One night this week I was later than usual closing the chickens into their coop–they had already put themselves to bed on the little roost-branch in the corner. When I shined my flashlight in the door, I jumped–I thought I was seeing the biggest rat on earth. But I quickly recovered, and realized it was actually a small opossum, quietly eating from the chicken food dish. The chickens, Ethel, Ophelia, and Marigold, usually hate other animals visiting their coop (squirrels, or Delilah our cat), and will chase them away in a rush of flapping wings. But they blithely looked down on the opossum from their roost, like mildly disapproving aunties.
People freak out over opossums in the hen house. In truth, most chickens are too big and too intimidating for most opossums. A big opossum might eat a bantam, or a young chicken, not fully grown. But for the most part, opossums can be more friend than foe to the urban chicken-keeper. Their favorite urban foods (besides chicken crumble) are rats, mice, and roaches.
Which is not to say that we should let them–or anything–into our coops at night. Always close in your chickens to prevent visits from animals that really will kill them (raccoons), and to discourage rats.
If you find an opossum in your coop, don’t worry. An opossum that is cornered may be frightened, and bare its teeth in attempt to look ferocious (and it will succeed–opossums have more teeth in that long snout than any other mammal, as many as a Tyrannosaurus rex). But unless they are protecting young, opossums are gentle and will not physically confront you. I just asked this opossum to leave, and he looked up at me quietly, then made his way down the chicken ladder. I closed up the chicken door as I watched him squeeze through the hogwire fence (just a 2″ x 4″ opening!), and out into the night.
Find more about opossums, and other uban-wild creatures in my new book, The Urban Bestiary, available now for pre-order from Indie-bound, Powell’s, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.