reach by a fox going through the garden at night when they’re asleep.
It would be difficult to fight off these predators if you have chickens roaming around an open space. They are extremely agile and will swoop down to grab their prey and fly off with it. Hawks are also very intelligent, which makes them a top predator for chickens.
Another predator is the small weasel. It’s a fierce fighter and will attack at night, in the same way as foxes. They can be very efficient.
Because snakes can get through small gaps in enclosures, they can become a very difficult predator to ward off. They can also hide in the bedding.
You should be looking to make a coop as sturdy as possible, with solid floors and very small gaps in any openings, to fight off this predator of chickens.
Even dogs will attack and eat chickens. Of course, this isn’t the case with someone’s own dogs, assuming they have been trained properly, but it can become a problem with a stray dog.
7. Wolves and bears
Just like dogs, wolves can dig under the coop fencing or push open the doors and gain access to chickens, who they will happily eat. It is also the case for coyotes.
It doesn’t sound likely for many of us but, depending on where you live, there are also bears to contend with when securing your chickens. They break into coops and eat the birds too.
Raccoons also like eating chicken and they have been found to twist chicken wire to open it. If any doors are not tight enough, they are also able to go through them and attack the chickens inside their coop.
9. Great horned owls
With their large claws, intelligence, and agility, great horned owls are serious predators of chickens. They have even been seen walking into a coop so they are a real threat for chickens.
10. Big cats
Any feline is a threat for chickens, from cougars and mountain lions to bobcats and lynxes. It is quite easy for them to use their agile bodies to get through to the chickens if a chicken coop hasn’t been secured properly.
In some cases, even domestic cats have attacked and preyed on chickens.
11. Possums, skunks and badgers
All these wild animals prey on chickens. They are primarily nocturnal and will break into your garden by climbing over walls or finding holes in fences, then attack the chicken coop wherever they can find a small weakness, forcing doors or digging under loose corners to get in and capture a sleeping chicken.
Finally, rats are a notorious predator as they will attack at all times of day and night and can therefore get hold of, and eat, eggs left in the roost. They also attack and kill really small chicks.
While humans are probably the first predator of chickens, we are also their first line of defense against all the other wild creatures who will eat them, from egg to fully-grown stage. Because of how much humans breed chickens specifically for consumption, it is hard to see them as predators as, without human intervention, there would definitely be a lot fewer chickens to begin with.
However, once you do have chickens, the question of how best to protect them from the many predators interested in them is a serious challenge. Chicken coops are always evolving and more intelligent latches and self-closing doors come out, as well as technology to have motion sensors and lights to dissuade attackers during the night.
I hope that this article on chicken predators was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Animal Facts Page!