When talking about chickens and possums, a key issue is whether possums, also known as opossums, pose a significant threat to chickens. After all, these animals tend to live in the same areas.
Surprisingly, possums do kill and eat chickens, primarily targeting eggs and young chicks. They may even attack adult chickens, especially if they are extremely hungry. So, even though this behavior is not typical of opossums, chicken owners should be aware of it nonetheless.
In this article, we will discuss what possums typically eat, what you can do to prevent them from raiding and eating your flock, and how to deal with an actual attack once it happens. Let’s get started!
The Chicken Coop Invader – The Possum
Before we get into how to stop a possum attack on your chickens, let’s discuss what you need to know about possums in the first place.
What Is a Possum?
Sometimes called “opossum,” the possum stands out as the sole marsupial species found in the United States. This means they are like kangaroos, carrying their young in a pouch.
Despite being harmless to people, however, possums are known for causing trouble. They are notorious for rummaging through garbage cans, which leads to messy situations.
Their reputation for carrying rabies is overstated, but it is also a concern for many. Furthermore, possums are blamed for attacking, killing, and eating chickens, posing a real threat to backyard poultry.
What Do Possums Eat Normally?
Nocturnal hunters by nature, possums are opportunistic omnivores. They eat a wide variety of foods, depending on what’s available. In particular, their diet primarily incorporates insects, worms, garbage, and carrion.
These animals also feed on reptiles, amphibians, birds, eggs, crustaceans, berries, fruits, and small mammals. In short, they are not picky eaters and will ingest almost anything edible they come across.
Fun Fact: A fascinating aspect of their diet is its impact on tick populations. A 2021 study found that possums eat roughly 5,500 larval ticks weekly. This feeding habit helps reduce the spread of Lyme disease.
How to Spot Possums in Your Yard
Spotting possums in your yard can be tricky, as these night creatures are often sneaky and difficult to track down. However, there are several indications that can suggest their presence.
Here are 12 signs that possums might be visiting your yard:
- Overturned garbage cans
- Pet food disappearing overnight
- Missing eggs or poultry
- Disrupted compost piles
- Sightings of possums at dusk or dawn
- Scratches on trees or fences
- Unpleasant odors (they often mark their territory)
- Evidence of digging in the yard
- Tracks with opposable thumbs on hind feet
- Half-eaten fruits under trees
- Sounds of hissing or growling at night
- Damaged vegetable gardens
If you notice several of these signs, there is a good chance possums are frequenting your yard. These critters are generally harmless but can cause issues for homeowners, particularly those with chickens.
Pro Tip: To confirm their presence, you can create a bait. Using food that possums are attracted to, like fruits or fish, can lure them out, allowing you to assess the situation more accurately.
Do Possums Attack and Kill Chickens?
Possums can attack and kill chickens when necessary, particularly targeting hens that stay with eggs and young chicks. Bantam chickens, being smaller in size, are also highly susceptible to possum attacks.
Check out this short video of a possum attacking a hen:
Do Possums Eat Chickens?
Possums will eat chickens if given the opportunity, though they typically prefer more uncomplicated targets. Their primary interest lies in eggs, chicks, and pullets, which are more accessible and less risky to obtain.
This possum problem is something we personally experienced last year. We came out one morning to find three of our chicks dead, with bite marks on their bodies, while the other four chicks were missing.
Following that day, we discovered several broken eggs but no additional dead chicks. We figured the possum got the eggs when it couldn’t get the bigger chickens. Simply put, it seemed to go for the easiest meal.
However, note that there are rare instances where possums will eat adult chickens, especially when their usual food sources are scarce.
How to Tell If a Possum Has Killed Your Chickens
The most telling evidence is bite marks on the chicken’s neck, as possums typically strike the head first. They often target the crop’s contents, leaving distinct injuries in that body part.
Another clue is the presence of unique footprints. Possums have opposable thumbs on their hind feet, which creates distinct tracks. These footprints can often be found near the coop or in the surrounding area.
In addition, opossums tend to leave a mess when they hunt. If you find scattered feathers and debris around the pen, it’s likely a possum attack.
Lastly, if smaller breeds like bantams are the only ones affected, this could point toward possum involvement. These nocturnal animals typically target smaller chickens, especially in a mixed flock.
How to Protect Your Flock From Possums
Protecting your flock from possums involves various strategies, ranging from habitat modification to the use of deterrents. To help you out, here are 15 ways to keep possums away from your feathery friends:
- Install secure fencing: Ensure your fencing has no gaps or weak points. Possums can squeeze through small spaces, so a tight, sturdy fence is essential.
- Add electric fencing: Electric fences can deter possums from trying to climb into your chicken area. Basically, it is a safe but effective barrier.
- Use lockable chicken coops: Equip your coops with locks. This simple step can prevent possums from gaining access at night.
- Set up motion-activated lights: Possums are nocturnal and shy away from bright lights. Installing motion-activated lights can startle and prevent them from approaching your coop.
- Maintain the coop regularly: Regular maintenance ensures there are no hidden entry points for possums. Check for and repair any damages frequently.
- Remove food attractants: Keep feed in secure containers and clean up any leftovers. This reduces the chances of attracting possums.
- Employ guard animals: Dogs, especially those bred for guarding livestock, can be effective in keeping possums away from your chickens.
- Trim trees and bushes: Overhanging branches can provide easy access for possums. Thus, keep trees and bushes trimmed back from your coop.
- Use natural repellents: Certain smells, like ammonia or garlic, can deter possums. Hence, place these around the perimeter of your coop.
- Install noise devices: Devices that make irregular noises can scare possums away. However, ensure they do not disturb your chickens or neighbors.
- Secure compost bins: Make sure your compost bins are tightly sealed. Open compost can attract possums looking for food.
- Eliminate water sources: Remove any standing water near your coop. Like with food, opossums need water and are attracted to easily accessible sources.
- Cover the coop with netting: Use bird netting over your coop and run area to prevent possums from getting in from above.
- Deploy ultrasonic repellers: Ultrasonic repellers can emit frequencies that are uncomfortable for possums but inaudible to humans.
- Conduct regular patrols: Regularly walking around your property, particularly at dusk and dawn, can dissuade possums. Your presence can make them think twice about approaching your coop.
By following these strategies, your chickens will have a safer, more secure environment that is less likely to be invaded by possums.
Where Are Possums Most Commonly Found?
Possums are predominantly found in the eastern United States and extend into southeastern Canada, reaching down through Central America. This wide range showcases their adaptability to various climates and environments.
In particular, they typically inhabit woodland areas that are close to water sources, such as swamps, streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes.
Their preference for these habitats is also due to the availability of diverse food sources. As established, possums are not picky; they will live anywhere they can find meals, water, and shelter.
What Should You Do If You Encounter a Possum?
While it is certainly upsetting to find a possum in your chicken coop, there are measures you can take to remove it safely and effectively.
Below are 10 steps you should take if you encounter a possum in your area:
- Stay calm: If you come across a possum, do not panic. Possums are typically non-aggressive and will try to hide from you.
- Ensure your safety: Keep a safe distance from the possum. Although these animals are not typically dangerous, they can become defensive if they feel threatened.
- Wear protective gear: Do not forget to put on gloves and long sleeves to protect yourself from possum scratches or bites. While they’re not rabid, they still carry other diseases like leptospirosis.
- Secure your chickens: Quickly but calmly ensure your chickens are safe. If it’s nighttime, try to usher them into their coop if they are outside.
- Open an exit path: Give the possum a clear path to leave. These critters are likely just as eager to escape as you are to see them go.
- Use light to your advantage: Shine a light on the possum. Keep in mind that these creatures are nocturnal and dislike bright lights, which can encourage them to leave.
- Make noise from a distance: Gently make noise to provoke the possum to move on. Clapping your hands or banging pots can be effective, but do it from a distance to avoid scaring the possum too much.
- Do not corner the intruder: Avoid cornering the possum at all costs. A cornered animal can become unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
- Call wildlife control: If the possum is injured or refuses to leave, it’s best to call a wildlife expert for safe removal. They have the expertise to handle the situation properly.
- Inspect the coop and chickens afterward: After the possum has left, check your coop and chickens for any signs of disturbance or injury. This can help you assess if additional protective measures are needed.
Pro Tip: Remember, possums are generally more afraid of you than you are of them — they will usually try to escape when given an opportunity. So, it’s important to handle the crisis in a humane and non-threatening manner.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Possums Good or Bad in the Yard?
Possums have both positive and negative impacts on a yard. For one thing, they create waste, which can be unsightly and unsanitary.
On the positive side, possums act as natural landscapers. They consume overripe fruit that falls to the ground, helping to keep your yard clean and reducing the attraction of other pests.
However, another downside is their potential to attack poultry. While they do help to get rid of bugs, parasites, and insects, they may pose a threat to your chickens. In short, having them in your yard is a balancing act.
Do Possums Eat Chicken Eggs?
Yes, possums do eat chicken eggs. When they enter a coop, eggs are often their primary target due to their accessibility. This makes securing coops against possums crucial for chicken keepers.
In fact, possums may even confront a hen that’s incubating. This behavior can lead to the loss of both eggs and potentially the hen.
In addition to chicken eggs, young chicks and smaller breeds like bantams are particularly vulnerable to possum attacks. They act as an easy food source for these opportunistic feeders.
Do Baby Possums Eat Chickens?
Baby possums initially feed on their mother’s milk while in her pouch, relying entirely on her for nourishment. This early stage of their life is crucial for their development and growth.
Yet, as they emerge from the pouch, you can expect that these young marsupials will start eating the same food as her. Their diet begins to diversify, meaning they adapt to whatever their mother consumes.
Therefore, if the mom possum eats chickens, the baby possums will likely follow suit.
Do you have additional tips for keeping chickens from being killed and eaten by possums? Please share them with us in the comments! Also, if you have further questions related to this article, please don’t hesitate to ask.