Q: Do possums eat chickens?
A: Yes--A possum (a.k.a. "opossum") that gets into your coop or run can eat eggs and young chicks, but they have certainly been known to kill adult chickens as well. Small bantams are especially at risk. When they kill adult chickens, they will take one or more and leave remains quite similar to what a raccoon leaves: the body or bodies will usually be left where they were killed, rather than carried away. The birds will usually be killed by bites to the neck, and the opossums often just eat the contents of your birds' crops and occasionally some of the chest. Sometimes they will just drink the blood--ugh!--little vampires. In any case, they don't normally consume the whole bird.
Opossums are not as wily as are raccoons, and although they can climb fences and dig beneath them, opossums are not as adept at opening locks or latches. However, like raccoons, they can reach their hands through wire mesh that is too small for their whole bodies to fit. In that last case, they will pull out parts of your birds if that is all they can reach. They can also fit through very small openings for their body size.
How to protect your flock from opossums
- Avoid attracting opossums or other predators to your yard. For instance, don't leave cat food out overnight, and make sure they will not be attracted to food in wild bird feeders or any seed beneath the feeders. Make sure your garbage cans are covered at night. Clean up any fruit that has fallen from nearby fruit trees, and if possible, remove any bushes, woodpiles, or other debris that may give them places to hide near your home and coop. In dry areas or during dry periods, opossums may be attracted to sources of water in your yard, too. Don't leave anything out for them!
- Make sure all your coop's entrances are closed at night and latched properly.
- Make sure any wire mesh on your coop and run is securely attached, because like other small mammals, they will try to pry it off or bend it enough that they can squeeze through. Don't use chicken wire: chicken wire is not a barrier to predators. Opossums and other predators can tear right through it like tissue paper. (Chicken wire should only be used to keep chickens in, not to keep predators out.) Ideally, use hardware cloth with a fine mesh that opossums can't reach through (use 1/2" or 1/4").
- Install motion-sensor lighting or electric fencing around your coop and run. Most nocturnal predators are not fans of being in the spotlight, so a sudden light shining on them, triggered by their movement, may be enough to scare them away. When installed and functioning properly, electric fencing is usually enough to deter almost any ground-based predator.
- If necessary and legal in your area, trap and relocate a nuisance opossum. It may be best to contact a qualified wildlife removal company or your local authorities in order to do this safely. Opossums are an essential part of the ecosystem, consuming snakes, insects, snails, slugs, mice, rats, and other kinds of animals, so killing them is not generally necessary or recommended.
What if I encounter an opossum?
If you encounter an opossum near your chicken coop, you usually have nothing to worry about and don't need to do anything. Just follow the steps listed above and you and your flock should be fine. Opossums are unlikely to be carriers of rabies because their immune systems are quite strong. Nonetheless, it is still possible, so use caution. They respond to threats by hissing and growling with bared teeth, and they have a vicious bite. Stronger threats that cause extreme fear will sometimes trigger an involuntary reaction of feigning death or "playing possum." When this occurs, not only will an opossum lay motionless with mouth and eyes open, tongue lolling out, but it will also exude a noxious, putrid-smelling, green substance from its anus so that it even smells dead. Gross--we know!--but at least now you'll be ready if you see this behavior!