Possums are the ultimate opportunists of the backyard. They won’t turn down an easy meal, including a chicken coop raid at night. Possums do eat chickens, although full-grown chickens are generally safe. They will prey on weak, small hens, as well as chicks and eggs. To protect your flock, prevention is key. Invest in a solid coop, keep your yard clean, and understand that relocation is often neither legal nor effective.
In this article, we’ll dive into the habits of these misunderstood marsupials and arm you with 10 solid tips to keep your chickens off the possum menu, ensuring your coop is more fortress than feast.
- Possums Are Opportunistic Feeders: They’re not the apex predators of the backyard but they won’t pass up an easy meal. This means if they can get into a chicken coop, they will. And they’ll take what they can get, be it feed, eggs, or birds.
- Nighttime Is Crunch Time: Possums are nocturnal, so they do their dirty work at night. Ensuring your chickens are locked up tight after dark is key.
- They’re Not All Bad: Opossums also munch on pests like ticks and beetles. They’re a part of nature’s clean-up crew, so they do have a beneficial role outside of being a poultry menace.
- Prevention Is Better Than Cure: It’s much easier to keep opossums out than it is to deal with the aftermath of an attack. This means investing in sturdy coop construction, with secure latches and no gaps larger than an inch.
- Don’t Attract Unwanted Guests: Keeping your yard free of food waste and securing garbage cans will make it less inviting for opossums.
- Relocation Should Be a Last Resort: It’s often illegal and not very effective to trap and relocate opossums. They have a knack for finding their way back, or you might just create an open spot for another possum to move in.
- Know Your Local Wildlife Laws: Before taking any action against opossums or other wildlife, it’s important to know what’s legal in your area. Some places protect these critters, and you’ll need to adapt your strategies accordingly.
- Key Takeaways
- What Is a Possum?
- Do Possums Eat Chickens?
- Do Possums Kill Chickens for Fun?
- Do Possums Eat Chicken Eggs?
- How to Know If Your Chicken Was Attacked By a Possum
- The Benefits of Possums on Your Homestead
- How to Keep Possums Away From Chickens
- 1. Electric Fence Wire
- 2. Motion-Activated Lights
- 3. Special Predator Lights
- 4. Pet and Livestock Guardian Animals
- 5. Ultrasonic Possum Repellents
- 7. Cans With Ammonia-Soaked Rags
- 6. Coop Maintenance
- 7. Lock Your Chickens Up At Night
- 8. Secure the Food
- 9. Build a High-Vis Scarecrow
- 10. Get Your Possum Professionally Removed
- The Verdict: Do Possums Eat Chickens?
- Do Possums Eat Chickens FAQ
What Is a Possum?
The possum, or more correctly in North America – opossum, is an animal that’s likely to cross paths with you and your chickens at some point. Possums look a bit like a mishmash of other animals. Think a cat-sized body with a pig-like face and a rat’s tail. Possums are survivors and have been around the block long enough to call both North and South America home.
Opossums Are Adaptable Eaters
Opossums are the original adaptable eaters. They’re not fussy and will dine on everything from overripe fruit to the occasional mouse, which can actually be beneficial around your property. But here’s where it gets tricky for us chicken folks: opossums won’t turn their noses up at a free meal. That includes your chicken feed, eggs, or even the chickens themselves if they’re not properly secured at night.
Think Like a Possum
When you’re setting up your coop, think like an opossum. They’re clever and can squeeze through small spaces, so make sure there are no gaps and that the coop is fortified against any unwelcome visitors. Possums can climb, so don’t forget to look up and secure the coop from aerial entry points as well.
Opossums aren’t the type to pick a fight. When danger looms, they’re more likely to ‘play dead’ than to confront a threat. This behavior is well-documented by Daniel W. Lay in ‘Ecology of the Opossum in Eastern Texas,’ where he notes that avoiding conflict is a key survival tactic for these animals.
Opossums Are Part of the Ecosystem
Opossums are part of the local wildlife and play their role in keeping down the pest population. They’re not out to get your flock, but they will take advantage if the opportunity arises. It’s all about cohabitation with a bit of savvy prevention.
And just to set the record straight, these North American opossums are not the same critters as the fluffier possums found in Australia. Different continents, different animals, though they share a common name.
Do Possums Eat Chickens?
Yes, possums do eat chickens. They’re opportunists and won’t pass up an easy meal. However, the possum is more of a scavenger than a hunter. A full-grown, healthy chicken is a bit of a challenge for a possum. But, if a chicken is sick, injured, or otherwise vulnerable, a possum might take the chance to go in for the kill.
Where possums really pose a threat is with your smaller birds, chicks, and eggs. These are easy pickings for a possum and don’t require much of a tussle. That’s why it’s crucial to have a secure coop.
Possums Prefer Easy Snacks
Possums are mostly looking for a quick snack, and they’d rather not tangle with a full-sized chicken if they don’t have to. But hunger can drive them to be bolder than usual. It’s all about making sure that your chickens aren’t the easiest option on the possum’s menu. Keep feed secured, remove any food leftovers before nightfall, and ensure there are no inviting gaps or holes in your coop.
Do Possums Kill Chickens for Fun?
No, possums don’t kill chickens for fun. They’re practical creatures driven by basic needs like hunger. If a possum kills a chicken, it’s because it’s looking for food, not for sport. They might sometimes attack or kill more chickens than they can eat in one sitting if they stumble upon a vulnerable flock, but this is more about opportunistic feeding and survival instinct rather than malice or play.
For chicken owners, this means that while possums can be a threat, they’re predictable. They’re looking for an easy meal, so your best defense is to make sure your chickens aren’t on the menu. Keep your birds secure, especially at night, and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of a possum attack.
Possums Only Kill What They Can Eat Right Away
If you wake up in the morning and find multiple chickens killed and not eaten, it’s unlikely that a possum is the culprit. Possums tend to kill only what they can eat right away, due to their scavenging nature. They might kill a chicken and leave the carcass if they’re startled or if they have enough to eat elsewhere, but they don’t typically kill in excess.
Chicken Massacre Culprits
When you see a scene like that – several chickens killed – it’s more characteristic of predators like dogs, which can kill for sport. Other wild predators might also kill multiple birds due to a strong hunting instinct, like weasels or raccoons. These animals might kill more than they can consume or carry away, especially if they’re hunting in a pack or if they enter a “killing frenzy” when they find an accessible flock.
Do Possums Eat Chicken Eggs?
Yes, possums will definitely eat chicken eggs. They’re not fussy eaters and will take advantage of any available food source. Eggs are an easy, nutritious meal for them, and they don’t have to work hard to get to the contents.
How to Know If Your Chicken Was Attacked By a Possum
If you suspect a possum is the culprit behind your chicken coop troubles, there are a few signs that can confirm your suspicions. First off, possums are night prowlers, so any trouble during the twilight hours could point to them.
Here’s what to look for:
Signs of a Possum Attack
- Footprints: Possums have a distinctive footprint with opposable thumbs on their hind feet. Unlike other animals that might visit your coop, these prints are unique and a dead giveaway.
- Droppings: Possum poop is pretty distinctive. It’s larger than what you’d expect from a rat, usually about two inches long and 3/4 of an inch in diameter, and it tends to be more rounded, resembling dog feces.
- Bite Marks: If your chicken has been attacked, check for bites. Possums tend to go for the neck, thighs, or breast. The bite marks can be quite telling, often different from those of other predators like hawks or raccoons.
- Remains: Unlike some predators that carry off their prey, possums might leave behind parts of their kill, especially if they’re disturbed.
- Missing Chicks and Eggs: If you notice that chicks or eggs are missing, or if you find broken eggshells, it could very well be a possum. They’re known to snatch eggs and young birds.
To catch a possum in the act, consider setting up a motion-activated camera. This can give you a clear answer and help you plan your next move to protect your flock.
The Benefits of Possums on Your Homestead
Possums might be a bit of a pest in some circumstances, but they also bring benefits to the backyard farm or homestead. Not only do these potential pests partake in pest control themselves, hunting down and killing cockroaches, rats, and mice, they also help to keep tick populations under control.
Possums Eat Thousands of Ticks
Opossums are omnivores with a broad diet. They consume a variety of organic waste, including carrion and overripe fruits, which aids in nutrient recycling and reduces the potential for disease spread.
Their appetite for insects, particularly ticks, is noteworthy. A study by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, found that a single opossum can hoover up about 5,000 ticks in a season. That’s a big deal considering the role of ticks in transmitting Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
Possums Are Resistant to Snake Venom
The opossum’s resistance to snake venom is another remarkable adaptation, allowing them to control populations of venomous snakes.
The study ‘Snake-venom resistance as a mammalian trophic adaptation: lessons from didelphid marsupials’ from ‘Biological Reviews‘ explains that opossums have evolved proteins that neutralize snake venom, aiding in their predatory habits. This adaptation is beneficial for homesteaders, as it naturally curbs snake populations, reducing our chances of running into venomous snakes.
Possums Promote Biodiversity
Moreover, opossums contribute to seed dispersal through their consumption of fruits, facilitating plant diversity and forest regeneration. This seed-spreading activity enhances the habitat for a variety of other species, promoting biodiversity.
In summary, opossums play a multifaceted role in ecosystem health and stability. They act as natural pest controllers, scavengers, and seed dispersers, all of which are essential for maintaining ecological equilibrium. Their presence in a habitat can be a strong indicator of environmental health and resilience.
How to Keep Possums Away From Chickens
In many places, it’s illegal to harm or kill a possum so finding non-lethal forms of protection is the only way to go. Proper coop security is essential, especially as possums can squeeze through some surprisingly small gaps to gain access.
1. Electric Fence Wire
Installing an electric fence wire around the top and bottom of your fence can be a highly effective deterrent for possums. The mild electric shock they receive upon contact with the wire will discourage them from attempting to dig under or climb over the fence and access your chickens.
2. Motion-Activated Lights
Possums are primarily nocturnal animals, so using motion-activated lights in and around your chicken coop can help deter them from approaching. The sudden burst of light will startle them and discourage them from continuing their approach, keeping your chickens safe. If that sounds like too hefty an investment, you could festoon your chicken coop with cheap Christmas lights instead.
3. Special Predator Lights
You can get night lights that are specifically made to deter predators at night. Basically, it imitates a bigger predator’s eyes which scares smaller predators like opossums away.
4. Pet and Livestock Guardian Animals
Not all dogs see chickens as a free meal so, if you have dogs who live happily in the yard, put their kennels or beds close to the chicken coop. They’ll soon raise the alarm if a possum comes too close!
Guinea fowl are surprisingly effective at protecting chickens, as are donkeys and alpacas. Perhaps the easiest solution, however, is to get a medium-sized rooster to protect your flock. Displays of aggression from a Rhode Island Red or Barred Rock will be more than enough to frighten off the boldest possum.
5. Ultrasonic Possum Repellents
Using ultrasonic possum repellents can help keep possums away from your chicken coop. These devices emit ultrasonic sound waves that are unpleasant for possums, encouraging them to stay away from your property and chickens.
7. Cans With Ammonia-Soaked Rags
Many people advocate the use of ammonia to keep possums at bay. Hanging empty cans stuffed with ammonia-soaked rags around your coop might work, but it could also cause you respiratory problems so might be far from ideal.
Garlic and chili pepper could be a better alternative and have the added benefit of keeping parasites and rodents away at the same time.
6. Coop Maintenance
Regularly inspect your coop and run for any gaps or holes that possums may use to gain access. Ensure that all openings are securely sealed to prevent entry.
7. Lock Your Chickens Up At Night
Possums are nocturnal, so close up your chicken coop at dusk and make sure it’s secure until morning.
8. Secure the Food
Don’t leave chicken feed out overnight. Store feed in metal containers with tight-fitting lids to prevent possums from smelling and accessing it. Remove other attractants by keeping the area free of garbage, fallen fruit, and other food sources that might attract possums.
9. Build a High-Vis Scarecrow
We recently lost two newborn lambs to an unknown threat. In addition to motion-activated lights, we built a scarecrow with high-vis clothing. The high-vis reflects the light and we’re certain ‘Barry’ has been highly effective in keeping predators away.
Barry also holds a beer can, which, incidentally, also glitters in the light!
10. Get Your Possum Professionally Removed
If you’re really at the end of your tether and have tried everything in your arsenal to dissuade your local band of possums from targeting your chickens, it’s time to call in the experts.
Wildlife services use humane traps to catch the possum before relocating it. This isn’t always the best solution, however, the relocation is stressful for the possum and can be fatal, so protection is better than cure. Another problem is that possums will often return to the same spot, which means you’re stuck with the same problem.
The Verdict: Do Possums Eat Chickens?
While possums aren’t the cold-blooded chicken hunters they’re often made out to be, they’re not exactly innocent either. Sure, they’d rather scavenge for an easy meal than take on a feisty hen, but if they stumble upon a defenseless chick or a pile of unattended eggs, they’ll gobble them up without a second thought.
So, do possums eat chickens? They can and they will if the opportunity knocks. But are they the poultry’s public enemy number one? Not by a long shot. If you’re losing sleep over the safety of your feathered friends, focus on fortifying your coop rather than pointing fingers at the possums.
A well-secured chicken coop is your best bet against any intruder. Keep those chickens locked up tight at night, and you’ll keep the peace in the animal kingdom, as well as your eggs for breakfast.
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Do Possums Eat Chickens FAQ
Yes, possums can eat chickens, especially smaller hens, chicks, and eggs.
Signs of possum attacks on chickens include identifiable footprints, droppings resembling dog feces, bite marks on the bird’s neck, thigh, or breast, partial remains of a kill, missing baby chicks, and missing or broken eggs.
You can protect your chickens from possums by ensuring proper coop security, using measures such as electric fence wire, motion-activated lights, ultrasonic possum repellents, and eliminating gaps or holes in the coop and run.
Remain calm and gently prod the possum to encourage it to leave the coop. If encounters are frequent, seek professional assistance to remove and relocate the possum safely.
Nope, Australian possums typically don’t kill chickens. They’re more into raiding your garden for fruits and munching on leaves than hunting down your hens. Keep an eye on your veggies, and your chickens should be just fine!
Yes, possums are good to have around. If your chicken coop is secure, you don’t have much to fear from possums. Possums are like nature’s sanitation crew. They gobble up ticks, dead animals, and rotten fruit, keeping your yard clean and reducing the risk of Lyme disease. Plus, they rarely carry rabies. So, having a possum around is like having a free cleanup service!
Figuring out what went after your chickens can feel like you’re on a detective show, but here’s how you can crack the case:
Bite marks and location: Different predators leave different calling cards. Hawks and owls often leave puncture wounds from their talons, while dogs leave deep bite marks. A fox or raccoon might go for the neck, head, or upper body. Possums can leave tiny bite marks, especially around the neck and chest of a chicken.
Tracks and trails: Mud around the coop can be a goldmine for tracks. Raccoons have hands like tiny humans, foxes have diamond-shaped prints, and dogs have rounder footprints.
The condition of the body: If the chicken is gone without a trace, think aerial predator. Feathers everywhere? Could be a sign of a struggle with a land predator. Unlike some predators, possums aren’t known to leave a bloody mess. They’re more likely to take what they can get easily, like eggs or perhaps a smaller, weaker chicken.
Time of attack: Nighttime screams possum, owl, or raccoon, while daytime points towards hawks or even a neighbor’s dog.
Check the coop: Look for break-in points. A raccoon might try to pull apart a weak spot, while a fox might dig under the fence.
Examine the remains: If the predator left a carcass, the way it’s eaten can tell you a lot. Raccoons often go for the insides, leaving the rest.
Set up a wildlife camera: Catch the culprit red-handed.
Talk to neighbors: They might have seen something or be dealing with the same issue.