Do you wonder who peeks at your chickens when you aren’t watching? I do. A snowfall is the perfect time to find out who comes close to the coop. If we get at least an inch of snow and it lingers for more than two days, I get my camera and go photograph my visitor’s footprints.
Red Shouldered Hawk
The most common chicken predators near me are domestic dogs, red foxes and raccoons. Though we have skunks and opossums, only once in eight years have I encountered them. We are also graced with flying predators: various hawks, owls and the occasional eagles. They tend to go for smaller wild birds. My chickens are probably a bit plump to be snatched and easily lifted off the ground. The rowdy crows alert everyone if an aerial threat appears.
Dark Cornish Hen
Learning to identify possible chicken thieves by their tracks is not too hard if you know a few basics.
First: You need to figure out who your neighbors are and study them. You don’t need to know a fisher’s footprint if you aren’t close to any. You can learn the characteristics of the weasel family if you have skunks. Fishers and skunks are in the weasel family. Maybe you won’t need to learn bobcat tracks but you can learn to identify the difference between Fluffy the cat and a red fox track.
Second: You need to know how many toes your visitors have.
- Canines: Domestic dogs, foxes, coyotes and wolves all show 4 toes on each foot and most often leave claw marks. The dewclaw on the front feet rarely registers a mark. The toe prints are symmetrical to each other.
- Raccoons: Raccoons have 5 toes on each foot and usually show claw marks. Some say their prints look like a child’s hand or footprint.
- Felines: Domestic cats, bobcats and mountain lions show 4 toes on the front and rear feet and usually do not show claws. Their front foot toes are asymmetrical to each other and do not show their dewclaw.
Domestic Cat-Front Foot
Third: Go out, explore and practice. Take pictures of the tracks you find. Compare them with the photos in a good tracking book from the library or an online tracking website.
After it snows, grab your camera, take some photos and find out who is walking around your coop!
Raccoon, Domestic Cat and Bird Tracks