On May 13 a mystery creature broke into Leslie Sprando’s duck pen. The animal hadapparently climbed up the door and forced its way in where the door was loose at the top.The creature killed seven pet ducks and a goose. It ate a few pounds of meat off thegoose. All the birds were killed by a bite to the throat. Apparently the animal had triedto take one of the ducks with it but had left its prey stuck in the door.What kind of animal could have done such a thing?I’ve had similar experiences in my own yard. Once a friend gave me eight bantamchickens. They were fun to have around, and the rooster served as an alarm clock. But weekby week their numbers dwindled.A Cooper’s hawk got one. When Phyllis went out with a broom to protect the chickens,she had to sweep the hawk off the chicken — he must have been hungry.One night as I sat outside, I heard something climbing a pine near the house. In a fewminutes there was a crack, followed by a thump and a squawking of fluttering bantams.They had been roosting on a pine limb. The ‘possum had crawled out to get them and thelimb had broken. The next morning we had one less chicken.If you have unprotected chickens, guineas or ducks, sooner or later they will turn updead. Here are some tips to help you determine the killer. If the crop is eaten, or if the animal has been killed while still in its cage and someparts pulled through the wire and eaten off, suspect a raccoon. If the chickens are simplygone, maybe it was a fox or coyote.If the head and neck are slimy, suspect a rat snake, which swallowed as far as hecould, then gave up. Snakes can’t bite pieces out of their prey.If a white splash mark is near the kill, and the carcass is picked clean with few or nobones broken, suspect a bird of prey. If you find chewed or broken feathers, the predatorwas a mammal. Hawks and owls don’t do such damage to feathers.If large bones were cleanly cut, suspect a bobcat. They have a pair of sharp shearingteeth for cutting bone. If large bones were crushed, gnawed or broken, maybe the culpritwas a member of the dog family.A useful technique is to skin the dead bird. Then the marks of teeth or claws will showclearly in the flesh and provide clues.If a lot of birds are killed and scattered and the inside of the coop is a mess,suspect dogs. If birds are killed and piled, think mink or weasel. If baby chicks arepiled or pulled into a rat hole, maybe it was a rat.In the Sprando case, since the animal forced its way in at the top of the door, it wasa good climber. I suspect a raccoon — or a few raccoons.What can you do to prevent a predator from taking your pet birds?A sturdy cage is your best answer. You can’t keep free-roaming poultry without risk oflosing them to predators.Even if you could shoot and trap every predator you saw, some would still come through.Besides, who would want to do such a thing?Raccoons and opossums are especially common these days, even in town. That’s due to adecline in fur trapping, and a decline in larger predators — wolves, cougars and bears –which occasionally eat medium-sized predators.Predators are interesting to watch should they visit your wild garden. It’s best,however, not to try and make friends.