Mystery predator(s?) leaving dead partly-eaten chickens (warning - graphic descriptions)

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by Gallifrayed, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. Gallifrayed

    Gallifrayed New Egg

    Dec 30, 2013
    My household has (or rather, had) a small flock which we raised from chicks. For about seven months, we were completely without incident, but in the past couple weeks we've lost three of our four hens. I now realize it was only dumb luck that kept our chickens safe for so long, since it's become painfully clear recently that their enclosure is not up to par (it fell into disuse and disrepeair years ago, before I moved in). I want to issue the disclaimer beforehand that I do care about my chickens and I'm distressed about this, and the fact that the enclosure is inadequate is due mostly to finances and a bit of naivete, but not indifference.

    Hen 1 disappeared without a trace about two weeks ago. I think she probably just escaped the yard and fell victim to a dog, but I thought I'd mention all the facts.

    I found Hen 2 dead in the enclosure on the morning of December 28th. She was laying on her back wtih her legs sticking out (claws not bent), evisercated with her intestines piled on top of her. The meaty portions were stripped from her thighs and her head was bitten off and laying nearby also looking like flesh had been eaten off it. Our visitor was a fairly messy eater; there were a few other clumps of feathers and gristle nearby. An egg had been opened fairly neatly at one end and all the contents had been eaten.

    I was fairly certain it was the neighborhood opossums, and I tried to secure the door of the enclosure better, believing they'd gotten in through an approx 2.5" gap in the door. We went two nights without incident, and I naively assumed I'd taken care of the security issue.

    This morning (Dec 30) I found Hen 3 dead in the enclosure. She was also laying on her back in a similar position to Hen 2 and some of the meat was stripped off one thigh, but she hadn't been opened along the belly like Hen 2. Hen 3's head was bitten off and contents of her crop removed through her neck. The visitor also cracked her skull open and apparently ate the contents.

    The door was still securely wired shut. A search revealed the enclosure has no other sizeable gaps, but many that are about 1-2" wide. This evening we're keeping the remaining hen and the rooster in a dog crate on the porch, but at this point I'm somewhat worried the visitor might even be able to squeeze into that.

    Based on what I've read, several critters might be responsible for this, but I'm at a loss, especially because there seems to be a difference in the methods it used to eat Hen 3 vs. Hen 2. It also has to have fit through a gap a few inches high and two inches wide at most. We are in central California. Can someone help me narrow down the list of suspects I've compiled?

    Opossum (juvenile/subadult?)
    Rat (how large a rat does it take to take out a hen?)
    Raccoon (juvenile/subadult?)
    Skunk (no odor noticed)
  2. Peep-Chicken

    Peep-Chicken Overrun With Chickens

    Jun 10, 2013
    My Coop
    I had a friend with a similar problem. Only with heads pulled off and blood drained.

    Check for tunnel systems beneath the earth. Can you set a trap with maybe chicken blood as bait?

    I am thinking you might have a mink or a weasel
  3. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

    By coming back on such a regular schedule you are almost surely dealing with a possum. However your first hen may have stolen her nest away some place safe and come be-bopping in with a clutch of chicks in another 10 days or so. At least I hope she does.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
  4. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

    Possums have a very short life expectancy. In the wild only about two years and in captivity about four years. Therefor possums grow up quickly and thus they are always in a hurry to be about doing possum things, like killing chickens.
  5. LilRedRoo

    LilRedRoo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 19, 2013
    Bremond, Texas
    I saw a hawk eating a pullet yesterday as I pulled up the drive; it flew off after I bolted for it and when it left the pullet was in a similar condition you mentioned, with the head off, the entrails strung out and some meat picked off for the meal.

    We've not lost a bird to predation in the year+ that we've been raising them, but knowing the behavior of birds of prey, I am certain it/they will be returning daily now that the perfect meal has been located.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2013
  6. Gallifrayed

    Gallifrayed New Egg

    Dec 30, 2013
    Thank you for the suggestions and speculations so far (more are welcome since the issue's still unresolved)! We're temporarily keeping them in the dog crate on the porch with a light on at night, and setting live traps elsewhere.

    I doubt it is a bird of prey, as this took place overnight in the enclosure, which is roofed.

    Chickengeorgeto, that is a marvelous speculation about our vanished hen :D but I'm not going to get my hopes up, since if that were the case our dinner guest might well have gotten her and her brood too.

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