Backyard chickens can be a pleasure to watch. They have peculiar ways of doing things that can cause us to ask questions about their behavior. One of the things that spark people’s curiosity is wondering whether or not chickens groom each other.
Chickens have been known to groom each other. However, is it not seen in every flock or with every bird. Chickens are very particular about their grooming habits.
In this article, we will look at the grooming habits of chickens and other ways they keep clean, from fluffing their feathers to taking dust baths.
The Importance of a Chicken’s Feathers
A chicken’s feathers have evolved for thousands of years and enabled them to adapt to their surroundings in many ways. As a result, this basic plumage serves many purposes.
A chicken’s feathers are fantastic insulators. Fluffy down feathers lay underneath their decorative outer feathers. The down feathers are heavier than the outer feathers and work wonders in keeping the chicken warm.
If you notice, chickens will fluff their feathers up because the air between them increases and circulates as the feathers rise. As it does so, the air underneath the feathers warms, storing heat in the same way a down comforter would do.
In the summer, the air under the feathers helps to keep the chickens cool.
The outer feathers of a chicken are just the exterior, and they keep the down feathers together as well as repelling rain and snow, protecting the bird’s skin.
Yes, chickens can fly. Just not very well. But they do have flight feathers which provide a surface area on their wings that help them maintain their flight. So you will often see chickens flying briefly to perch on things or join the rest of the flock if they begin to stray.
Chickens use their flight feathers to push themselves forward but only get a few feet off the ground. But because their wings are too small to handle a lot of weight, they won’t suddenly burst into flight, and you certainly won’t see them fly very far.
Chicken’s have nerve endings at the base of each feather that enables them to sense changes in the air current and pick up specific vibrations.
How Chickens Keep Clean
Believe it or not, chickens are not terribly dirty. Like most birds, they have very meticulous ways of keeping themselves and each other clean.
When a chicken is seen grooming herself, this is called preening. Self-grooming is critical in keeping the bird looking her best and ensuring her feathers are doing what they are supposed to.
Because a chicken’s feathers are used for insulation and waterproofing, they need to be in pristine condition. Chickens run their feathers through their beaks to keep them free of debris.
Chickens also preen to reapply oils to their feathers. They have an oil gland that sits at the base of their tail, which they gently pinch before preening, and this helps to release the oil to spread it over all their feathers.
For the most part, chickens are solitary preeners. However, it is not uncommon in larger flocks to find them preening each other.
If you have never witnessed a chicken taking a dust bath, I can assure you; it is rather amusing to watch. It’s easy to mistake a dust bath for an uncontrolled seizure, but rest assured, this is all normal.
Chickens are not fans of bathing in water the way other birds do. Instead, they bathe in dust. It seems somewhat contradictory, doesn’t it?
However, bathing in dust keeps the feathers on a chicken clean. In addition, the minute particles in the dust help to fend off lice, mites, and other pests.
Chickens will find or even dig a small ditch in the dirt and roll around in it, flapping wildly until their feathers are covered in dirt. This can go on for several minutes.
Chickens enjoy dust bathing aside from cleanliness, as it is an integral part of their social activity in a flock. They will often take dust baths in groups of two or three and then meticulously groom themselves or each other afterward.
Do Chickens Ever Need Help Grooming?
While chickens do a pretty good job at keeping themselves clean, situations do arise when they need a little help from us. This is usually done with a warm bath. Though they don’t love water, I have found that most of my chickens tolerate a bath now and then.
Why Would a Chicken Need a Bath?
Unfortunately for us, most chicken baths are needed because of too much poop. A bird’s vent feathers can become caked with droppings, usually due to diarrhea. And this is not something you want, especially when they are laying the eggs you will eat for breakfast.
Another reason your chicken may need a bath is if she gets injured and you need to clean her wounds. Or possibly she is sick and not able to keep herself clean. In that case, you will want to give her some help.
Chickens usually only need to be spot bathed (usually near the vent), so you don’t always have to dunk them as you would with your dog.
Because the oil on their feathers is essential, it’s good to avoid washing it away.
How to Bathe a Chicken
It’s easiest to use your bathtub or a large basin filled with warm water. Securely hold your bird and slowly lower her into the tub. Don’t be alarmed if some flapping is involved.
If you are trying to remove stuck poop or egg, let her bum sit in the water for a few minutes. A small amount of baby shampoo or Dawn detergent is perfect for removing the offending substance.
If you happen to be cleaning an infection on her feet, a small nailbrush can work wonders.
Rinse your chicken off with warm, clean water and wrap her in a large towel.
If the weather is warm, you can allow her to air dry back in the coop. But if the air is chilly, you will want to help her out. Use a blow dryer on low heat and gently dry and fluff up the bathed area.
I have found that my chickens like being blow-dried!
Chickens will groom themselves, but it is not uncommon for a larger flock to groom each other. As a chicken owner, you don’t have to worry about bathing your chicken. Just make sure they have plenty of space to dust bathe. And if the occasion arises and your chicken needs a bath, it’s easy enough to do so.
Just use a tub or basin, secure your bird, and slowly lower her in. Be prepared for some flapping! If needed, use warm water and a little soap, then rinse and dry your chicken off. She may even like being blow-dried!
- Why Do Chickens Rub Their Beaks On You?
- Do Chickens Like Getting In Water?
- Why Do Chickens Shake Their Heads When You Talk To Them?
- Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Feathers?