What Animal Kills Chickens Without Eating Them?

raccoon in chicken coop

What Animal Kills Chickens Without Eating Them?

Chicken is the favorite meal for almost every carnivore. Chickens trapped in coops during the night and running around the yard during the day are a predator’s preferred dish. They’re easy to catch and don’t fight back.

And after one is caught, and they get a taste for the easy prey, that predator will certainly be back for more. It’s every chicken owner’s worst nightmare, the first time you go out to visit your girls and find one of them has been killed.

How To Tell What Killed Your Chickens

If your chicken is simply missing, carried away with only a few feathers left as trace evidence, your detective work can be narrowed down to a few common predators. If the attack happened at night and there are no other signs of disturbance, the culprit is most likely one of the larger predators.

Look For Signs of Entry

forced entry into chicken coop

If you have an enclosed coop, look for signs of entry.  Check along the fence and look for holes in the wire or an entry dug from under the fence. Chances are you had a coyote, fox, or bobcat that dug its way in and stole a bird. These species of prey will grab and dash, taking their prize back to their den for dinner.

When you find a chicken dead but left in the coop or yard, the detective work gets a bit trickier. With so many animals that love to eat chickens, some for sport, others for food, you need to do a bit of investigative work to discover who is responsible.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common chicken-loving animals that prey on chickens but don’t necessarily eat them.

Most Common Animals That Kill Chickens Without Eating Them

When chickens are dead and most of the parts are still intact, there are several possible culprits.  The two most common chicken killers in both urban and rural areas are domestic dogs and raccoons. Both of these animals are abundant in the country and even in cities. 

Dogs

dog watching flock of chickens

If the attack occurred during the daytime and the bird was left intact, it was probably a dog. Domestic dogs are usually fed well so the hunting will be for sport. After the offender has fulfilled his thrill for the hunt, he’ll look guiltily about for any signs he may be caught, then quickly depart from the crime scene. Unfortunately, the suspect should include your own dog, or a neighbor’s. 

Dogs are very intelligent. Once they get away with killing a chicken, they will continue to hunt until they are stopped. People have lost entire flocks of chickens, one at a time, to a rogue dog that developed a taste for hunting. Since this usually occurs during the day, if one of your chickens is killed and left whole, you need to tighten security and keep a sharp eye out for the predator.

If you have a dog that’s developed a habit of killing chickens, be sure to read my article, 7 Tips For Keeping Dogs From Killing Chickens.

Racoons

raccoons will kill chickens and not eat them

Raccoons hunt at night and you’ll often find that they hunt in packs. The other thing about raccoons is that they might even attack several birds in one evening.

Do Raccoons Eat Chickens Heads?

Raccoons have several methods of killing chickens. One is to eat the head and leave the rest of the bird behind. No one knows why they do this, but if your chicken is headless, it could be a raccoon.

The second way they may decapitate a chicken and leave the bird behind is by trying to drag it through a partial opening in a fence. If they can’t get their plump meal out of the coop, they’ll eat the part of the bird that is sticking through the fence and leave the rest there.

A raccoons third modus operandi is to eat the breast, crop and or entrails. They will leave the rest of the bird.  If your bird is gutted but still remains in the coop, it may have be a raccoon. They are also notorious for removing eggs from the nest. If your bird is dead and all the eggs missing, the masked bandit is probably the cause.

Other Common Chicken Predators

Three other common chicken killers that may just eat the heads but leave the bodies are weasels, hawks, or owls. 

Weasels

weasels are known for killing chickens

Weasels are one of the smallest predators and do not hibernate so they will feed on poultry all year long. They are sneaky and rarely seen. They are active both day and night. They kill by wrapping themselves around a chicken and biting the base of the skull. They can squeeze through a hole ¼ of an inch in diameter, so they are difficult to keep out of a coop.

It may be difficult for a weasel to eat an entire chicken in one night and impossible to drag it back through a tiny hole. Look for bites to the skull that a weasel may have been involved in your poultry killing crime.

Hawks

Hawks will kill chickens

Hawks tend to hunt during the day. You will often hear their screeching calls overhead. Watch your flock dash and take cover as they know the death cry of a hawk. 

While hawks predominately kill a chicken on contact when it swoops down and grabs the prey with its talons, they have been known to decapitate and fly off with just the head. They traditionally eat the breast and pluck the feathers but it is possible they will kill a chicken and get scared off without finishing the job. 

Read more about my favorite Hawk Deterrents here.

Owls

Owls are predators to chickens

Owls hunt at night or early dawn. If there are a few feathers scattered, no footprints around the body, and just the head missing, the predator may have been an owl. Chicken brains are a delicacy for an owl. They are high in protein and easy to eat. Owls will often tear off the head and fly away to eat the head in a tree.

Tips For Keeping Your Chickens Safe From Predators

  • The most effective way to keep your chickens safe is to close them in a coop during the night.
  • Select sturdy fencing that doesn’t allow weasels and raccoons to grab a chicken through the wire.
  • Check there are no areas that provide a gap that a weasel can slip through.
  • You can install motion-activated lights or alarms that will help keep away predators.
  • Use orange netting over the coop as the color can be seen by owls and hawks. Make sure the netting is secure as hawks will try and test for weak spots.
  • To prevent digging predators, bury your fence outward from the coop under the surface of the soil.
  • Add a rooster, goose, or guinea hen to your flock. Geese and roosters are known to be protective toward the flock. Guinea hens are great at sounding an alarm if a predator approaches. 

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than walking into the chicken coop and finding one, two or even more chicken corpses lying on the ground. Even more frustrating is when you have no idea what might have killed them. 

If that’s the case, just look at the evidence the animal left behind and use the information laid out above to try and identify the predator. Once you believe you’ve identified what kind of animal is killing your chickens and not eating the bodies, then you can start putting things in place to better protect your chickens.

Recommended Products For Protecting Your Chickens From Predators

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