Country Living Series

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Unwelcome visitor

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a dead chicken in the driveway area. This isn't an unknown situation -- once in awhile, a bird just seems to keel over for whatever reason -- so I made ready to pick her up and put her in the trash.

Except she had no head. And no neck. It was just a headless, neckless carcass lying there.

Even more unusual, there was no blood and no feathers.

Don and I were stumped. What kind of predator would take the head and neck, but leave the body? And why was there no sign of a struggle -- scattered feathers, etc. -- anywhere nearby?

We concluded it must have been a hawk or something that swooped down, snatched the chicken by the head, and then the body fell off mid-air. Didn't seem overly likely, but we had no other explanation.

Fast forward about a week. We were doing some cleanup in the driveway area before some anticipated snow moved in. Among our tasks was to remove a large tarp that was jammed near a unit of 2x6s. We pulled the tarp flat, folded it up, and put it away.

A short time later, a flash of white caught my eye. I turned and gaped: it was a weasel, skirting the edge of the driveway area -- from the pile of 2x6s, across the length of the barn, over the compost pile, and ... underneath the new chicken coop expansion Don recently finished.

The weasel was carrying something in its mouth, probably a mouse. It dashed under the chicken coop. I was disappointed because I couldn't get any photos, it was moving so fast.

Then it emerged from under the coop, mouseless. This time I had my camera ready.



Half the photos I took were blurs, or showed the tiny creature in a full-out dash. He traced his path back around the perimeter of the driveway area, toward the pile of 2x6s.


The chickens cackled with alarm as the weasel moved among them, but they dwarfed him in size so I wasn't worried.



He moved across the front of the barn, on his way back to the stack of 2x6s. Evidently we had disturbed his home when we moved the tarp, and he felt compelled to move to a new location ... underneath the chicken coop.


Here he is, momentarily stopping behind a unit of OSB we have in the barn...


...and dashing out once again.


He soon returned, this time carrying something even larger in his mouth: a vole. Clearly he was moving his cache of reserved dinners to his new home ... under the chicken coop.



He conveniently paused and let me snatch some clearer shots of him.




Then he dashed off again, carrying the vole to his new home ... under the chicken coop.


He put the vole under the coop, then peaked out at the corner.


Then he made another dash past the chickens, circling the driveway once more.


At first we were enchanted by this new visitor. I mean, he's so cuuuuute! Couldn't you just pinch his little cheek?


The fact that he was apparently taking up housekeeping directly under the chicken coop concerned us a bit since we have three young chicks from our "October surprise," which would fall easy prey to a predator. However we weren't unduly alarmed by the weasel's presence, even if he was ... right underneath the coop.

That is, until we mentioned the weasel to a more knowledgeable neighbor. Immediately this neighbor started clanging alarm bells and telling horror stories about the devastation weasels can wreak on chicken flocks.

A small amount of internet research confirmed his fears. I knew weasels were voracious predators, but never realized they would attack something as comparatively large as a chicken.

So -- cute or not, time to get rid of a weasel.

Don did some research on weasel traps, then took a trip to the hardware store and came home with six rat traps. These aren't mousetraps. These are big vicious rat traps.


Then he constructed boxes with a sliding lid, large enough to fit two traps.


The boxes have holes at either end. Apparently weasels won't enter a box unless they can see an escape route on the other side. The purpose of the box, incidentally, is to prevent the rat traps from catching a curious chicken.


When the boxes were complete...


...we baited them with bits of meat.


We placed the traps in three strategic locations, including inside the chicken coop expansion.


So did we catch the weasel? No. We saw it dashing hither and yon for a couple more days, but we've seen nothing for the past two weeks. Maybe the little predator decided the area was teeming with too much activity, and departed for quieter hunting grounds.

So was the weasel responsible for our mysterious headless chicken? I have no idea. It seems impossible for such a small creature -- even a fierce predator, like a weasel -- to have the sheer strength necessary to rip a head and neck from a chicken's body.

But we'll never know. Meantime, we'll keep those traps handy. We might need them again.

31 comments:

  1. My father-in-law used to have trouble with weasels killings his chickens. THEY GO FOR THE NECK! he usually waited until he heard a ruckus in the chicken house and then took care of the problem with a 12 gauge.

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  2. I have problems with possums. I've had a possum remove the head from a chicken. Is it possible you have one prowling around at night? I use an electronic door chime to alert me to activity where there should be none after my girls go to sleep. If the chime goes off, I know exactly where the activity is coming from and I can take care of it with my 22.

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    1. Yes! That is definitely a weasel kill. We had problems with weasels killing ALL of our poor chickens while they were in the coop "for safety" while away from the house one day. Poor girls couldn't get away. only one hen survived in a nest box with a dead sister blocking her in. We also had one take up residence under our coop and it methodically killed and packed away every single duckling in a matter of two days. We had to tear up the floor and destroy it's extensive labyrinth of a home. It may still be there, hunkered down for the snow storm. Good luck in killing it. I'm so glad you figured it out now before it got anyone else! I'm so sorry I don't have any tricks to get it.

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  3. An owl was my first thought when you mentioned a headless chicken! We've lost half a dozen chickens at a time because of an owl... they will nip the heads off and leave the bodies, planning to come back and feed on them at their leisure. Owls will even follow the hens into the coop at dusk and clip off their heads. Grrrrr.

    We've had possums attack a chicken also, but that's usually a pretty noisy event, since t they're more of a scavenger, and not as skilled at "hunting."

    That weasel sure is cute... but I would be concerned about him taking up residence with the chickens! What a little rascal!

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  4. My first thoughts were weasel or fisher cat. We lost 12 hens in one night with carcasses looking as you described. They just kill and leave the body. Keep your eyes open, he will most likely be back.

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  5. It is a cute killer :) I hope it stays away.

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  6. In our area, the racoons are the head eaters, so yeah, your weasel could definitely take the head off of a chicken with no muss, no fuss.

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  7. Justin Rhodes did a session at the Mother Earth News Homesteading Summit about signs / evidence different chicken predators leave. I think there's also something on his youtube channel about it.
    Lara R.

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  8. we had that happen to our ducks , they were in the pen tho and somehow we think a raccoon probably reached thru , grabbed them by the head and pulled it thru and bit it off. We killed a opossum and a raccoon the next night in the pen . but lost the whole flock and also 3 rabbits in a few days . Crazy once they find out they can get a free meal it is like a feast to them....Karen

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  9. Your traps are backwards in your photo's, trigger pans should face entrance and another thing i do with my weasel trap is add trigger pan width, about an inch square hot glued to the bottom of trigger, also place your traps about 2 inches from each opening, SNAP! Good Trapping!

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  10. Those are great pictures of the rascal. But yes, he has got to go.
    Montana Guy

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  11. Try fly-ash mixed with tuna, where only the weasel can get to it, like under the coop. Fly-ash is pretty harmful stuff, but it will take care of the predator.

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    1. Poisoning is disgusting. Dispatch the animal humanely not by making it suffer.

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  12. Try fly-ash mixed with tuna, where only the weasel can get it, like under the coop. Fly-ash is pretty harmful stuff, but it will take care of the problem.

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  13. You've heard of a fisher cat? sounds like one to me.

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  14. Owls did the same exact thing to my young turkeys.

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  15. .22 caliber will end the problem.

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  16. As a 68 year old farmer that has been dealing with this sort of thing all my life I would hesitate to blame the weasel. They are the most visible critter there but don't jump to conclusions .. he could have been there before this problem started. Do you have mink in your area ? Taking the head is a standard mink thing. The weasel could be your friend getting rid of mice and rats and being blamed for something he didn't do.--ken

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  17. Please dont be so quick to kill it.

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  18. Owls will also take the heads off chickens. One did that to a neighbor's duck a few years ago when the duck was out foraging in the pasture in town. It occurred right after sunrise.

    A good air pellet gun can take care of the weasel. Weasels will decimate your flock if not taken care of. And what a great place for it to live... under the coop! Like when a fox made a den under my grandma's turkey house. Didn't fare too well for the turkeys.

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  19. Looks like my sons ferret. The little thing has a liking to the toilet plunger and in the middle of the night youd here this bang as it would go rolling down the stairs. I have no clue where he planned to take it. lol

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  20. Pics show a weasel in ermine. They are great for pest control and love to eat mice and other pesky critters. They are also a favorite snack for foxes and coyotes. The headless chicken sounds like what our neighbor had happened, it turned out to be an owl.

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  21. My math is simple, he is eating mice and voles, and maybe shrews. I would call that a keeper.
    Fitty

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    1. So do cats or rat terriers, a weasel will kill you whole flock in a week or less. The lost of meat and eggs, you do the math and use real math not common core math. DUH!

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  22. Read any of Dick Proenneke's books, or watch the videos (One Man's Wilderness) and you'll appreciate how destructive weasels can be...

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  23. Warning! Beware! That cute little weasel will possibly keep returning and returning to silently kill all your beloved hens ... they are killer, who love blood and will continue to kill till every chicken is dead. We have had a few attacks - and the only way we could get rid of the weasel was to sit and wait and shoot it when it snuck into the coop. They are NASTY predators!

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  24. and yes, headless chickens are definitely weasel killings! They kill for sport!

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  25. Lots of opinions here...I just want an update on how it turns out!

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  26. homesteading in Pa.December 7, 2016 at 3:40 AM

    This site is so refreshing for me. We homestead and have most of our lives. It is so refreshing to come here and know that people are actually living a productive and a life our grandparents handed down to us life. I get so tired of reading the news, hearing what we can and cannot say, how my ancestors ruined everyones lives, crying over the loss of the others president, etc. I love sharing everyday farm work and encouraging others in their adventure. We love to share how we grow food, make medicine, keep our animals healthy and how to cook. Keep up the good work. I read you everyday even though I don't comment.

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  27. I suspect a Northern Goshawk. Goshawks are common in the region and specialize in hunting forest game, particularly grouse and hares, so chickens would be right in their size range.

    I am an avid birder and I knew a fellow birder in Massachusetts who stated that raptors, most of all goshawks, focus on the head as it is the most nutritious part of the animal. He told me his father was once in a heavily forested area when a headless pigeon landed on his car from above. The only conclusion he could come to was goshawk.

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