by Ashley Taborsky
Every state has its own special chicken-keeping challenges — and Alaska is certainly no exception. From bears to eagles, everyone loves the taste of chicken. From abundant wild predators in the Last Frontier to extreme climates, northern poultry owners have a few extra aspects to keep in mind to ensure their birds are safe and well-cared-for year-round.
Aerial Predators: Bald Eagles, Hawks, Ravens
In most places across the country, spotting a majestic bald eagle soaring overhead in the wild is a rare sight to witness. But Alaska has more than its fair share of bald eagles. If you’ve ever visited an Alaska fishing town — like Homer or Seward — in the summer months, chances are quite high you’ve witnessed firsthand how prevalent bald eagles are in certain areas.
I know, I know — we’ve all had proud moments where we’ve watched our chickens stealthily hunt down and mercilessly devour a grass moth or slug. But in reality, our backyard “raptors” don’t stand a chance to real aerial predators like bald eagles, golden eagles, or hawks.
Even though eagles and chickens are both birds, bald eagles don’t view chickens as their long lost cousin — they see them as an easy meal. Even large ravens will kill and eat other birds like chicks and small pullets.
Most Alaskan backyard poultry owners know if they live in an area that’s prone to eagle and hawk visits, and we take a few extra precautions and fortifications to keep our birds safe.
When all of your chickens are locked up in their run, your birds might not be able to fly out — but remember: vicious aerial predators can still fly in, welcoming themselves uninvited to your chicken run and coop.
Don’t hand a hawk a free buffet, already in a cage.
If you have an outdoor chicken run area, make sure it’s covered. The cover doesn’t need to be a solid material — even chicken wire or loose netting will work as a deterrent. Just anything that will prevent a large, carnivorous bird from successfully landing inside of your chicken’s home.
Depending on your location and where the run is positioned, a non-solid cover may actually be a better solution in Alaska, so you don’t need to worry about structural stability or its weight-bearing capacity when snow and ice pile up in the winter.
Ground Predators: Bears, Wolverines, Lynx
Just like many chicken keepers sadly lose flocks each year to bald eagles and other predators in the sky, there’s certainly no shortage of ground predators in Alaska, either.
There are ground predators of all shapes and sizes that will kill chickens if given the chance — from small ermine and other weasels to large bears. The number of necessary precautions and modifications to your coop and run will depend on where you live.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, with a population of approximately 300,000 people. But even homeowners who live in certain neighborhoods around Anchorage regularly see bears, moose, and other big game crosses through their yards.
If moose routinely walk nearby your home, no problem. Moose are herbivores, and couldn’t care less about chickens (although my chickens will often let out their group “alert” call when a moose is passing by, which the moose ignores entirely — free Alaska entertainment at its finest).
But if bears are a common sight in your neighborhood, that’s a different story for a chicken keeper. If a bear successfully gets into your chicken setup once, it will come back year after year expecting the same pleasant result: easy food. They remember where they’ve found food sources in the past. That’s why it’s important to keep bears out in the first place.
If you live in an area that is known to have bears, wolverines, lynx, and other larger wild predators, you should strongly consider investing in an electric fence if you’re going to attempt chicken keeping. And letting your birds free-range probably isn’t a good idea.
Here’s a fun Alaska fact: There’s actually a residential area in Anchorage named “Bear Valley.” Homeowners there get to enjoy some pretty epic views of wildlife but need to take a few extra precautions, like keeping an eye on their pets when they’re outdoors.
While bald eagles and bears may seem like the most dangerous threat to chickens in Alaska, the majority of chicken owners I’ve spoken with have lost birds to an entirely different kind of animal: domestic neighborhood dogs.
Even the sweetest dog has a natural instinct to chase a small animal that runs, particularly chickens.
Although most cities have laws requiring pets to be on a leash, it’s not unheard of for dogs to slip their collar or sneak out of their owner’s yard for unsupervised neighborhood playtime.
If your yard isn’t fully fenced to keep someone else’s dog out, you’re taking a risk with your flock’s safety by letting them free roam outside of their run.
It’s extremely frustrating that a homeowner would need a fenced yard to prevent another person’s loose dog from unlawfully running onto your property and killing your chickens. But all too often the neighbor’s family dog runs away, coming straight for the yard with the interesting smells and birds that can’t fly away in self-defense.
Unlike eagles or lynx, when dogs attack chickens, they’re generally not looking for a meal — they’re usually “playing,” chasing chickens for entertainment. Once they catch a bird and it stops moving, they quickly move onto the next. A single dog can kill an entire flock within minutes.
You may have legal recourse. But the sad fact remains: all of your backyard birds have been unnecessarily killed.
The best way to prevent a loose dog from killing your chickens is to either fence your yard or ensure your run is fortified well enough to withstand a curious dog.
Whether you’re protecting your flock from bears, eagles or dogs, nothing helps you sleep better at night than knowing the animals in your care are safe and sound.
Originally published in the August/September 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.