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What killed my chicken?

MinkThe chicken keeper's worst nightmare is unfortunately common.  You head out to the coop to feed your hens...and instead walk into a battleground of dismembered chickens.  Although you may simply want to crawl into a hole and cry at the time, it's worth taking a few minutes to determine what kind of predator killed your chickens so you can prevent further attacks.

The key (and descriptions) below are based on a factsheet from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.  To read the key, start at the top and answer each question, skipping ahead as ordered until you find your answer.  For example, if one bird is missing but you see feathers in the coop, you'd start at question 1, skip ahead to 5, and settle on a fox or coyote as your culprit.

1. Were the birds killed or missing?

  • Dead birds visible.........................................................................go to 2
  • One or more birds missing............................................................go to 5

2. How may birds were killed?

  • Several...........................................................................................go to 3
  • One or two killed...........................................................................go to 4

3. How were several birds killed?

  • Mauled but not eaten......................................................................Dogs
  • Killed by small bites on body, neatly piled, some heads eaten.......Mink or Weasel
  • Heads and crops eaten on several birds..........................................Raccoon

4. How were one or two birds killed?

  • Birds mauled, abdomen eaten........................................................Opossum
  • Deep marks on head and neck, some eaten...................................Owl
  • Chicks killed and abdomen eaten; lingering scent.........................Skunk
  • Young chicks dead on floor of coop.............................................Rat

5. How many birds are missing?

  • One bird is missing but feathers remain.........................................Fox or Coyote
  • Several birds are missing without a trace.......................................Human
  • One or two chicks are missing without a trace...............................Rat


Dogs. A dog usually kills chickens for the sport.  Several dead birds with much mauling of the carcasses is usually evidence of a dog.  Dogs usually visit the chicken pen during daylight hours rather than at night.

Mink and Weasel.  Birds usually show signs of attack on the sides of the head if a mink or weasel has visited the poultry house.  With these predators, several birds will probably be killed and piled neatly together.  The back of the head and neck are frequently the only parts of the carcass consumed.

Raccoon.  If a predator visits only once each 5 to 7 days and eats the head and the crop of the dead birds, a raccoon is probably responsible.  Sometimes more than one bird will be killed at each visit.

FoxOpossum.  The opossum generally attacks only one bird at each visit.  Usually, the bird's abdomen has been eaten.  Eggs may also be the object of the opossum's raid on the chicken house.

Owl.  The only likely culprit here is the great horned owl, which does sometimes attack poultry.  One or two birds are usually killed, with the talons being used to pierce the brain.  The owl wil usually eat only the head and neck.  Feathers found on a fence post near the chicken house or pen may provide an additional clue.

Fox and Coyote.  The old sayings about the sly fox were not by accident.  The fox and the coyote are very smart and difficult to catch in the act of raiding the flock.  Since birds are frequently carried away with little evidence left behind, the only way of determining losses may be a head count.  Visits from these predators will usually be very early in the morning.  Keeping birds in a secure pen or poultry house until late morning is good insurance against losses from a fox or coyote.

Skunks.  Skunks do not usually attack adult birds.  They may kill a few chicks and eat the abdomen.  Eggs may also be the targest.  If skunks have been in the poultry house, the odor is usually a clue.

Humans.  Unfortunately, there can be problems from people as well as animals.  If birds are missing with very little evidence, particularly from a predator proof pen or house, the possiblity of humans being involved should not be overlooked.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.


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I have looked at forums online for indicators for various predators, but your summary is probably the best that I have seen. Thanks!
Comment by David Wednesday afternoon, December 14th, 2011
Owls put a hurtin' on our chickens this year. Apparently one figured out the little chicken door and helped itself to a free meal any time I didn't make it home in time to put them up right away. Fur bearing mammals I am able to shoot or trap but these darned owls are protected. They're beautiful creatures, but I sure wish they'd leave my chickens alone!
Comment by Heath Wednesday afternoon, December 14th, 2011

David --- I thought it might be helpful. Hoping we'll never have to read a crime scene ourselves, but it's best to be prepared....

Heath --- Sounds like you need an automatic chicken door. Some people swear by those Predator Eyes, but I've heard mixed reports. Another anti-raptor alternative I've read about is stringing up netting over the whole run, which might be hard or easy depending on how large an area your chickens have.

Comment by anna late Thursday morning, December 15th, 2011

Thank you so much for passing on this fact sheet to help me determine what preditor/s have been killing my young chickens. The heads and crops were missing from 1-2 birds per day. Some whole birds are missing with only feathers left behind. Last night only the wings were left behind from one young bird. At about 3am this morning I heard a lot of noise coming from the chicken house and grabbed my flashlight and went out to investigate only to find, not one, not two, but three oppossums attacking my birds. We shot them! I Hope the problem is solved. Thanks for your great info.

Comment by Little Red Hen House early Friday morning, October 12th, 2012
Little Red Hen House --- That's some story! I don't feel so bad now about the opossum I accidentally trapped and killed. Maybe it was looking for a tasty hen....
Comment by anna mid-morning Sunday, October 14th, 2012
In the past we had an overflow of roosters that we left in the pen with an area to get out of the weather. One afternoon we found them scattered like a war zone and only one appeared to be eaten on, others untouched except to be killed and one missing. We don't let out hens out much. But occasionally do so and didn't have a problem until recently. Appeared that they were killed in the late daytime, just as the sun was going down. Out of a flock of 16, found 6 dead, 1 missing. Of the 6 dead, only the rooster had be ate on and it was only his mid section that had been eaten. No other birds had been touched, except to kill. All heads were still there, even on the rooster. Thanks for all your help, Eric
Comment by Eric mid-morning Monday, February 4th, 2013
Keying out the symptoms you mentioned, it looks like your predator might be the neighborhood dogs. Sorry to hear about your lost birds!
Comment by anna late Monday morning, February 11th, 2013
Just wanted to say thank you for posting this information. I had an extremely strong suspicion but now know w/o a shadow of a doubt that it was a dog, most likely the new neigjbor's dog as it had been out unattended several times since they moved in and was witnessed out of his yard that day. During the day, mauled not eaten. Left a fur sample on the fence which I wish I could bring to a CSI team. I'm writing a very carefully worded letter and have several concerned neighbors willing to sign it in support of neighborhood safety. These people need to know their dog could potentially be a dangerous dog and that if they do not abide by their legal responsibilities in dog ownership by keeping it safely and reliably on their property this could become a major legal problem for them and we won't be standing alone. I don't want to start a neighborhood ear but we all have animals and several have small children. What's to stop their dog from moving on to cats, attacking a leased dog being walked legally, or god forbid he actually attacks a child?
Comment by Rebecca early Tuesday morning, April 2nd, 2013
Rebecca --- I'm so sorry to hear you had trouble! I hope you can get the problem sorted out.
Comment by anna at lunch time on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
I've lost all my adult chickens in the past 3 months. We've trapped and killed about 8 coons,Easter morning we actually killed one trying to carry our full grown rooster out of the while he was still alive. I nursed him back to good health and he doing great now. I purchased 10 young chickens 2 days ago, locked them in the pen,thought I had predator proofed it By putting wire on the ground all around the pen to deter digging under, yet when I went to feed them this morning all were dead.Most had been eaten on some not. I'm at a dead end on what to do. Whatever done this actually pulled the wire back and went under the fence,with light on also.
Comment by wanda mid-morning Sunday, May 5th, 2013
Wanda --- I'm so sorry to hear that! We keep our chicks just a few feet outside the backdoor for the first month our their lives because, otherwise, we tend to lose them to rats. Then our dog keeps nearly all predators away from the larger chickens. I don't know if you can implement either of those solutions where you live, but I hope something works out for you soon!
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, May 6th, 2013

Rebecca - I'm so sorry to hear about your neighbor's dog attacking your chickens. We had the same problem with our landlady's dogs killing some of ours. It's incredibly frustrating. I wanted to comment on what you said, though - that you are concerned the dogs might "move on" to attacking other animals or children. Although this dog is obviously predatory, unless it already has issues with children, it is not likely to "transfer" that behavior to kids. It very well may be predatory with cats and other small animals, but then again it could also only direct this behavior towards chickens. I just wanted to clear that up as it's a misconception I hear a lot (I have been a professional dog trainer for over a decade). I understand your concern but behaviorally speaking, predatory behavior isn't likely to jump to children. If the dog has not been well socialized to children there may be other issues, but most dogs know the difference between poultry and humans.

Good luck in resolving this - I hope the neighbor is cooperative.

Comment by Ursa mid-morning Friday, May 17th, 2013
I have chickens who roamed freely over my yard, the two dogs I had never bothered them once, then I was persuaded to take on a third dog by an elderly couple who were going into a senior's home. This dog, a wire haired german pointer was a lovely softy, got on with the two dogs and the cat, never chased deer or rabbits but became unhinged when he saw a chicken and I lost several before I realised what was happening and contained them to a secure run. Just because a dog kills chickens does not mean they will harm anything else. I have since learned the previous owner would take him to the beach and encourage him to chase gulls.
Comment by Barbara in the wee hours of Monday night, May 21st, 2013
Just found a dead chicken with bit marks but still whole,one with missing feathers bit marks and half alive,and feathers all over the coop.AND I HAVE FOUR MISSING.Pretty sure it was dogs.ANY HELP??
Comment by Brandon G. Sewell Wednesday night, May 22nd, 2013

Barbara --- We pet-sat a dog like that once, only it chased cats instead of chickens. It turned out that the owners praised it for chasing cats, just like your dog had been encouraged to chase gulls. If the dog is your own, it's amazing how malleable it is, though, once you figure out exactly what you want it to do.

Brandon --- So sorry to hear that! In the few occasions when a chicken gets injured or sick, we just put her in a quiet place by herself with plenty of food and water. Sometimes she gets better and can be put back in with the flock, and sometimes she doesn't. This post might help prevent the problem from happening again.

Comment by anna Monday afternoon, May 27th, 2013
I've got a coup that has 2x4 fence wire raped with chicken wire 1 in . How do you loose 12 chickens and no sigh s of any thing happening in side no feathers blood no tears in the wire no nothing Please someone tell me what happend and it happend 2 times
Comment by Kevin Wednesday evening, June 12th, 2013
Kevin --- Any chance your neighbors have a taste for chicken?
Comment by anna Monday afternoon, June 17th, 2013
We live in the city and only have three hens. Our hens are a little over a month old, and have been outside for about three days now. They have been doing great until this morning. One is just completely missing without a trace. They have a coop and a fenced in run. We have looked everywhere, for any evidence of anything. We looked in an place she could be hiding. We even went to our neighbors and looked through their yards with them, and walked around the block just in case she somehow someway got out of her coop, the run, and then our fenced in yard. We are at a loss and are really upset about losing her. Any ideas? Suggestions? What could have gotten her?
Comment by Maddy at midnight, June 20th, 2013
Maddy --- I've sometimes had chickens missing without a trace and suspected it was hawks or owls, despite that the key says. (I might just not have found the kill site.) On the other hand, it's possible your missing hen has just settled down on a nest of eggs, in which case she might show up again in three weeks with chicks in tow. Good luck!
Comment by anna early Sunday morning, June 23rd, 2013
Sometime during the day yesterday we lost six of our 5 week old hens. The chickens have a fenced in yard and a coop. We found a pile of feathers and remains of an eaten bird in the yard and five dead birds inside the coop. Two of the hens inside had their heads missing the other three were dead but not eaten. There is no sign of anything digging under the yard enclosure. This morning an immature eagle was spotted sitting on the roof of the hen house. Would a young eagle do this or would it more likely be a raccoon?
Comment by Vicki early Saturday morning, July 20th, 2013
Vicki --- I'm sorry to hear about your lost birds! That does sound more like a raccoon, but it's worth keeping an eye on the eagle since it's at the right place at the right time.
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, July 22nd, 2013
We have trapped 8 raccoons this year after loosing 8 Guinea keets out of a cage..this evening..8 fish..I went to the coop to find a hen missing..evidence left behind is a a pile of feathers outside the fence & a trail of feathers ended at a big tree...no carcass was found..although I will look again tomorrow...fox..coyote..raccoon? The trap has been moved close to the pile of feathers..your advice please?
Comment by mary ann Friday night, August 23rd, 2013
HELP! I am farm sitting for a friend on a business trip. Last night one chicken was missing completely. That's not unusual so it was dismissed until this morning when it was discovered that another hen was missing its tail feathers and bleeding. Sadly, the hen died only a few hours later. A closer inspection revealed a large piece of skin missing and only one puncture mark could be identified. The wound didn't look fresh but rather dry and old. It was a large adult hen. I am concerned that another will come up missing or maimed. Also, I would like to point out that her dogs have been visiting the coop, which I figured was their way of looking for their human but now I'm wondering if they were the culprit or knew something was staking out the scene?
Comment by teri Wednesday afternoon, September 18th, 2013
I am a new to raising chickens so was wondering if someone had insight on this mystery. We have a coop and right now we have wood stacked on top of boards around the edge of the coop to prevent something from digging into the coop. We came home two weeks ago to find a hole dug with one 7 week old chick gone. There wasn't one sign of a chicken anywhere. Then yesterday came home and the 10" x 7" door with wooden latch/sliding lock is ripped off the coop and four now 9 week old chicks gone without a trace. We have two dogs, a golden retriever and a chocolate lab and no neighbors. We have never seen a raccoon, rat, possum, on our property (I think because of our dogs). We do have coyotes that trapes across the property but don't usually get close because of the dogs. What do you think???
Comment by Jenny late Monday evening, October 7th, 2013
Hi there. I went out to my chicken coop today to find a dead chicken..it looked like something ate it's way into her but. It was horrific to see. They were all locked in the coop. I don't know whatcould have done this?? Did it diebnatural and a rat ate her or did a weasel mmaybe sneak in?????
Comment by jessica Thursday evening, October 24th, 2013
We built a new pen today and sometime late night or very early morning (before 3am) I kept hearing racket an d chickens yapping which is odd so late. Upon inspection there was a chick in the middle of the pen with its head detached but all parts remained. The rest were all scattered at the corners and hiding. Even had a hen lay an egg under the coup (it's on stilts). The fence is wooden 3-4ftt tall and no sign on digging or destruction. We do have a huge pine tree that over looks the pen and I heard some screeching from its highest point when I went out. It was just the one chick but the rest of the chicks, hens and Roos were all clearly rattled from it. We live in a residential area and have never had a problem with cats or dogs. What is it and what do I do?
Comment by Anonymous early Monday morning, November 4th, 2013
Just heard the chickens going off at 3am ran out a coon has one of my silver duckwing old english bantams in its mouth saved it but missing a bb red old english bantam rooster no trace of feathers no nothing
Comment by Tim terribly early Saturday morning, November 9th, 2013
Hi,my birds free-range during the day. Came home in the daylight today to find my only rooster dead..some blood around the head/neck, and pile of his downy feathers about a foot away in a big pile. All the hens were OK, but a bit scared. I can't figure out who the predator would be...any ideas?
Comment by Robin Ungano Wednesday night, November 13th, 2013

hi u guys with bird problems aka hawks owls and such. go to lowes or home depo and go to garden center get the black 1inch by 1inch bird netting to put over your chicken pen, we use 100squar pen 25ft on each side, the netting is 14dollars for 700square ft, more than enouch, plus it traps chicken snakes too that try to climb up fence, we use the fencing from lowes too 6ft tall, then take the netting and put on top, use 10ft post and push netting up so u can walk in your covered chicken pen, use twist ties or those plactic ties to over lap and tie your netting together, leave enough so u can put your post in pen to lift netting up so u can walk in pen.

the netting is located in garden center, its 3ft wide and 100ft long we got ours on sale for 10dollars,winter mark down i guess its strong netting like plactic nylon type they cant break thru it, watch a hawk many times dive in and out got hung up and never came back. good stuff. last year trapped 3 chicken snakes in the netting , never got inside pen so eggs were safe. hope this helps just message if u need further info.

Comment by robert late Tuesday night, January 29th, 2014
I just went out and found all seven of my hens dead. It's consistent with a dog attack. My rooster is alive and fine which I find strange. Our hens are free range and only go in the Coop at night. We have a fenced yard and our dog has never shown aggression toward the hens. But since their bodies are fine except missing feathers and being mauled I guess it was our dog! I'm scared that he could snap and hurt my 4 year old son. These hens were not new we have had them a year and no problems between hens and there dog before :(
Comment by Jessica Monday evening, February 3rd, 2014

That is really a helpful predator chart... Thanks for sharing it. We have a raccoon problem, but so far they have not attacked the chickens. Seems that keeping hens safe requires extraordinary measures sometimes. Along with the predators mentioned, we also have to deal with bears and mountain lions. One neighbor lost his entire flock to a big cat. I had a bear twice attempt to break into my pen. When a very bold sow and three cubs were wandering the area, we reinforced our door by screwing a piece of sheet metal over the wire opening. The bear ripped the metal off like it was cardboard, but then evidently abandoned its pursuit. Another bear ripped the gate off its hinges, cracking the gate post in two. If a bbear really wants into your coop, there is pretty much nothing you can do to stop it apart from maybe having concrete walls.
I feed our hens kitchen scraps and also piles of produce scraps from a local organic market. I try to keep uneaten scraps cleaned up, so as not to provide even more temptation to would-be chicken killers.

Comment by Deb late Monday night, February 4th, 2014
I just found a dead chicken from our flock. She had escaped the pen in the morning after i let her out. We have two dogs, but they dont tend to bother the chickens when i let them out to free range. We have lots of preditor species, but no opossum in the area. The chicken was killed and then something ate the side and seemed to be going after unformed eggs and guts. I dont think it was the dogs becuase she was not mauled very much. Will hawks or owls just go after the eggs in the bird amd leave the rest? Could not find additional evidence.
Comment by Tim late Tuesday afternoon, February 25th, 2014
I had 9 very tame red sex link hens that free ranged from almost the beginning .I kept them penned up for a week and then let them out. My dogs wanted to eat them but learned to tolerate them as they realized The chickens were family.(that may have been partly responsible for there loss) My chickens would squat when approached by me or the dogs and I doubt they would differentiate between a dog and a fox ? All my chickens disappeared with no feathers no bodies and no clue as to where they went or what had eaten them (carried off and never seen again)? Now there is only one left and she only comes out of the hen house when I arrive and goes back in when I leave,She must have seen her sisters attacked or should I say snatched! A three legged fox has been seen close by and I think it will turn out to be the culprit?
Comment by phil meyers late Sunday night, March 3rd, 2014
My hens were attacked the other night when I forgot to shut the main door, I found 7 of the 10 bodies. The bodies I found were all just missing their heads/necks. The part that baffles me is how far apart I found the bodies. I found one accross the road in the neighbors front yard, 3 on one side of the field and 3 more on the other side of the field. It was about 1/2 mile from the 2 furthest chickens apart. I cant see a raccoon dragging that many chickens that far and in so many directions. I dont know if an owl would kill so many chickens? Or maybe it was a pair of owls? What do you think?
Comment by Sarah at lunch time on Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Hi, I lost my best laying hen on Mon. She was partially eaten in my coop which is covered and sided by chain link ( cyclone fence). I was shocked but shrugged it off, 2 nights later I lost my favorite hen. Beeps was disemboweled, most of her was eaten & feathers every where. The Rooster never raised any alarm though, I blocked every entrance I could, nothing lost in 2 nights now but I'm down to 2 hens and 1 worthless Bard rooster! I'm thinkin' possum but I'm in rural west Wa. so I suspect coons too. Any help would be great.

Thanks Don L

Comment by Don L Sunday night, May 18th, 2014

I live like 5 years in the netherlands and my grandpa and other family is living in armenia. Yesterday they called via skype to say that all their chickens and one rooster (10 out of 10)
Got killed i dont know what it is but all of them got bitten 2 times and all their blood got sucked out they were just in a pen .

My grandpa saw a chicken still wandering around ... same bitemarks and the chicken had a lotta pain so my grandpa decided to finish him off.

When skinning the animal it didnt drop a drip of blood

So i would like to know what it was .. If you know you can email me at arsen_boy@live.nl thanks for the help

Comment by arsen Monday afternoon, June 2nd, 2014
We have found several dead chickens in our pen. They are about 2 months old. We will find 2-3 dead at a time. One might be whole with some eaten out of it, the other partially eaten and the third will be completely gone with only the wings and feet left. This has happened 3 times. We checked them one day around 430pm and there were 3 dead, we removed the 3. When we returned home around 11pm and checked again, there were 2 more dead. We left the 2 in the pen just to see what would happen. The next morning, the 2 dead chickens were eaten almost entirely, with the feet remaining and some of the wings. But no other chickens were killed. We have set a live trap and are hoping for some luck, but we have no idea what to expect. Has anyone else seen this killing pattern?
Comment by Ginni Sunday afternoon, June 8th, 2014
My chicken is bleeding from the head but I managed to save it. Mother hen and all chicks are in the bath tub in the house now. What can I do to help the chick survive? The wounds don't look deep.
Comment by Tess late Tuesday morning, June 10th, 2014
I came outside this morning to find all seven of my chickens dead. None are missing. Most appear to have bite marks on their backs. One was ripped in half and the head torn or bitten off, but not eaten. There is a hole dug under the fence. Does this sound like dogs to you? Thanks in advance.
Comment by Sarah late Tuesday morning, June 17th, 2014
Heard noise this morning around 6 thinking chickens were fighting each other, but found their fence loose and hens about and missing a few without a trace. We're in the city with 40 acres of wetland in the back of our house. Have seen foxes and racoon. More recent on the fox and not the racoon. Have seen hawks and neighbors cat but no dog. Still a mystery.
Comment by autum terribly early Thursday morning, June 19th, 2014
Woke up this morning to find the top of my chicken coop was moved 3 feet so something could get in my coop is 4 feet tall and none of the sides were disturbed just the top there was no feather or anything just the top moved and birds gone. I live in the woods pretty deep and have heard a few big things go bump in the night but im just amazed that some could get in and out of the coop that high off the ground. any ideas??
Comment by Anonymous mid-morning Thursday, June 19th, 2014
One night I came home from a baseball game and i kept my chickens out in the run because it was day and light out when I left. When I came home my four chickens were all killed. One was laying out in the run but the other 3 were laying on top of each other in the inside coop part. I am only 12 so i ran away right when I saw them but my dad had to take them out to put them away. The second I saw them they looked bloody and had no feathers but the chicken out in the run had all its feathers. The next day my dad told me that they had most of there feathers and mostly here necks were eaten. I think it is a weasel but my Mom thinks its a raccoon because she has never seen a weasel were we live. (Near cleveland OH) We always see raccoons here and they always get in our garbage but the coop is pretty close to the ground and doesn't look like a raccoon can get into it. So please tell me what killed my chickens. I really dint want to kill the wrong thing then have the other kill my next ones.
Comment by Lucas early Wednesday morning, July 9th, 2014
My sister and I have a big problem with something raiding our coop I don't think it is something small but something bigger we had in the upword 50s of chickens we are down to 38 and the only turkey that is left is our tom but he also sleeps on the chicken coop roof our hen was plucked off her nest she was sitting on her nest she made in a blackberry thicket I found her bones on the other side of the nest 2 days later she was picked clean the eggs were intact none had been eatin there were feathers everywhere we also had about 15-20 baby turkeys they were a few months old were probly about a 1 1/2 ft tall they are all gone now the carcasses were found in the yard picked clean along with the chickens but the turkeys were the first to go but we still have our 2 chicks a couple of our hens hatched out in the thicket somewhere and they are still very lil they don't have their primary feathers yet....
Comment by Brooks at midnight, July 25th, 2014
We just moved our 6wk old guinea keets out to the chicken coop/run last week. No problems except this morning one keet was missing and I found just its head outside of the coop. No damage to any other birds or to the coop/ground around it. I don't know how the predator got it out of the coop. We have 2x3 metal wire fencing so maybe a raccoon reached in and pulled it out through the wire? The guineas haven't figured out how to climb the ramp into the coop yet at night. They are so scared of me but I think I'm going to have to put them inside now. Any ideas? I don't want to lose more birds.
Comment by Eliza at lunch time on Monday, July 28th, 2014






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