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Opossum in the Chicken Coop

August 8th, 2013 · 3 Comments ·

possumOne 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.

I love opossum tracks--so starry. These are by the wonderful Tracie Noles-Ross, illustrator of the Urban Bestiary.

I love opossum tracks–so starry. These are by the wonderful Tracie Noles-Ross, illustrator of The Urban Bestiary.

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.

chickens, urban farming, urban nature

3 Comments so far ↓

  • Matt Kagan

    We had an opossom sneaking into our coop for weeks. The hardest part was figuring out how he was getting in (answer obtained after weeks of investigation: wriggling through a tiny seam in the chicken wire roof). He would walk on the top of our fence, into the tree above the coop, and drop through that tiny seam. The worst part wasn’t the chickens, it was the dogs! When the dogs would spot him, they’d FREAK OUT. He’s “play possum,” which just made the dogs crazier. I am very glad we were able to secure the coop and stop those nightly bark attacks.

    One question for you: The hens didn’t mind the intruder, but I think he used to eat our eggs. We’d often find and eggshell and puddle in the nesting box in the a.m.–though we never caught the critter red-handed. Do you know if opossums eat chicken eggs?

  • Sandor Nagy

    I just let one bigger old one out from the henhouse .
    They climbed in to the top where i have some gap.
    Wee have before woke op on mid night from loud hen alarming and have ugly injury on hens .
    I learn how to fix big skin off back .
    I say the opossum like to mostly eat from the chicken food but if hungry maybe bite on the sleeping hens .
    When i did push out from the door slowly never aggressive or bite just look like some kindly animal
    All best from Sandor

  • James Yasha Cunningham

    When I lived in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, we had a neighbor who ran a daycare center from her home and who kept chickens primarily to entertain the children. An opossum (who she named “Jerome”) kept breaking into the chicken coop, not to steal eggs or attack the hens but because he liked to sleep in there. The chickens did not enjoy Jerome’s presence.

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