Playin’ Possum

Since it happened too fast to take a picture I offer, thanks to the interwebs, this image of former Secretary of State of Florida Katherine Harris holding an opossum.

When I stepped out into the backyard early this morning to let the chickens out, I found an opossum just outside the coop eyin’ my ladies. It ran off well before I got anywhere near the coop. Since our dog passed on I’ve noticed an uptick in backyard critters. Still, it was late for a possum to be out–perhaps it had been partying down on nearby Sunset Boulevard and was just getting around to finding some grub. And that grub? Like us, opossums eat both eggs and chickens.

As with all such pest problems I went straight to the University of California integrated pest management website where I found a helpful article on opossums. The advice:

  • Pick up fallen fruit (I’m pretty good about this).
  • Eliminate wood piles (I’ve got one I need to eliminate).
  • Don’t leave pet food outside (I never do this, though I had forgotten about a mostly empty bag of chicken feed that the opossum could have been attracted to).
  • Screen off building entrances (I’ve done this).
  • Sit out on the back porch with a rifle. As UC puts it, “opossum may be spotlighted at night and shot”  where, “it is legal and safe to do so”  (can I employ our local gang?)

Habitat control is a great way to keep the population of critters like opossums at manageable levels. But there’s a problem here for those of us in urban or suburban areas. I could do all of these things (minus the gunplay) but what if several neighbors on my block have fallen fruit, outdoor pet food, and open basements?

What we need is an integrated pest management version of Neighborhood Watch, a group of people, at the block level, who would help folks reduce pests without resorting to pesticides and poisons. Sadly, I have no idea how to organize such a thing without coming off as arrogant and overbearing. But when we, at the neighborhood level, figure out how to make these sorts of arrangements that benefit the common good we’ll be well on our way to a more perfected humanity.

Wait, I got it, a neighborhood possum roast!

An earlier version of this post contained the phrase “paryting with the winos and tranny hookers down on Sunset . . .” A number of readers, quite rightly, took offence at the word “tranny.” My apologies to anyone who may have been offended. 

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  1. When we first moved into our house, the first wild animal we saw was a large nasty opossum. They are ugly giant rat looking critters. Yuck. Hope they stay away from your chickens and eggs.

  2. Since our dog passed away this summer this orange and white cat has been in my yard frequently eyeing my chickens.. I don’t want to find out if it can hurt my hens. :

  3. Yup, the longer the snout, the older the possum. Found one in my barn about a month ago that was 6″ from a roosting hen. His snout looked like an Arkansaw Razorback Hog. All i could lay hands on was a heavy metal garden rake and I nearly clawed him to death with it just to persuade him to give up on the stupified roosting hen, who was oblivious to what was taking place. Tried alternately to knock her off her roost to get her away from him. NO, she’d just squawk frantically and go back into a trance. He had tunneled underground from somewhere. I took a rifle out with me every night for 2-3 wks but have never seen him again. Impossible on a farm to keep everything up – although we do around the house. Cathy Geary

  4. I live in a row house in a small city. I’ve seen an oppossum in my back yard a few times over the years, and one recently. My greyhound, who loves to terrorize the squirrels and stray cats in our garden, is intrigued. My husband saw animal services putting out some humane traps nearby, I think someone “ratted” him out. 😉

    Personally I find them cute but I don’t have poultry for him to eat. Hopefully he’s caught and relocated out to the marshlands outside the city.

  5. Mjlai,

    Cats and chickens are usually not a problem together. Cats and chicks are a different matter.

    And anonymous, chickens and tranny hookers are also compatible. Not sure why our stretch of Sunset Boulevard has its particular flora and fauna, but yes.

  6. Whoa. That photo is ca-ray-zee. I’m an animal lover, but possums give me the big creeps. I say, by any means necessary with those guys.

  7. I had three raccoons in my living area! (3 cops, 3 emt, and animal control officer were here from 1-3 am.getting rid of them.)I have about 7 entries on my blog. I KNOW there is at least one in my attic, but cannot afford and exterminator. One of my hens in her Rubbermaid box in a 10×10 foor dog pen was murdered earlier. So, now they hens sleep in a hamster cage, covered, in the bathroom. Remember, they are birds. No, they don’t run loose in the house. However, now if I leave the backdoor open, they come inside AND get shooed right back out as I close the door.

  8. I remember my many expeditions to Sunset Blvd back in my adventurer days. Indeed, there is an abundant population of tranvestitus prostitutus in that particular ecosystem.

    We have many possums in our area, but they never tried to get in our coop. Well, once we caught a baby possum climbing the wire on the run, but they are mostly interested in stealing cat food or breaking into my garden box and eating my blood meal. We have a massively overgrown rose/honeysuckle/cypress “hedge” along one side of the yard and we think they live in there. We just catch them and relocate them about a mile down the creek.

  9. Everything loves a chicken dinner! I deal with possums, red foxes, and racoons in my mid-town neighborhood. I’ve had two mass murders of my small flocks over the years. Very disturbing. This is a particularily important topic at this time of year. As cold weather approaches, it seems wildlife are drawn to the coop. The eggs, messy eating habits of chickens, and of course the birds themselves, all combine to draw whatever wildlife you have in your area like a magnet. While those of us with flocks and gardens see these animals as foes to be reckoned with, many people love to see-and even encourage urban wildlife. I suspect if Mr. Homegrown went door to door around the hood he would get a gamut of responses-from indifference to outright hostility towards urban wildlife-but human nature being what it is, he’s wisely decided to do all he can on his lot and hope the neighbors follow suit.
    Lock up your girls at night! And be fastidious with your supplemental feed!
    Everybody loves a chicken dinner!

  10. I’m sure it is out late because of the street lights that never go out. Probably confuses the animal. It’s like daytime 24/7. The reason these “pests” are hanging around is because in cities we’ve paved over every blasted scrap of land they could think about inhabiting. They are not attractive to most, but they are just little mammals. And yes, I have had face-to-face encounters right at my own door. I forgot to bring in my cat’s water bowl, and the thirsty creatures were going for a drink when I opened my door and scared the crap out of them. It’s funny that we don’t want coyotes or other carnivores around, but then we get upset over being overrun with raccoons and possums. I guarantee you from their point of view – it ain’t no picnic baby. It’s kind of crazy when those who claim to love the land and nature display this kind of prejudice.

    @ Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth Do you know how incredibly bizarre it is to see your post right after your online name? You’ve managed to pack a lot of violence into that line or two. Deliberately running over a small animal with a car? I hope this is your idea of a joke.

    What makes them so nasty to you all? Because they want to eat the chickens? My understanding is that many of the folks who keep chickens have few qualms about killing their own chickens when they stop producing eggs. I don’t know, if I were a chicken, I might prefer to know who my enemies are right up front, instead of having someone protect me fondly as long as I’m providing a service, and then suddenly turn on me and kill me when I’m seen to be useless.

    I guess I’m going to come across as overly serious, sorry, but the cards are stacked pretty heavy against the possoms..and the chickens as I see it, and not from the possoms. How many chickens are killed by possoms vs being done in by people. and no, I don’t go around telling people what to eat. Eat what you want, but this whole thing has a kind of weird double-standard thing about it. It’s like “we love nature and peace and live green, as long as our preferences aren’t thwarted in any way”.

    There’s a lot of puppies in the pound. Maybe one can find a home with the Homegrowns.

  11. I’m the one whose four chickens were killed a couple weeks ago by stray dogs. We have four new chickens, the one who survived is back to normal (without eggs, yet, though), and we’re in the process of putting up real fences to replace the flimsy ones that let the dogs in. We’ve battened down the hatches on the coop. We don’t let the chickens out while we’re away from home. And today I watched as all five ladies froze and looked sideways up at the sky. I went out to see if a squirrel was bothering them and found, instead, a hawk circling overhead. “Kids,” I said, “We can protect the chickens the best we can, but if a hawk swoops down and gets them…” No way to finish. It is what it is. Chickens are prey. I love them to death but I don’t think I can stop a hawk. Good luck with the possum. Yuck!

    p.s. As a past resident of a beloved Hollywood apartment, I can attest to the omnipresent winos and tranny hookers, not to mention the regular hookers and grocery cart people. Possums fit right in.

  12. Yeehaw, represent Florida. I like the “NO” behind her head. When my mom and I designed and built a compost bin, in the earlier days when it was easy to dig under (it’s way set off from the house, and who are we to care about vector control anyway?), a mama possum had her babies in the bin. My mom sent me this picture:

    We’re talking about getting chickens in defiance of the HOA rules, and being near to a smallish forest preserve, we tend to get a lot of coons, possums, owls, hawks, etc. I have a friend who lost her first two baby chicks (in a much more wooded area, for sure!) to clever raccoons. Those are the saddest stories.

  13. Get yourself either a bow and arrow or a slingshot and learn how to use it. They make a lot less noise than a gun, even an air rifle.

    Come to think of it, learning how to use a sling shot might make more sense for me than chasing raccoons with my spading fork in hand…

  14. It’s really sad to see this community exploit transsexuals as local color, let alone associate them with pestilent night life. Why would transsexuals be sex workers? Because they are so discriminated against that they often can’t find “real” jobs.

    Let’s be a bigger community.

  15. My chickens and I mostly live in peace with the possums and raccoons – though occasionally I relocate one that gets too persistent. I have had a few kills and I’d like to think I’m pretty philosophical about it, but what I hate is the wasteful carnage. A raccoon got in and killed two pullets, eating only the head, and ate the wing off another leaving her alive for me to mercy kill later.

  16. As long as we keep our coops secure and follow the other advice Eric quotes for intelligent coexistence, opossums can actually be helpful to the urban homesteader–their primary food in urban places is small rodents–rats and mice (rats are WAY more common a problem in coops than possums). They also clean up uneaten food that attracts rats to our coops/homes, and clean up the neighborhood by eating carrion. Here in the Pacific Northwest where I live, gardeners should know that opossums’ second favorite food (after rodents) is slugs! And sure,opossums are weird, odd-looking things, but they’re kind of funky little animals–North America’s only marsupial, raising their young in pouches, just like kangaroos and koalas.

  17. Wow, what a great topic. First, I was blown away seeing Nasty Kathy with a ‘possum. She sure does make that critter look cute. Sadly, it is a live action torture shot just like she did to the voters of Florida.

    Second, I second Mindy’s point to “Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth” really? talk about crazy talk.

    Third, when I was a kid in the wilds of Hialeah (back when every inch hadn’t been paved over yet) my Dad and Grandpa made a big deal about shooting and killing a possum. I pick up the habit and had a couple of kills. The last one is forever in my memory because I had the profound recognition of senseless killing. All these years later, now living in the civil ‘hood of Miami Springs I see these critters occasionally walking the fence line by the alley. You can walk right up to them and they are shy and slow creature, so prehistoric looking. I cannot think of a single thing I found “damaged due to possums.” in my garden.

    So thinking back, I wonder if because my Great Grandma (from Lithuania) had chicken, Guinea hens and peacocks back in the ’50s and ’60s that my Grandpa and Dad “learned” to hate them. While, I, living in a “NON Poultry zone” have unlearned the response.

    BTW – can anyone explain how it can b legal for people to have (very noisy) parrots but not chicken, legally?

    Finally, I also recommend the sling shot, partially the wrist rocket. A little negative reinforcement will go a long way. Plus, it’s weirdly fun.

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