Most people automatically think of the fox when asked which animal is likely to kill and take birds and certainly, it is the most likely as many poultry keepers have found out to their cost. We should not forget others though and these include the badger, stoat, weasel, polecat, mink, rodents, birds of prey, even carrion crow and otter. All are equally brazen and determined if they are hungry or have hungry young. 

Not naturally safe

Whether it is because actual wild and remote areas of countryside are few and far between or that these predators have successfully learnt to take advantage of any opportunistic chance of grabbing some good-looking food, the fact is that birds are no longer naturally safe during any part of the day. Gone is the time when you could let chickens roam so long as they were back in their coops before dusk. Daytime is now as dangerous a time as dusk or dawn for losing a feathered friend to a hunting predator. 

Anyone with poultry should be aware that the onus for their welfare and safety is with you, the keeper. Good animal husbandry begins with the birds being safe and protecting them from predators should be a priority. 

Keeping them out

We all like to see birds with plenty of room in which to wander around but whether it is safe will depend on the surrounding environment. Where there are fields with hedges, wooded areas or any other type of cover, such as nettles in summer and autumn, the fox will use this to hide from sight whilst keeping an eye on what is going on. A flat, open field is easier to observe the birds and less attractive to ground predators that do not want to be seen. 

Having tall, robust fencing which is set into the ground so that predators cannot dig under it will help prevent easy access to birds. A fox is able to chew through chicken wire if he is able to get his nose through it, so smaller rather than the usual 2 inch diameter wire is preferred. The 2 inch could be in place but a strand of 3ft rabbit wire along the bottom will protect the inmates more. Electric fencing outside the perimeter is a very good option but this must be checked on a regular, if not daily, basis to make sure that no shorting has taken place or, if run by a battery, it has not gone flat.  You can be sure that if foxes are around they will soon establish if the electric fencing is not working!

Foxes can climb wire netting that is taut, they can also climb trees that may be overlooking poultry pens. Getting in could be easier than getting out but the need to escape having grabbed lunch and be safe will give the animal even more motivation to climb, jump and run. 

Any bird that can be viewed is a temptation, so if poultry is kept in an aviary and not shut up at night, the surrounding fencing and overhead cover should be as sound and secure as possible. It is better and safer to always shut birds up at night in a well maintained house and always check that they are in before closing the pop hole or shutting the door. ‘Count them out and count them in’.  Electric pop hole covers can be very useful if you are sure that the birds will not try to perch on top of the house or elsewhere when a human is not there to make them go inside. 

Mobile units are good at containing birds but they do not prevent predators from burrowing a hole underneath the side of the pen and taking away their spoils. Too often I hear of birds being taken “even though they were in a mobile pen in the garden”. Mobiles are only safe if they are on concrete or have concrete paving slabs on the ground around the pen or wire netting is pegged on the ground to surround the pen. 


If badgers are in the area make sure that any housing and fencing is very strong and well maintained. A hungry badger will break his way into the poultry house, destroying wooden panels as though they were matches. This is where galvanized wire netting fencing is the best to use. It may be more costly but could save lives and money in the long run. 

Bigger birds

Birds of prey are becoming more of a threat so any small birds, such as bantams or a broody with chicks, should have the pen netted to prevent predation from above. Even turkey poults and ducklings are not safe if a bird of prey wants a meal. I have witnessed a sparrowhawk fly into the barn because it obviously heard poultry noises coming from it. It was quite frightening watching it clearly wish to hunt down its prey for the day. Fortunately I was able to chase it away but it lead to a wire wall and gate being fitted so external threats could be kept out. 

Stoats, weasels, mink and in some areas, polecats can also be a nuisance and small diameter mesh netting with larger netting on the outside is one way of fencing out these predators that can squeeze through really small spaces. Thick, sound wooden houses, or modern toughened materials are essential because having to scratch and chew through housing to get to the birds inside does not put them off. 

Other animals

Where waterfowl are on running water beware of mink and otters. Both can be quite ruthless and whilst mink can legally be caught and dealt with, it is a different matter when it comes to otters. 

Predators can extend to untrained dogs and humans out to steal a particular breed. So it is safer to keep birds where they can been readily seen from your house.