Can Owls Grab 15 Ducklings in a Single Night?

Woolhouse

Hatching
May 12, 2015
5
0
7
I am a pretty experienced chicken guy - in fact, they even generate part of my income (we mostly do salad greens for restaurants, and we use the chickens to prepare planting beds and sell eggs and chickens as a side thing). Over the years, I've seen many predator kills - foxes, yotes, weasels - all the usual suspects. But this one was just weird.

I am new to ducks - a customer requested them, and I decided to take the plunge. I am afraid my ignorance of duck habits was at least partly to blame.

My birds are kept in 10 X4 X4 movable house with an attached run 50 feet by the width of the house. This is a planting bed. After the chickens fertilize and kill all the weeds, I move the whole thing to a new spot. I tried the ducks in a similar arrangement. I have had few predator problems with this setup because the growing area is rabbit fenced and there is the hex wire fence keeping the birds out of the veggies....this double-fencing seems to be 100% effective against mammalian predators.

1) There were 35 ducks in the setup - 15 black runners, 15 Pekins and 5 Rouens. The predator took ONLY the runners, which were about half the size of the others. All the birds were about 3.5 weeks old.

2) Disappeared without a trace. No body parts or "feather explosions" or any of the usual signs of the dirty deed. Just 15 gone ducks.

3) The were sleeping outside. Every chicken I've ever raised in this setup slept in the house. The ducklings seemed to like sleeping under the stars. This is where I believe my ignorance of duck habits was the cause.

4) The only clue: A bloody smear on the roof of the house. The killer grabbed a duck, jumped up on top of thing (four feet), and slashed a jugular. There were bloody footprints. My daughter says they are chicken tracks, but they are slightly smaller than a chicken's foot and the "back toe" appears proportionately longer. This is why I suspect owls.


BUT- Could owls REALLY eat 15 ducks in a single night? Granted, they were only about half grown, but still....that's a lot of duck! It was my impression that owls are territorial, and that only one or two will inhabit a given area. How could they have done this much damage in one night?

I have fixed the problem (I think), but simply herding the ducks into the shelter at night and closing the door. But still, I like to know what species of thug I have in the neighborhood.
 

tcstoehr

Songster
Mar 25, 2014
417
47
124
Canby, Oregon
So many possibilities, so little evidence. I'm afraid you simply cannot know what did this with only the information at hand. People will offer various best-guesses but they are only guesses.
However, I sincerely doubt that an owl could do this. They catch their prey, eat it, and go home.
 
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Woolhouse

Hatching
May 12, 2015
5
0
7
I thought that too, which is why I made the post. But then I figured, "a nesting pair, with a half dozen owlets to feed? After I started locking them in at night, I spread some lime around to catch foot
prints, and nothing. Mammal predators always come back.
 

DoubletakeFarm

Songster
6 Years
Feb 23, 2013
271
46
136
NE Ohio
That's a lot of duck for any predator. My guess: Something got in, killed one duck and the rest freaked out and tried to escape the pen. The runners were the only ones that could get out of your pen. That would explain why only the runners are gone and why there's no evidence of mass killing.
 

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,373
17,726
856
Holts Summit, Missouri
Fox or coyote would be first suspects when so many lost in one night. That would be a lot of trips for an owl carrying only one bird per trip. Fox would take victims just over fence and cache them making multiple trips more likely. Some foxes and coyotes are very good at making kills without leaving much in the way of feathers as evidence. If cached, then sight likely to be within a couple hundred yards. A dog would make finding the cache site easy.

What are you doing to prevent a repeat?
 

Kev

Crowing
12 Years
Jan 13, 2008
6,517
726
361
Sun City, California
Are there bobcats in your area?

I lost my entire flock of muscovies and geese in one night to a bobcat. There was absolutely no trace, just a couple feathers clumped together looking like normal molt, except it was 2-3 feathers stuck together.

I looked all over and nothing.... until I let my dogs into the back where the birds are, they were very interested and eventually found a bobcat hiding in a very large bush in the corner... eventually found some corpses by smell a few days later- they were so expertly covered I had walked right by them and never noticed.

Another incident, another bobcat several years later- missing chickens and young peacocks(they were free range and slept in trees)- same thing, no trace save for the very few feathers stuck together in the same way. Eventually caught the bobcat. It too, had taken multiple birds the few times it had visited.
 

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,373
17,726
856
Holts Summit, Missouri
Bobcats are just about everywhere in the US. Mine targeted harem master roosters taking one at a time during the day. Dogs shut that down once they figured out what a bobcat is.
 

Bengt747

In the Brooder
May 3, 2015
64
6
35
My birds are kept in 10 X4 X4 movable house with an attached run 50 feet by the width of the house. This is a planting bed. After the chickens fertilize and kill all the weeds, I move the whole thing to a new spot. I tried the ducks in a similar arrangement. I have had few predator problems with this setup because the growing area is rabbit fenced and there is the hex wire fence keeping the birds out of the veggies....this double-fencing seems to be 100% effective against mammalian predators.
Does the run have a cover or top on it? It's very possible that an owl (or pair of owls) killed all 15 ducklings. It wouldn't take too much effort for a great horned owl to snatch a couple ducklings per swoop. The bloody tracks, which your daughter described as chicken-like, further suggest to me that you're dealing with an owl.

Quote:
Based on the tracks you discovered, I would lean against the culprit being a bobcat or canine. An owl could have flown up with a duckling, hopped around on top of the coop, and took off. Regardless of what it was, if your run doesn't have a top on it, I would recommend making one in order to deter both owls and canine predators. It may be a pain to do this, but it could save a bit of stress in case you wake up and realize that you forget to lock your ducks up last night. It's possible to build a top that can come down easily in order to move birds around and whatnot.

There was an individual in my grandfather's area raising chukars in flight pens with hexagonal "chicken-wire style" fabric netting across the top of the pens. At night, owls would spook the chukar into flying straight up. When the chukars got their head stuck in the "gaps" in the netting, the owls would walk across the top of the pen and eat the heads off of dozens and dozens of chukars. Owls can do some serious damage when given the opportunity....That being said, fabric netting typically works very well at discouraging hawks and owls from going after poultry and game birds. The birds you have are quite unlikely to get caught in the netting due to their size and disposition.
 

Woolhouse

Hatching
May 12, 2015
5
0
7
That's good advice. I went over to Tractor Supply today and got some of that nylon netting to cover the whole run. When I got back, yet another "suspect" revealed itself. There were three large ravens in the duck run! They weren't attacking the ducks except to obnoxiously run them away from the feeder...but, I wonder if they couldn't have gone for the runners which were much smaller. I don't know if that explains the chicken-like footprint in blood, but it seems at least plausible.
 

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