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Opossum in the Chicken Coop

August 8th, 2013 · 11 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

11 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.

  • bhalow

    It’s 1 degree here this morning (that’s not a typo). Went to let the chickens out. All seemed to be fine, then noticed in the corner of the coop, there was a possum curled up next to a dead chicken. The little bastard ate a hole straight through her! I’m afraid, that the advice above is naive. Possums DO eat chickens. Spoiler alert: that possum will not be killing anymore of my chickens…guaranteed.

    • Tom R.

      I agree. I just caught a little one in my coop and the past 3 nights we lost 5. It actually took out two in one night! The go for the neck and bowl, bleed them, eat the neck and take the head for a trophy!

  • Becci

    3 nights ago my sweet back and white hen was roosting on the front porch (I usually find her and put her back in the hen house before dark). I woke up to her screaming and knew she had not gone to bed where she should have. I did not expect to see a huge opossum on the porch with her in his mouth. My appearance scared the opossum, he let her go, she ran to a corner, I ran back in for my gun. He took off with my dog in chase. He lived for another day but my full grown hen died from her injuries.
    Last night, I went up to shut the ‘girls’ up in their house only to see one of them dead on the floor headless, all the blood gone.
    This morning, I went out to investigate. Found tracks in the snow, opossum. I will be setting a live trap tonight and killing the grinner that will get trapped in it.
    The only reason some of you have not had an opossum kill your hens yet is because the are eating well. But, pleased don’t be fooled they do and will kill and eat your chickens no matter how big they are, chicks, eggs or full grown hens are not immune to their viciousness.
    I have had hens for the past 14 years and have killed a number of opossums going after my full grown hens. One of those predators was at least 25-30 pounds and was over 3 feet long. The old timers in my small town said they never saw a ‘possum that big before in all their years.
    Be very very careful. They really are a predator no matter how gentle they seem in the beginning.

  • Amanda

    We just shot one last night attacking our chickens. It is foolish advice to give people to let them be because they are more friend than foe. We started off the winter with 28 chickens and we are now down to 18. We had opossum tracks there all winter and every couple of days a chicken went missing.

  • lyanda

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Amanda and Becci. While my research talking with lots of chickenkeepers and personal experience suggested that opossums are not a big threat in the coop, it is impossible to argue with stories such as these. And your stories reiterate for all of us–the best protection from all potential predators is to be sure the hens are closed in at night.

  • Glenn

    They will eat eggs. They will also kill and eat chickens, yes even adult chickens and even a relatively small opossum. I have had this troublesome intruder do lots of damage. He scared the chickens into little to no egg production and the few eggs that were laid he ate. I know this thanks to night vision cameras both in and out of the coop. I finally caught him in a snare, end of problem.

  • Rhonda G

    I free range my Chickens, peafowl and guineas during the day. At night they go into a large pole barn to roost in the rafters and on top of three dog kennels I have in there. I just recently bought nine cute bantam frizzles and locked them up in the large kennel for a week. I finally left the door open so they can free range with the others, I have roosts in the corner and a dog house in the kennel. They would return to the kennel every night to roost. The other day I noticed I was missing one and thought maybe a hawk got it. Yesterday morning I noticed another one was missing but I knew I saw him the night before when I closed up the barn. I started looking around and behind some hay bales I found a massacre of chicken parts including the body of my half eaten frizzle, guinea wings and legs, it was horrible! Last night I took the rest of the dead frizzle and a can of cat food and placed it in a live trap right in front of the kennel door. This morning there was a large possum curled up sleeping in the trap. I normally relocate them to the river a mile away but not this time, he gets to see a shot gun just like the skunks that end up in the barn. My barn is full of mice so given the choice possums will eat your chickens before a mouse!

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