What Killed My Chicken?

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

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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.

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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, 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 1 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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Comments
  • I found 10 chickens dead in the yard with feathers scattered but no bitr marks no blood, heads still on and I don’t know what would have killed them

    Reply
  • Whole flock of 10 hens disappeared at night right out of hen house in the span of about an hour, feathers everywhere. We’ve been seeing a dog lurking around thought it was him. Everyone says doesn’t sound like dog. Now i se alot of smaller tracks around but there is no way to make tracks in coop. any ideas what took my ladies?

    Reply
    • Probably. Fox or bobcat. Its something. Tjat jas paws and is bigger than a housecat

      Reply
  • My boyfriend’s family chickens were killed by something in the middle of a rainy day. The pen had two small opening on it’s weaker side, and the hens were pulled through into the garden. They are missing their heads and one is entirely missing , but they all look like they were being drug in the same direction and the suspect only got to take one. Feathers are everywhere but there are no signs of blood. They live out in the country(coyote country) and the dogs are kept in an enclosure off the side of the house, and in clear view of the pen but didn’t make a sound(and they aren’t sure if the chicken were freaking out either). I really want to help them figure out what happened, and I’m not able sure if it was a raccoon, fox, bobcat or what.

    Reply
    • I forgot to mention that the tracks were small, about the size of a golfball, they were sadly washed by the constant rain we have been having here.

      Reply
  • I was devastated this morning to find at least 4 hens and my rooster gone. Feathers everywhere inside the pen and outside the run. There was 1 hen left with no head, but the others are gone-nothing left behind except the feathers. Initially the thought was a raccoon, however, only 1 chicken was left with the body and no head. I cant fathom the coon getting into the pen. I do have 1 bird that was injured, but not killed(probably wont make it though). Just an extremely difficult situation for me to find.

    Reply
  • This morning I found two hens and my 5 chicks roaming outside the pen upon closer inspection found the chicken wire had been pulled loose near the bottom rooster and adult hen missing another hen was about 20 yards away missing a leg and some small intestines hanging out

    Reply
  • My daughter is chicken-sitting for a neighbor. They have six in a coop. She went this morning to check on them and two were dead, one mostly eaten, in the closed-up coop. A raccoon maybe? Whatever it was didn’t get into the coop, I don’t think. there are feathers right near the outside of one end but there’s a dead chicken right near there, inside, so I’m thinking something pulled the feathers off and through the chicken wire and maybe some just flew out. The water container cover on the other end was knocked over, but the other chickens probably did that flapping around to get away from whatever was attacking. One corpse is mostly eaten, my daughter didn’t recognize it as a chicken at first, the other just a little. I’m thinking the chickens themselves might have done that.

    Reply
  • We had 5 hens and a rooster on Saturday morning when i let them out before a very wet and stormy weekend in Sydney. We are on an acre property and back on to the nature reserve. on the Saturday night, myself and my wife had work commitment and the rain was intense so we did not go to lock the coop. On Sunday we only noticed the rooster but with work and family commitments we did not give it a second though. Again we had a late night Sunday and the rain had still not eased so the coop door remain open. The rain had stopped on Monday and when my wife went to check on the rooster and hens, all we found were feathers. we never lost a hen in 3 years and in couple of nights they were all gone. Strongly suspect a fox but there is no tracks, or remains or any other evidence to suggest what has happened to them. they had stopped laying eggs so they had just become pets. we had just become used to the rooster crowing in the morning and now this has stopped too

    Reply
  • My friends keeps raising chickens and they keep getting killed. Are there professional backyard chicken coops for 15 or so birds that are predator proof? DO goats or any other animals keep most predators away? she raises the chickens with horses but that is not helping.

    Reply
  • Had 27 broilers killed one night, left them where they died, set traps all over inside the closed coop and caught a coon the next night. They can crawl through a 1and 1/2″ opening and do kill for sport.

    Reply
  • Snakes will take more than eggs and baby chicks. I found a pullet dead in the coop every other day . They were just laying there with out any sign of injury. One afternoon, I found a snake in there trying to swallow a pullet after it had coiled around it to suffocate it, eating it head first but it was impossible to swallow past the shoulders. He/she would spit it back out but I would have a wet head, dead pullet. The dead chicken mystery solved.

    Reply
  • Help! I’ve found two of my hens dead in the coop in less then 24 hours. They do not leave the coop at all. The first hen I found had no scratches, bruises or even blood marks anywhere on her body. She did look like she was missing a few feathers though. I just thought maybe the other hens had pecked her to death. The second hen I found this morning, exactly the same way, no bruises, scratches or blood anywhere. There were feathers everywhere like they had gotten into a fight or something. Then I noticed the window into the coop was busted open. The window is so small I don’t think a fox or racoon could fit through it. But if they did wouldn’t there be blood somewhere?

    Reply
  • You left out black bears. One pulled a window out of a very secure coop. Saw his muddy footprints. He killed 26 chickens in one night. Two survived by accidentally flying out the open window. He ate the abdomens out and left the rest of the carcasses. I was stunned when I went out that morning.

    Reply
  • I am at a loss. I live in Northeast FL and, while on vacation with a bird sitter on watch, I lost two of my girls. They were 2 year old RIRs protected by welded wire fencing around the run with bird netting over top and kept in a coop overnight. It seems that for a few days, the sitter thought the girls were not laying because there were no eggs to collect. Come to find that something was stealing them. We found broken shells hidden all around the yard. Then one day she noticed feathers scattered around the coop, all the girls still accounted for. Then one day 2 were gone. The only evidence was a 6-8″ dig beneath our 12″ buried fence. No birds, just a few scattered feathers where the dig was and and very few on the porch. We got back 3 days later and since we have been home, we have scoured the property searching for clues. The birds belonged to my 2 boys and they wanted to bury them. No vultures overhead, no other feathers anywhere else. Now a week later, after securing the fence base, I wake up to a raccoon stuck in the overhead netting. The girls were secure in the coop, and the raccoon got out and was fine, but I am confused. We have always had raccoons with no problems in the past. So my concerns are, 1) Do you think it was a raccoon or do we have another predator to deal with? 2) If it was a raccoon, why didn’t I find any bodies? Could a raccoon really have taken 2 full grown birds without leaving but a few feathers? 3) Why are there no feathers anywhere else in the yard? Do they really eat everything?
    Any insight is much appreciated. Just trying to bring my boys some closure and protect my remaining girls.

    Reply
  • I live up in the hills above los angeles and this morning when I went to feed the chickens, a mother hen was completely stripped of her flesh leaving the wing feathers, the head and the carcuss and feet. If this wasn’t bad enough – nine of her 10 chicks are gone without a trace. The run is completely secure on the sides, and 90% covered on the top. Does this sound like a hawk or owl? I also have coyotes, raccoons and possums up here. Sadly – I’m thinking that the mother hen perished this awful death protecting her 6 week old chicks. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  • There is a really good Poultry Predator Identifier tool available on PoultryDVM.com

    Reply
  • Found our chicken dead in the middle of the day nothing wrong with it except a hole under its beak thats all we know. What could that have been

    Reply
  • I found one of my chickens torn up in her nest box. I put the carcass in a box trap with an egg cracked over it and i got a possum the next morning

    Reply
  • – I live in the Parkland Region of Manitoba, Canada
    – I had a younger chicken that was allowed to free roam.
    – My watch dog injured…so out of action. (or this would not have happned)
    – I saw the young chicken at around 11 am today..before 1 pm I found it dead..
    – The breasts were gone. The wings, entails and all else remain.
    – it was like it was layed out..there on it’s back, with a perfect circle of feathers around it..as it lay in its own blood.

    I have no other clues to what it may be….Does anyone know what would eat the breats and leave the rest?

    Thanks

    Reply
  • 11 birds dead,and pilled up inside,some heads missing. something dug a long distance.

    Reply
  • Over the past 2 weeks 9-10 chickens have been killed decapitated body parts chewed up. Pulled against edge of covered run. I’m at a loss set multiple live traps with multiple baits from cat food to chicken liver wings even the killed chickens nothing caught. My rooster woke me up this morning at about 3 because another hen was killed. I have ducks and guineas too but they (so far) haven’t been touched any suggestions???

    Reply
  • today found brooding hen dead in hutch on day 21 and all six eggs had formed chickens but were dead and mother hen was dead as well. there were no signs of any animal getting in and the mother hen had the egg white from some of the eggs all over her. there were no signs of a struggle at all, why would this happen?

    Reply
  • Found 2 dead hens in one day. One had the the whole neck eaten. Head attached and all vertebrae were visible. The other had just the area of the waddle eaten.
    I think it was done early morning while still dark. My automatic door was set at 6:40 and it was still dark.
    Weasel or mink.
    I live in WNC

    Reply
  • Ran out one night to my chickens screaming, they where roosting in a tall tree, one was already dead on the ground and one tangled with whatever it was and fell as I watched, as I got close I realized she was on her last breath, it was dark and I never saw the culprit but both chickens had only a very small bite to the back of the head.

    Reply

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