Are you wondering if possums eat chickens? Maybe you’ve noticed eggs or chicks are going missing. Maybe you’ve even found some dead hens in your coop. Native opossums are known scavengers and will take advantage of any easy source of food.
Unfortunately, this means that sometimes, they will raid your chicken coop for eggs and chicks. Occasionally opossums will attack fully grown hens, too. I’m going to tell you all about opossums and how you can protect your flock from these hungry critters.
All about possums
American opossums (Didelphis Virginiana) are also known as opossums (I’ll use both terms interchangeably, but they are the same animal). They are America’s only marsupial animal. This means they carry their young in a pouch while they grow. Opossums are not related to the tree-dwelling Australian possums.
Wondering what possums look like? Possums are around the same size as an average housecat. They have grey fur and distinctive pointy white faces. Their noses, feet and tails are often pink, and their ears are black.
If you find a possum in your backyard, it’s unlikely to be alone. Possums gestate for only 13 days and can have a litter of up to 13 joeys at a time. They’re also known to breed twice a year in Spring and Fall, which can make eradication a difficult task.
Like most wild creatures, possums are usually content to mind their own business. They do not seek out confrontations, instead preferring to scavenge food and stay close to cover. Possums usually eat small rodents, bugs, frogs, insects and snails.
When provoked or threatened possums will hiss, growl and bare their teeth. They are very unlikely to physically attack a person but may take on household pets if they feel extremely threatened. On the other hand, a possum may ‘play possum’, that is, pretend to be dead if caught unawares.
Do possums eat chickens?
Possums do sometimes eat backyard chickens. They are scavengers, which means they will take any food source without much hesitation. Unfortunately, this can include your flock. Possums are more likely to eat eggs, chicks and smaller breeds like Bantams.
Possums have very sharp claws. They use them to attack chickens, usually at the breast. Unfortunately, the chickens will die from shock and blood loss rather than from the immediate attack. What’s worse is that possums won’t eat very much of the meat – it’s a sad and wasteful endeavor.
How do I know if I have possums?
There are some tell-tale signs that possums leave behind. You may notice that your pet food is disappearing faster than normal – opossums love it. Their claws are very sharp, and they like to climb so you may notice some damage on external walls, drainpipes or gutters.
If your pets are acting strangely that could be reacting to the truly awful natural smell of an opossum. Their urine and feces are also extremely off putting. You’ll quickly notice a smell if you have one living nearby.
You might also hear strange animal noises like shrieking and clicking – quite unlike the sounds a raccoon or other predators make. When possums nest you can hear lots of scratching and fussing noises, too.
How to protect your flock from possums
Possums are wily creatures, although not as clever as raccoons. Taking some simple steps around your yard and coop will help to reduce the likelihood of a possum attacking your chickens.
Chicken wire is designed to keep your chickens in, not to keep predators out. Use fine mesh fencing wire where possible. The best fencing wire is ½ inch or even ¼ inch gauge. Possums will try to pry loose wire away to create an entrance, so secure it well.
Possums have been known to reach through wire they cannot get past. Be sure to keep your food and water troughs away from the fence line. Don’t give your flock a reason to spend time by the wire. This will help keep them safe from desperate possum claws.
Never forget to close up the coop when your girls have retired for the day. It might be tempting to trust the outer fencing but don’t make that mistake. Closing the door will keep the flock much safer during their most vulnerable times. Remember that possums are most active at night, when your birds are at their most docile and not alert.
Possums like foxes can dig so consider burying your chicken fence line a foot or so into the ground when establishing a coop.
Don’t leave your birds in chicken tractors or other more vulnerable roosting spots overnight. They typically offer less room and less protection than a regular coop and fenced area. If you need to put your girls in a portable chicken coop, place it inside their usual fenced-off area to keep them safe.
Besides the very important task of keeping your chickens alive, it’s a good idea to keep opossums away from your flock because they are known to carry mites and lice. These parasites can infect your flock and make them very uncomfortable, decrease egg production and threaten the overall health of the birds.
Possums are opportunistic. They will scavenge from any available food source. One way to reduce possum presence in your backyard is to eliminate food sources.
Because possums are scavengers, they are happy to eat the leftover food scraps you may add to your compost pile. Secure your compost in a closed system to discourage a possum buffet.
Be sure to keep your chicken feed in closed containers with heavy or secured lids. Food and water troughs should be closed to deter possums and other hungry rodents. Closed food sources also help prevent spills. Regularly clean any spilled feed.
Secure bulk food like chicken pellets. Simple bags can be torn through with claws. Use strong, dark colored plastic bins with secure lids.
Collect eggs daily. Possums are very happy to eat eggs, so pay special attention to any broody hens that are sitting on clutches of eggs. Collecting eggs should be part of your daily routine but be vigilant about this if you have a possum hanging around.
Inspect your yard for other food sources. Pet food is a common go-to for possums, so empty any bowls daily or bring them inside at night. Fallen fruit from backyard trees can also be an attractive food source for possums. Remove fallen fruit daily.
You could consider doing a nightly possum patrol. Every night as you close the coop, inspect and tidy the food trough, remove fallen fruit from the yard and bring the pet food inside. This simple routine will encourage possums to look elsewhere for a meal.
Light, sound and scent
Possums do not like light and sound. Your chickens don’t either, but there are tools you can use that impact the rodents without disturbing your coop.
String flashing Christmas lights up around the fence. Solar powered options are available that make it a set-and-forget deterrent. Possums will be put off by flashing lights and are less likely to approach the coop. It’s another reason to have the coop closed up, to stop the lights distressing your birds.
Motion activated sensor lights are also a great idea to deter possums. They can be a little obtrusive if you have neighbors or the lights face your house, so use them skillfully.
Place ammonia-soaked rags in tins with holes. Spread the tins around the perimeter of your coop. Possums do not like the smell and are more likely to avoid the area. Don’t forget to add more ammonia every few days to keep the smell strong.
Try tuning in a radio to create more noise than possums like. You could even use the old cartoon solution of stringing tin cans around the coop that will create a racket when disturbed.
If you cannot deter a very stubborn rodent with lights, bad smells or sounds, then you may need to deploy humane traps. If you do catch a possum contact your local ranger or warden for advice on how to move the pesky possum along.
Do you feel more confident now? I hope these tips and tricks will help you to protect your flock against a possum attack. It’s true that sometimes possums eat chickens, and there may be times when the most secure coop won’t be enough to protect your girls.
If you remember the following advice, you’ll give your flock a fighting chance:
- Close the door on your coop every night
- Clean up loose feed, including pet food and composting food scraps
- Check that your fencing is secure and made of a finer mesh than regular chicken wire
- Use sound, light and smells to make your hen house an unattractive place to be (for a possum!)
- Use traps as a last resort, with advice from local professionals
How do you keep possums away from your chickens? I’d love to hear about your experience. Share it with me and our other readers in the comments below.