Whether you’re looking to have a few chickens in your backyard or are planning to start a full-fledged farm on your Pacific Northwest property, you first need to worry about the abundance of predators in this region. The larger ones are easy to spot and repel — it is the smaller ones that cause the most trouble.
Weasels exist in the Pacific Northwest, and they habitually intrude on chicken coups and rabbit sheds to hunt for meat and eggs. Weasels can slide through a hole as small as a wedding ring which makes keeping them away from your property quite tricky.
In this article, you will learn about the common types of weasels in Washington and Oregon (including a bit on how to identify them), what weasels eat, and how you can protect your property and animals from weasel attacks.
Most Common Types Of Weasels In Washington & Oregon
The long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) is the larger of the two weasel species most commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. This species can grow up to 18 inches in length, including a long, dark-tipped tail that can make up almost half of their total body length. Their coat is a rich brown with a light or creamy-colored belly during the summer months, turning to white in the winter.
While this type of weasel can be found in various environments, they tend to prefer areas that offer plenty of cover, such as woodlands, meadows, or hedgerows. They’re very good climbers and swimmers, using these skills to prey on a wide range of species, including small mammals, birds, and eggs.
The short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), also known as the ermine or stoat, is smaller than its long-tailed relative, with a body length of 7-14 inches. Like the long-tailed weasel, its coat is brown in the summer and turns white in the winter, but the tip of the tail remains black throughout the year.
Short-tailed weasels are versatile hunters, capable of taking down prey larger than themselves. They feed primarily on rodents, rabbits, and birds, but they are also known to eat insects, fish, and frogs.
This weasel is found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and marshes. Short-tailed weasels are also proficient climbers and swimmers, which aids their wide-ranging and varied diet.
While the Olympic Weasel (Mustela nivalis olympica) is not a separate species, it is a unique subspecies of the least weasel (Mustela nivalis) that is only found in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. Smaller than the short-tailed weasel, they usually measure between 6-8 inches in length.
The Olympic weasel is one of the smallest carnivores in the world, but it is still a skilled and tenacious hunter. They predominantly prey on rodents, small birds, and insects. They inhabit a wide variety of environments, including forests, grasslands, and even urban areas.
Like other weasels, the Olympic weasel can change its fur color in response to seasonal changes. Their summer coat is reddish-brown on top with a white underbelly, while in winter, they turn a pure white to blend in with the snow, although the Olympic weasel does not always change colors due to the often mild winters of the Olympic Peninsula.
Are Weasels In the Pacific Northwest A Cause For Alarm?
There are plenty of weasels in Washington and Oregon (as well as Michigan and Idaho which some people consider to be part of the PNW). However, with a few precautions you can just enjoy seeing them around and not find them a cause for alarm.
Let’s address a few common questions I had about weasels in Washington when I first moved here and then we’ll move on to some more significant issues they can cause and how you can prevent them.
Are Weasels A Danger To People?
While weasels are often viewed as mischievous and threatening to small animals and poultry, it’s important to note that they don’t pose a significant threat to humans. Despite their efficient predatory habits, weasels are not typically aggressive toward people unless cornered or provoked. Weasels are generally more interested in avoiding human contact and focusing on smaller prey, such as mice, rabbits, and birds.
However, this doesn’t mean you should try to handle a wild weasel if you encounter one. In fact, you shouldn’t. While not naturally aggressive, they can and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Their teeth and claws are sharp, and they can potentially inflict a painful bite or scratch if they feel they need to defend themselves.
Moreover, there is a minimal risk of diseases and parasites that weasels can carry and pass onto humans. These can include rabies and tularemia and, although instances of such transmission are extremely rare, it’s always a good idea to avoid direct contact.
In terms of damage to property, weasels are known to be curious creatures, and their small size allows them to enter homes and other structures through small openings. This could lead to potential damage to insulation, wiring, or other elements of a structure. In addition, weasels are known to hoard food, so an infestation could lead to a messy and unsanitary situation.
Are Weasels A Danger To Your Animals?
Probably, but it depends on what types of animals you have. Weasels are persistent and curious creatures so let’s go through the types of animals they’re most likely to bother (or eat, as the case may be with a few of these).
While weasels generally consume rodents and small mice, they can also attack small rabbits. Young bunnies are as vulnerable to weasel attacks as adult rabbits belonging to small breeds.
Ultimately, rabbits aren’t weasels’ first choice for food, but if a weasel is desperate enough, it will kill the weasel.
How Do I Know if a Weasel Has Killed My Rabbit?
Rabbits have many natural predators in the Pacific Northwest, but none are as small as a weasel.
If there is no damage to a cage or fence and you can see a lot of rabbit movement tracks showing that the rabbit hopped around before it was killed, you can be sure that a weasel did this.
Weasel droppings can also be found near or inside the enclosure where you find the dead rabbit.
Weasels are very seriously fond of chicken. If you have hens in your backyard farm, you might want to take measures to keep weasels out of the chicken coop.
Weasels can “weasel around” a chicken fence and get past different over-ground barriers by burrowing beneath fences.
Where raccoons kill only the chicken they need to eat, weasels kill the chicken they can kill. They store uneaten chicken around their burrows for later consumption.
How Do I Know if a Weasel Has Killed My Chicken?
You can tell if a weasel has killed your chicken if its guts are removed, or its head is bitten off. Weasels usually pile up dead chicken for later consumption, unlike raccoons. An acidic odor lingers over the dead animals in the case of a weasel attack.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest and an animal killed your chickens, it could be a large or small animal.
The large ones could be coyotes or foxes since wolves were eradicated from the Pacific Northwest in the 1900s. If these animals killed your chickens, then you will not find a carcass because the remains will be very little.
If more than a leg or a wing is left behind, the animal that attacked your chicken was small. And that leaves behind two options: raccoons and weasels.
A raccoon usually kills one chicken and doesn’t even finish it, while a weasel is rarely satisfied with one kill and hunts multiple.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of a weasel’s diet, whatever comes first becomes lunch, and whatever comes later becomes dinner.
Weasels are equally fond of eggs as they are of birds. So make sure any eggs placed outdoors are sufficiently protected from weasels.
How Do I Know if a Weasel Took My Eggs?
You can be sure that a weasel took the eggs from your shed if you notice foodprints of weasels or a narrow line of disturbance across the hay or other nest material. Eggs broken across the center further confirm that a weasel has been around.
How To Keep Your Animals Same From Weasels – 3 Tips
Weasel attacks must be discouraged with physical barriers — the more physical barriers there are, the less likely a weasel will get through. It is worth noting that weasels are very relentless, and you need a series of deterring tactics from keeping them from preying on your chicken, rabbits, and plants.
1. Use Mesh Fencing
Do not rely on traditional chickenwire fences if you are aware that weasels are eyeing your chicken coop. Where chicken fences keep a chicken in a cage, a mesh fence can keep a weasel out.
Remember that a male weasel is so streamlined that it can pass through a hole the size of a wedding ring. Mesh fences have tiny openings that make it impossible for a weasel to pass through. This forms the first line of defense against the world’s smallest carnivore.
Forimo Hardwire Cloth is an example of a fence with small openings for weasels to get through. It is made of hardwiring material, so the odds of it getting nibbled away are low as well. However, you have to anchor it deep enough in the ground that pests do not dig under it.
2. Reduce Hiding Spots
Weasels feel most comfortable in shrubbery and tall grass. Wherever their slim bodies are well hidden, they can be efficient, so they prefer to stalk and hunt around lawns and backyards with enough hiding spots.
These spots include:
- Low-lying bushes and shrubs
- Overgrown lawn grass
- Decor around vegetation
A weasel can use each one of these to hide. Given weasels’ speed and relentlessness, they can scurry through a door when you open it to feed your chickens or rabbits. That’s why clearing out any hiding spots is essential.
3. Use Weasel Traps
Weasels are complex but not impossible to trap. Because of their relentless nature, you cannot leave them to their own devices.
You must go on the offensive and protect your property.
To get rid of weasels, you can use a trap like the Kensizer Live Catch Cage, which allows you to get a hold of a weasel while it is alive.
The operating principle of this cage is fairly simple. You only need to place an egg on the bait spot in the cage and leave it open. Short-tailed weasels can get easily trapped in this cage though a long-tailed weasel might inadvertently hold the door open with its tail.
Customers have used it to catch rats, mice, and even small rabbits.
It can work on small weasels, but longer ones might get away. This is why we recommend a series of traps. Moreover, you can use deterrents like weasel-repelling scents to keep these pests at bay.
The Pacific Northwest is home to the short-tailed weasel and the long-tailed weasel, both of which are fond of birds, eggs, rabbits, and rodents.
They also attack vegetation and steal fruits. Needless to say, they are serious pests that have to be countered with physical barriers and deterrents.