predator identification


In the Brooder
11 Years
Apr 4, 2008
I had 12 chicks ranging from 1 to 6 days old in a seperate pen with their mother. The only other creatures Ive seen in the pen are mice. Yesterday 3 chicks were found dead. Two were missing their heads and the third was almost completely gone, only a leg and thigh remianed. Does this sound like the hen's doing?

Thanks for the help
Chicks only a few days old? Seems like a raccoon could make short work of such tiny little things without leaving such a mess. I suppose raccoon is possible, if there is an opening large enough for one to fit in, but I would tend to suspect something with a smaller appetite: perhaps a weasel or rat.
The idea that a weasel eats only the head is just a generalization. It applies to birds too large for such a small animal to consume in one sitting. In such a case, the weasel may simply be consuming the most nutritious part of the animal - the brains.

If there are lots of big birds in the coop, the weasel might kill many of them by biting the head. This is probably not "hunting for sport" as Damerow suggests. This is analogous to you going to the grocery store and buying a surplus of food to store in your pantry so you don't have to go shopping everyday. The weasel, too, is saving this excess food for later. Many predators do this, just like people do. It's called caching.

A weasel could eat an entire baby chick without leaving any mess, just as it can consume an entire vole in one sitting. It might leave a bit of a mess, like a leg, especially if there are additional chicks to chose from: Why eat the less nutritious parts if there are other choice morsels to choose from. People do the same thing when food is abundant - when given huge portions in a restaurant, we eat the tastiest parts and discard or save the rest for later. On the other hand, starving people with nothing else to choose from will eat every bit - the fat, the gristle, etc.

This could have been a weasel - if it was, it probably first ate the one whose leg remains, then killed the next two to save for later. Left uninterrupted, it would probably kill all the chicks and maybe the mother. But if something scared it - a frightening noise, a larger predator happening by the coop - it would slink off. that could be what happened in this case.

I do think a rat is a possibility here, too. A rat could eat a baby chick, and then might try to kill a few more and leave them or take them away for later consumption. Biting off the heads is not classic rat behavior, and if this had been done to 10 of them, I would say "not rat". But it was done only to two of them - hardly enough to call it a consistent, patterned behavior.

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