Weasel in the Chicken Coop

(This post probably deserves a PG rating, at least. It contains photos of dead chickens and a dead weasel. Read no further if that sort of thing bothers you.)

It is a given, living in the sticks and keeping chickens, that a bird will be lost from time to time. I once lost four chickens to a marauding horde of raccoons who tore apart heavy-guage wire mesh panels to get them and I know that a determined predator — especially one with a family to feed — can get into just about any enclosure.

Sometimes we let the chickens out of their pen to forage in the yard and have only been able to shrug when a fox darted out of the woods, grabbed one of our birds, and ran away with it to feed its young. I get that. I can understand it. It happens. At least the fox was killing for a reason.

Dogs, whose owners are sure would never do such a thing, lose their heads around chickens, sheep, cows and deer, killing indiscriminately, for no reason at all, and they have taken a toll on my birds, but this post isn’t about my feelings regarding humans who let their dogs run loose.

Dogs, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, bears, owls and hawks are ever present and we do what we can to keep them away from our birds without breaking the bank. We have a sturdy, six-foot tall fence with the top three feet of wire mesh hung loosely to discourage climbing. Netting and small shelters provide protection against aerial attacks, the doors and windows on the coop are secure and the vents are covered with 1/2-inch mesh. So far, that has proven to be sufficient.

Until this morning.

I’ve run into weasels before, usually in the barn, and they are afraid of nothing. They charge out from behind cans or beneath pallets, backs arched, crabbing sideways and screeching — even little eight inchers — and they are the only creature remaining that can send me clambering atop a chair. They are foul-tempered, they smell bad, and have a reputation as indiscriminate killers. This morning’s weasel encounter took place in the chicken coop and there was no chair to climb on. It also confirmed, to me, that weasels will kill for no reason other than to kill.

All it took was one loose corner on the mesh covering a vent, pried with a nose to an opening less than two inches across, and Mrs. Gordon and I found ourselves down six birds.

Six dead chickens and the weasel that killed them

Miniature cousin of the wolverine. Just look at those chompers!

I have never been in the “kill ’em all” camp regarding predators. I’m still not, but I’ve never seen anything so small wreak so much havoc for no apparent reason. I like watching weasels work the old stone walls, hunting for mice, and I don’t even mind when they hunt in the cellar. I will still recoil and let out a squeal when they surprise me in the barn but they keep the chipmunks and mice under control so I can probably tolerate them in there, too, but the immediate vicinity of the coop is strictly off limits from here on in, no quarter given.

(April 11, 2011 — It should be noted, a day after the fact, that the above varmint is actually a mink. Weasels and mink are in the same family (along with otters, skunks and wolverines) and I used the generic “weasel” mostly out of spite. You never hear someone say “that guy is such a mink” but there was this guy named Delvin I knew, way back when, who insisted we call him “Mink,” and he used to piss me off a lot. But I digress.)

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Categories: Rural Life | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Weasel in the Chicken Coop

  1. You sure have a death grip on that guy…is that an action shot of revenge?

    Did he bite the heads off?

  2. So, did he die of a heart attack, or something more direct?

  3. Clif – revenge is ugly and unbecoming. He died as I defended what’s left of my flock. The shot is post mortem. Even I know better than to try to throttle a weasel, wearing gloves or otherwise. And, no, he didn’t bite the heads off. Just killed one bird and moved on to the next.

    Tom – The official cause of death is listed as lead poisoning. Very fast acting lead poisoning.

  4. 4/11 – Edited to include a clarification regarding this weasel. It is actually a mink, which still makes it a weasel.

  5. BOB

    i dont no if it was a mink or a weesel tihs moring but i finily got the thing.an it also died of a very fast case of lead poisning.i went from about 30 chickens this summer to 5.i IVE SEEN 5 SKUNKS 1 RATCOON AN A WESSEL/MINK DIE OF LEAD POISNING THIS SUMMER ALONE AT HOUSE.

  6. Robin D

    I just found out that it was a weasel that killed my chickens. Last year it killed about 5 just heads taken off and this fall we’ve had 4 more killed heads gone. I couldn’t figure out what was doing it until I called Murray McMurray, now I plan on putting a trap out with meat from the fresh kill….hopefully we’ll get the darn thing!!!! I hate seeing something kill for no reason.

    • I’m learning more and more every day, including that weasels and their ilk aren’t necessarily killing for “no reason”. That stash of dead birds could come in handy during the cold, hungry months to come so it’s more like stocking provisions for the winter. Doesn’t make me feel a lot better about losing birds, though.

      I’ve got lots of mink around, along with a couple of good sized fishers that are fine as long as they keep their distance. On the other hand, I watched a tiny, little weasel, no bigger than a hot dog (I swear!), dragging a mouse from beneath one of our camps a few days ago so some of them are performing a service.

      Good luck with the battle. Just remember, you’ll never get them all. A good fence and secure coop will usually go a long way toward keeping the peace.

  7. Ella

    We lost our small flock of three to a weasel (mink) this week – never caught the annoying animal. We’re in the city and I have never seen a mink in my life until we had our hens. I think it attacked the flock because we killed off the rat population, or decreased it significantly. I sure do miss our chickies, but I know I cannot go through it again. We have taken down the coop for good. When something wild wants in, it will always find a way in. Your photo of the dead weasel makes me feel better though! Go for you for getting your revenge for your birds!!

  8. wow, I’ve never seen a real mink or weasel and I had no idea such a tiny thing could be so destructive! Thanks for writing about this (and keeping the photos blood-free) – if we ever do have chickens, now I know that even a tiny hole or weakness in the enclosure could be enough to put the hens in danger. And I would totally scramble up on a chair too if something with teeth like that jumped out at me (with lots of added screaming though probably). 😉

  9. Hazel

    We had weasels and foxes kill hens and cockerels over the years on the farm. I was never so proud of my Big Siamese cat when we caught him Playing with a live weasel, tossing it In the air, pouncing on it when he let it go, and generally owning it. After he killed it, I got to see, that yes, it was a (lesser) weasel, hot dog size. Did it ever stink to high heaven! Nice photo, btw. Thanks for posting re the stash of dead birds, it explains to me why they kill in such great numbers.

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