If you keep a flock of backyard chickens, you’ve likely heard that raccoons can be a threat to your birds. But just how big of a threat do these mischievous mammalian neighbors pose? As an expert in urban wildlife, I’m here to break down the facts around raccoons and chickens.

The Short Answer: Yes, Raccoons Will Absolutely Try to Eat Your Chickens

There’s no sugar-coating it – raccoons are opportunistic omnivores and they will absolutely try to kill and eat adult chickens or chicks if they can get access to your coop or run. They have a keen sense of smell that allows them to sniff out birds from a distance, and their nimble paws and sharp teeth and claws make them formidable predators once inside an enclosure.

In suburban and rural areas where raccoons thrive thanks to abundant food sources and shelter, raids on chicken coops are one of the most common human-wildlife conflict issues I’m called to address. A marauding raccoon can quickly massacre an entire flock in one night, killing far more birds than it can eat at once.

Why Raccoons Target Chickens

To understand why raccoons readily prey on chickens, you have to look at their natural place in the food chain. As members of the procyonid family, raccoons are basically cat-sized predators related to ringtails, coatis, and other small carnivores.

In the wild, raccoons feed omnisvorously on a variety of food sources including:

  • Mice, voles, shrews and other small mammals
  • Eggs and nestlings of songbirds and other fowl
  • Fish, frogs, crayfish and other aquatic prey
  • Fruits, nuts, berries and other plant sources
  • Insects and their larvae
  • Corn and other agricultural crops
  • Pet food and garbage/food waste from humans

With such a diverse diet, it’s no surprise that raccoons look at plump, defenseless chickens as just another prey item to be taken advantage of when the opportunity arises. A self-sufficient backyard flock basically puts an all-you-can-eat protein buffet right in a raccoon’s territory.

Chickens are also relatively easy pickings compared to some of the other prey raccoons typically hunt. Unlike a vole who can flee into underground tunnels or a songbird that can quickly take flight, chickens have limited mobility and no real defense against a stealthy raccoon attack.

Signs That Raccoons Are Targeting Your Flock

So how can you tell if raccoons are casing your coop for a raid? Here are some of the common signs:

  • Paw prints or digging around the coop structure
  • Feathers scattered around and signs of a disturbance
  • Missing birds or partial remains left behind
  • Visible repair work like torn entry holes in coop walls/roof
  • Raccoon droppings and distinct musky odor around the coop

If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good indicator that you have raccoons prowling at night and it’s time to reinforce your coop security and fortify exclusion measures.

Securing Your Chickens Against Raccoon Attacks

While raccoons are highly intelligent and tenacious predators, there are proven ways to effectively raccoon-proof your chicken run and coop. Here are some essential tips:

  • Use heavy-duty hardware cloth or welded wire for all coop and run walls and tops. Regular chicken wire is far too flimsy.
  • Bury wire skirts at least 1-2 feet deep around the run perimeter to prevent digging underneath.
  • Add reinforced locking mechanisms and entry ramps to further fortify coop access points.
  • Clear any objects or debris that could allow raccoons to climb over or get leverage.
  • Use electric fencing or roller bars to create an additional barrier on the top of runs.
  • Deploy reliable night lighting and alarm systems to help startle and scare off raccoons.
  • Consider housing coops in secured buildings or investing in underground shelters.

Taking preventative measures is crucial, as raccoons are relentless and highly motivated to keep testing for vulnerabilities once they’ve identified your coop as a potential food source.

While losing birds to a raccoon can be devastating, it’s important to remain vigilant but also be aware that raccoons are just doing what they need to survive. With proper exclusion methods in place, it’s very possible to successfully coexist with your wild raccoon neighbors even when raising backyard poultry.

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