Although they may not be the number one threat to chickens, owls can prey on and kill poultry. If you are worried that owls are menacing your birds, read on to learn the likelihood of an owl attacking and the steps you can take to keep your feathered friends safe.

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What Do Owls Eat?

Owls are apex predators and like other large birds of prey, their diet is largely based around hunting. Generally, small mammals and birds are their chief source of nutrition. They eat a wide variety of animals including rodents and bats, smaller fowl, and fish and although they are not typically on their menu, large owls can prey on larger species, such as chickens, rabbits, cats, and even small deer.

How Do Owls Hunt?

Owls have incredible hearing, and they can spot movement from a long distance. This makes them excellent hunters, especially at night. That being said, it is unusual for owls to attack domestic poultry and unlike their four-legged friends, owls will not typically kill a whole flock in one feast.

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How Dangerous Are Owls to Chickens?

Once an owl decides to prey on a chicken, it’s game over for the chicken. Moving silently and swiftly, the owl descends from above. It lands on the chicken and pins it down using its long, pointed talons. Tearing with its strong, sharp beak, the owl can swiftly decapitate the chicken. Digging its claws into the bird, it easily carries it away to its nest.

Why Do Owls Bite the Heads off Chickens?

It is a distressing experience to find the body of a dead chicken in your flock. Although this type of hunting can seem wasteful to us, it happens if an owl discovers that its prey is too large and heavy for them to carry off. These kills are more common among birds of prey and owls are often the culprits.

When Do Owls Attack Chickens?

If you have backyard chickens, they will be most vulnerable at night. Chickens should be kept in their coops once it begins to get dark, to protect them against cool night temperatures and predators such as birds of prey, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. Although chickens are not a staple part of an owl’s diet, owls are opportunistic omnivores. If they get the chance, they will eat whatever is convenient and easily available.

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Aren’t Chickens Too Heavy?

The biggest owls, such as the Great Horned Owl, can easily carry off an adult chicken. Although this owl weighs only three pounds, it can carry far heavier weights: up to three times its own body weight. At just 5.6 pounds, the average chicken is within range as a potential target.

How to Keep Your Chickens Safe From Owls

Unlike ground predators like foxes, coyotes, and raccoons, owls can swoop in from above. This means that fence-only barriers are useless against an owl attack. For this reason, if you are worried about owls, keep your chickens indoors as soon as dusk begins to fall. Bright lights in your yard may help deter owls also but a coop is best. In the unlikely scenario that an owl attacks by day, you may want to consider placing a roof on your chicken run.

Will a Rooster Help Keep My Chickens Safe?

Roosters will crow when frightened and keeping one among your flock can be a good additional deterrent against predators, including owls. However, if you have reason to worry about an owl attacking a covered run or coop remains your best solution.

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Should I Install a Motion-Activated Light?

Owls generally prefer to hunt under the cover of darkness. Switching on bright lights may deter owls, but they will also disturb the sleeping patterns of your chickens and any other animals nearby. Motion-activated lights can be expensive and may not give you the security you seek, as the light may not fire until the owl has already swooped in for the kill.

Can I Kill an Owl?

Do not be tempted to injure or kill an owl in defense of your chickens. Many species of owl are protected; some are endangered. For that reason, it is illegal to harm or kill owls and other birds of prey in most jurisdictions. Depending on local laws you can receive a fine or even jail time. It is never okay to protect your flock by harming or killing a predating bird.

What Weight Can an Owl Pick Up?

The size and strength of the owl determine how much weight it can carry. There are around 200 different species of owl. The very largest includes the Great Horned Owl, the Snow Owl, and the Eagle Owl. These larger owls can hunt and carry mammals several times larger than themselves. At under six pounds, the average chicken does not represent a problem for a fully grown adult owl.

What Are Owls Afraid Of?

Owls are apex predators, which means they are not usually prey. That being said, they are afraid of some large animals such as dogs, other large birds of prey, and humans. If you see an owl, you could scare it away by making noise. However, owls are patient hunters and they will lurk in the shadows waiting for the perfect opportunity. It is far more effective to bring your chickens indoors at night.

Image Credit: Peter Turner Photography, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Although chickens are not the usual fare for owls, as they are highly skilled hunters of all small animals it is still possible for an owl attack to occur. The best way to prevent an owl from preying on your chickens is to keep your chickens covered, especially at night.

Featured Image Credit: Kurit afshen, Shutterstock