Skunks are somewhat mysterious animals to most of us, mainly because of our tendency to give them plenty of space due to their stinky nature. Our general lack of knowledge of skunks can leave us with lots of questions about them. Some of these questions are solely based on our own curiosity. However, if you keep chickens, some of your questions about skunks may be more pressing than most. When keeping chickens, it’s important to know as much as you can about all potential threats to your flock. Knowing how much of a risk skunks might pose to your chickens is the first step to keeping your chickens safe. Skunks will happily eat chicken eggs, juvenile chicks, or even adult chickens if they can catch them.
Do Skunks Eat Eggs?
Absolutely! Skunks are opportunistic omnivores and while their favorite foods tend to be insects like grasshoppers, grubs, and beetles, they will eat just about any kind of protein they can get their paws on. Many other animals are more notorious for stealing eggs than skunks, like snakes and raccoons, but if given the opportunity, a skunk won’t hesitate to eat eggs. They’ll eat as many eggs as the coop allows and then come back the next night for more.
Do Skunks Eat Chickens?
Like with eggs, skunks will eat chickens if they can catch them. It’s not uncommon for skunks to eat chicks and juvenile chickens, which are much easier prey than adult chickens. A skunk won’t usually go out of its way to kill and eat adult chickens, but it does occur. It’s more common for skunks to attack chickens if there is a shortage of other food or if the chickens are easy targets, like free-range chickens that aren’t locked in a coop at night. Many people who have seen skunks around their property report finding the remains of chicken carcasses or their chickens going missing altogether.
How Do I Know if a Skunk Has Been Eating My Chickens or Eggs?
Unless you have video evidence or you catch a skunk red-handed, it can be difficult to know for sure if a skunk is responsible for killing your chickens or eggs. There are a few ways you can determine if you’re dealing with a skunk, though.
The obvious sign is the distinct scent that skunks leave behind. Skunks will spray if scared or threatened, but even without spraying, an odor tends to follow them. If a skunk has been in your chicken coop, you’ll almost certainly be able to smell that it was there.
The other straightforward way to narrow down the possibilities of what has killed your chickens is to look for footprints. Skunks have five toes on each foot, as do raccoons, which can make differentiating between the prints somewhat difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you’ve spotted five-toed footprints, here’s how you can determine what you’re looking at.
Skunk prints leave clearly defined toes with a space between most or all the toes and the central paw pad. The three center toes tend to be grouped closely together. The front paws will leave an impression of an extra heel pad at the back of the print. Raccoon prints usually have relatively evenly spaced toes and no negative space between the toes and the paw pad. Overall, skunk prints will look more like paws while raccoon prints will look more like hands. As an aside, opossums also have five toes, but they have distinct pawprints due to their opposable thumbs.
Consider Evidence at the Crime Scene
Skunks are likely to leave behind empty eggs instead of taking or eating the entire egg, so you may find eggs that look like they’ve been cleaned out. With grown chickens, skunks tend to kill them by attacking the head or the neck. They will usually eat what they need and leave the rest behind, so many people report finding decapitated chicken carcasses left behind after a skunk attack. With chicks, it’s possible that a skunk will eat the entire bird due to the small size, so there may be little to no evidence left behind if chicks have been killed or have disappeared.
How to Protect Your Chickens from Skunks
There are multiple ways you can protect your flock from skunks while still respecting the wildlife in the area as well. Skunks going after chickens and eggs aren’t being malicious, they’re simply being animals. For your own safety and the safety of your flock and other animals, you should take action if you think skunks are coming onto your property. They can carry diseases and be both a pest and a danger to you and domestic animals. Never handle a wild skunk without proper protective gear, like thick welder’s gloves or other materials that they cannot bite or scratch through. It’s best to call in professionals if you are struggling to manage the skunks on your property, especially if they are killing your chickens.
Featured Image Credit: Andy M, Pixabay