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Building Predator Proof Housing


 

One of our requirements for adopting is the ability to keep animals safe from predators. Some birds will stay on a pond but not all of them will stay on the water, which is the case of chickens who can’t swim :)  Some adopters do not have a pond so in that case you must build predator proof housing.  

When building your pen here are some rules to live by:

Rule #1  Build your pens to keep predators out not to keep birds in!  Birds are easy to contain but raccoons, foxes, coyotes, etc. are hard to keep out.  Know what animals are in your area and design the pen with them in mind. 

Rule #2  EVERYONE has predators, EVERYONE!  People tell me all the time they don't need to lock their ducks up because they live in the city and there are no predators. When I lived in the city I used to see way more raccoons and possums than I do now.  Coyotes are also being noticed in more urban areas and are responsible for taking pet cats and small dogs. Your slow flightless duck won’t have a chance. 

Rule #3  It’s not "if" it’s "when" your ducks will get eaten.  It may take months for a predator to find your birds but they will eventually.  Once they do find them they tell all their friends you have set out free food too!

Rule #4  A bad pen is worse than no pen.  If you build a pen that isn't secure, you’re actually trapping the birds in so they have no chance of escape while predators can freely move in and out of the cage.  All or nothing! 

Rule #5  When you adopt domestic animals like ducks and chickens, it’s your responsibility to keep them safe. If you ignore the basic needs of these birds and decide to just shoot or kill wildlife that comes in contact with them, you will lose a lot of birds and you will be doing a lot of killing.   If you set up a buffet for the wildlife don't be upset when they come take advantage of the free food. They only eat to survive and they will take what's easy.  Don't make it easy!  Take your responsibility to your pets seriously and provide them a safe secure home. 

Common Mistakes:

Pens must have a roof!  A tarp doesn't count either.  It has to be made of heavy wire or be a solid roof.  Raccoons are very smart and can be very destructive.  They can chew very well and a piece of plastic will take them about ten seconds to rip a hole in.  Tarps also accumulate water and can collapse and they don't hold up long term to the weather. 

Chain link isn't predator proof, raccoons will eat your ducks right through a chain link pen.  They work in groups and scare ducks to one side where another raccoon pulls the ducks head through the chain link.  I have seen them even kill swans this way. Four feet of hardware cloth needs to be around the entire bottom of the cage or you can also use wood or other solid material.  If you have a chain link kennel it’s easier to zip tie hardware cloth along the inside. 

You need a floor.  Predators can dig and climb.  The bottom of the cage needs to be enclosed, whether it’s a solid floor or wire buried under the ground.  Raccoons can also lift up chain link dog kennels and hop underneath. 

Secure door latches - raccoons can open doors and lift latches.  Use a padlock or a carabiner clip to secure door latches.  An adopter of ours had ducks inside her house and a raccoon broke into the house going through two doors to reach and kill her ducks.


Three examples of latches, the first one shows how a string can be tied through the latch so you don't lock yourself inside.  If you ever been stranded inside your chicken or duck pen while you want for someone to come let you out you know how important this is!   Points deducted for no clips to prevent raccoon entry though.

This send latch is great, gold stars go to this pen for having all the key elements including the right wire.
This is an example of the first latch but with a carabiner clip to prevent raccoons from opening the latch.  Although points are deducted for chicken wire which isn't predator proof.




Know your predators:

Weasels * We had the rescue in a new location for two years before we had a weasel get in and kill our seagull population one night.  From my research I had been told there were no weasels in my area and I hadn't seen one in my ten years of keeping birds prior to that.  That was a game changer for us since they can get in mouse hole- sized opening!  They killed everything in the pen and only ate one bird.  The rest they planned to come back for later.  This is why burying hardware cloth is so important. 

Raccoons * The most common predators are raccoons. They are smart and agile.  They can loosen boards and put them back.  They also test things like aviary netting for weaknesses until they find a way in, and yes, they are carnivores!  If you find your birds dead with their head eaten, the raccoon is likely the culprit. 

Bears/bobcats/mountain lions * We are very fortunate to not have to deal with these in our area, but they are strong and viscous when it comes to getting food aka your birds!  You often need very solid construction and things like chicken wire or hardware cloth just won’t cut it. 

Opossums *  While I have heard stories of opossums eating ducks, they mostly look for carrion (dead animals). They are slow and can’t really catch faster birds.  In my experience, I have never had a possum kill anything but I see them being blamed for cleaning up the mess that other predators leave behind.  Raccoons will eat heads but the possum would come along and eat the bones, feathers, skin and other things raccoons left behind.  That doesn't mean they can be trusted.  This is where a bad pen becomes worse because even a slow animal can catch a duck inside a trap.

Foxes * These guys are tough.  They are smart, they are fast and some like the grey fox can climb like cats.  They can also dig and get into things with great speed.  

Fluffy and Fido * We get a huge number of animals in each year due to dog or cat attacks.  Dogs can easily injure birds even if they are trying to play with them.  Cats or dogs will chase or play with something that runs from it.  They carry pasteurella and its toxic to birds and most wildlife.

Raptors * These guys are more of a problem during the day, but this is another reason why you need a top on your pen.  Great Horned owls are efficient predators and their grip is 50 times stronger than that of a human mans.  They can lift a sizable weight and air attacks are always a concern. Small birds can never be left out as even the tiniest Sharp Shinned Hawk will take down birds bigger than they are. There are too many raptors to list but a friend of mine had her swans killed by a bald eagle!  They are normally in the area but were passing over for migration.  

Ok, enough talking, let’s look at some pictures for pens and talk about the pros and cons of each style.

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This duck pen was submitted by Janis Murray.  Her husband Todd constructed the pen frame by hand but you could do this style by purchasing a premade carport frame.  Frame covered entirely in hardware cloth. It has a solid base/floor that is 2 feet underground. (so no digging predators can get in)  Its hard to beat the looks of this pen! The cost to build is around $1000 which may be the only "con" if your on a really tight budget, otherwise its pretty much perfect in design. 

This pen was submitted by Lottie.  The birds have the building to roost in at night and have this nice predator proof place to roam during the day. So they are protected day and night. The roof has 2x4 wire on one side and metal on the other side. The bottom is all hardware cloth. Raccoons can climb on it but they cant reach into the pen. I don't have a cost estimate for this pen but it would be easier if you already have an out-building. If you don't have an out building it may be pricey to buy one new or build one yourself.
 

This pen was submitted by Tiffany.  It's a very good example of a two different styles of pen with no expenses spared on safety. Pros on these pens is they have style and function and just plan look good!  The black chain link on the left is a vinyl coated wire for smoother edges and nicer looking that regular chain link. The top is an aviary netting and the down side to that is you need to inspect it daily to look for chewing or signs of raccoon activity. The bottom is all hardware cloth.

The wood pens to the left are solidly built and covered entirely with hardware cloth. Solid bottoms and tops.  Cons to this is that you have to be handy to build them yourself or hire someone. 

These two pens belong to the rescue. The one in front is a nice design andthe wood bottom makes it extremely safe.  The front area however needed hardware cloth since hex chicken wire isn't predator proof. The pen to the back was all chicken wire and needed a lot of work to make it safe.  We closed to panels off with a wire mesh window type screening.  That keeps snakes out and other predators little paws!  The pros to these pens is they pop apart and can be moved.  Cons are they do require some construction skills. We bought them pre made at an auction for pennies on the dollar. We had to spend time changing the wire out.


 

This is our pigeon coop, it is all hardware cloth and solid.
 

Another pen at the rescue.  This one is chain link attached to a building. The bottom of the chain link is buried.  Hardware cloth covers the entire bottom and aviary netting covers the top.  Birds have an indoor outdoor run.  Pros is this is a great pen that is huge and has plenty of room to roam. It wasn't super expensive to make either.  Cons are the netting has to be checked constantly and you spend a lot of time with construction. Once it's done though you have a nice fairly easy to maintain aviary.
 

This is a 8x13 chain link dog kennel. The entire thing is wrapped in hardware cloth, the roll goes around the top and around the bottom.  So it doesn't need to be buried. Its filled with gravel and rubber mats.  Its easy to clean and cheap to make.  The down side is its not the best looking pen. This one was hidden in the woods which is why such great measures were taken for security. Care must be taken for the area surrounding the door that its covered in wire and there is no gaps.
 

This pen was submitted by Amanda. This is the outdoor run and the birds sleep inside at night.  Again this is one you need an existing building or spend considerable money building one.  Its great because it gives birds a nice safe outdoor area to play in and gives them complete security at night. If you have an existing outbuilding this would be a great add on to give you complete peace of mind.


 

**We showed you the good, now lets look at some bad pens**

On the surface this looks like a pen looks ok and you can tell someone put thought into it.  The dog house for shelter, the pool for swimming the ducks have it made right?  Well, all these ducks were killed by a predator rather quickly.  While the ducks will use a dog house for laying eggs they generally will not sleep inside and will lay next to the chain link and have their heads pulled through by a predators. The raccoons didn't need to stalk the ducks along the chain link because they had an easy "in" to the pen and that was just hoping over the top.  Other issues are the opening at the borrom and the area along the door are large enough for a raccoon to squeeze in as well. The good news is this person starting researching and reached out to other rescues and is now a licensed rehabber and duck rescuer!  She very graciously allowed us to post a picture of her "lesson learned the hard way" In an effort to save more animals.



Although it should be common sense please also plan for adequate space the for the number of birds you have!


Another bad example of a pen someone has made an effort on but fails to provide complete predator proofing.  This pen appears to have a solid roof so a wrap of the bottom 4 feet with hardware cloth would make a big difference in the predator proofing of this pen.

I do want to point out chickens will roost inside at night while ducks do not.  If you have an enclosure for the chickens inside the chain link housing that gets locked up at night this would be "ok" for the daytime area. Its hard to tell from the photos but they have an inside chicken roost that they are secure in at night so we cant be too quick to judge this for a chicken pen.  It wouldn't work however for ducks.

I do want to point out though that while most of the predators come out at night most of them can and do hunt during the day especially when they have young.



I love do it yourselfers and recycling and repurposing are great too! 

That being said this homemade pen still needs a few things.  The wire opening is too large and raccoons can probably reach chickens inside the roost.   I think a couple of raccoons could lift this pen up pretty easily too.  From a design standpoint you cant access the birds in the wire side without lifting the whole pen up and risking escapees.



I am not sure comments are necessary here but I think a light breeze could take this pen down.



I love this idea out of an old shed! My concerns would be however that you would have problems with the heat in the summer (assuming these chickens aren't let out to free range during the day) Also they needed to build with hardware cloth instead of chicken wire to make it completely predator proof but a nice concept!


 

These are premade chicken kennels sold online.  They can be a quick easy way to make a pen if you are not handy with building things.  This pen is no where near predator proof but it provided you with a nice starting framework to build off of.

Note - Some of these pictures I couldn't find the origin, if you know who owns them let me know, or if you want credit for your photos just ask1 

We plan to continue adding more pictures as we get them.  Send us your pen pictures, whether they are good or bad!  Let other people learn from your mistakes because it will save lives. Lessons learn the hard way are a great chance to educate others. 

If you would like to submit your birds caging for review email your photos to waterfowlrescue@aol.com




 

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Carolina Waterfowl Rescue (CWR) is non profit 501 (c)3  wildlife rescue organization located in Charlotte, NC. CWR is run by federally-licensed migratory bird rehabilitators specializing in waterfowl. We take in over 1000 birds a year covering close to 40 different wild bird species.  CWR is an all-volunteer group that donates their time, money and expertise to helping North Carolina’s birds in need. They also accept domestic or exotic ducks for placement, do nuisance referrals, and offer bird, duck and goose rescue assistance.
 
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