A Chicken’s Body Language can tell you something? Yep.
Chickens can be a bit of a mystery. They don’t like to let anyone (or anything) know they’re sick. And even if they are sick, so many of their symptoms swirl together and overlap from one illness to the next. However, if you pay attention to your chicken’s body language, you can learn things from them. Not just about illness, but lots of things. Here’s some common chicken body language you might catch and possible things they might be telling you.
When she’s all puffed up (and possibly standing on one leg)
Let’s start with the image above. My hen, Princess Gretchen is all puffed up, with head tucked down in a bit, and standing on one leg. That tells me she’s cold (and it had just snowed, which doesn’t happen here very often). When a chicken puffed up and tucks in like that, they’re trying to stay warm. The act of ‘puffing’ their feathers out helps trap air in their feathers, which helps insulate them and keep them warmer.
Of course, there are many reasons why a chicken might be standing on one foot. Maybe she’s just giving one foot a rest. Or maybe she has a sore foot, or a wound. If it’s not winter and your bird isn’t cold, watch to see if she limps when she walks. If so, there might be something wrong with her foot. Pick her up and examine it. You may not be able to see anything (and in a day or two she’ll be walking fine), or you may discover something that needs attention. (One possible foot problem is Bumble Foot. If you suspect that problem, here’s more about what to do.)
When she’s making weird jerking movements with her neck
The jerking movements (which generally remind me of someone trying to get something that’s stuck out of their throat) are a good indicator that the chicken has a sour or compacted crop. The movement is them trying to dislodge their crop (which doesn’t usually work). Here are things you can do to help your hen if you suspect crop issues.
When she’s all puffed up and won’t get off the nest box
Another reason your hen might be puffy is that she’s broody. Being broody means her body temperature has risen and told her that it’s time to sit on some eggs and hatch them out. There are ways to help your hens get over their broodiness. Here’s more about broodiness and what to do.
When she’s hiding in a corner (or under a bush or in the coop)
If a chicken is hiding, there are usually one of three reasons. The first, she’s not feeling well. She’ll separate off from the flock for self-protection. Second, she’s being picked on. Again, she’ll separate off from the flock to stay out of harms way. Third, she’s been scared by something (a dog, a hawk, her own shadow, you never know…) Watch her and check on her. If she’s sick the behavior will continue for an extended period of time. If she’s being picked on, it won’t take very long to see some of that in action going on. And a scare shouldn’t keep her in hiding for too long (although when I’ve had attacks on the flock–by hawks or raccoons for instance), my flock has refused to leave the coop for a couple of days. However, this is the whole group, not just one.
When she squats down and spreads her wings out a little when you approach her
I have to admit the first time I saw this behavior with one of my first hens, I was convinced the neighbors kids did something to my girl and she was flinching as I approached her (like a fear reaction from being battered).
NOT SO. Whew.
When a hen squats down like that she’s basically submitting to you as the ‘rooster’ of the flock. You might also see her do the same behavior with a rooster. It’s just a way of submitting to your authority, Take it as a compliment, I guess.
It’s also a good way to tell if you’re new girls are laying (or which ones are laying). The ones laying are the ones that might squat like this for you. The ones that aren’t, won’t.
(Sorry about the blurry photo….it’s so hard to catch them doing this, they’re too fast!)
When she’s losing feathers
There are a few reasons why you might have a chicken losing feathers. A very common reason (and if the feathers are falling out in late summer/early fall) just means she’s molting. Nothing to worry about. She’s shedding her feathers to grow new ones for winter. It happens every year, except for the first year of a chicken’s life. Here’s some more information about what molting is and how to help your birds through it.
Another reason they might be losing feathers is that they’re getting picked on like Millie below.
Stress or poor diet may also contribute to feather loss.
They’re picking them off themselves. This could be due to lack of protein in their diet (so they’re eating their protein rich feathers), or stress, or bug infestation.
When a hen is walking around like a penguin
If this is the case, you’ve got a chicken who is egg bound. This is a very serious condition and it needs immediate attention. Here’s more about having an egg bound chicken and what to do about it.
When a hen is walking around with their wings spread out and panting
This generally is an indication that they’re hot. Both panting and spreading their wings helps them cool down. Make sure they have plenty of cool water to drink when they’re hot and shady spaces to escape the sunshine.
When chickens are threatened (or threatening)
A threatened (or challenging or threatening) chicken, often has hackle feathers raised. In the case below, a new young roo is trying to establish dominance over one of my grown hens (who wasn’t having it). But those same raised feathers can happen if they’re afraid or feeling threatened.
When she won’t stop scratching herself
There will always be a bit of itching for chickens (or anyone else for that matter). Sometimes we just itch and need to scratch it. However, if the itching seems to be to an excess (they do it A LOT), it might be indicative of a bug infestation. Here’s more about lice (and natural treatments).
Chicken body language for sickness
Some of the things we already talked about could tip you off that a hen is not feeling quite right. Here are some other examples of body language to watch out for to help you diagnose what might be wrong:
This poor little chick was super dehydrated (she was a rescue chick). The photos below are before using a syringe filled with water to get some fluids into her and less than an hour later. Water is very important for birds (and the rest of us, too)!
General clues that something is wrong with a chicken could be things like droopy eyes, droopy comb, slow movement (or standing perfectly still like a statue for endless amounts of time), super drowsy (can’t seem to keep her eyes open during a time when she’s not taking a nap).
Below you can see Goldie is just not feeling hot. She’s droopy, her eyes look dull, her comb is falling over, she’s slow-moving, etc. Some of the body language your chicken might be telling you for general sickness depends on knowing your bird. For example, below the ‘sick Goldie’ photo, is a ‘healthy Goldie’ photo. Her comb doesn’t normally fall over (although some hens do have floppy combs, so knowing your hens will help you know if they’re telling you something or if that’s just how they look all the time).
When they hunker down and get kinda low to the ground and pull their neck in, that’s a good indication they’re not feeling right.
Again, here’s another sick girl, droopy, sleepy and comb that’s normally upright is falling over.
And just for fun
I had to throw in some fun, too, right? It’s not all about sickness and issues. A chicken’s body language can tell you much more than that! There’s no escaping the fact that chickens are also entertaining. So, let’s end on a light note.
When a chicken is scared
This mini-roo was so curious about what I was doing…but I had a big stack of mail under my arm that kept dropping piece by piece. Finally, all that was left dropped at once and he split. haha
When a hen is really a little piggy (or when her eyes are bigger than her crop)
Look at the size of the full, FULL crop on this girl. It’s a wonder she didn’t tip over.
Madder than a wet hen? Errr, ROO?
Content and napping
The first time I saw one of my chickens do this, I thought something was seriously wrong. Not so. She’s just enjoying the sunshine and taking a nap.
When being a mama is all she wanted and then she got it, Ahhhhh.
If you make it a habit to spend some time every day observing your flock, you’ll get to know them personally and recognize when they something is just not right. A chicken’s body language can really tell you a great deal if you learn some simple cues as to what they’re trying to tell you.