Do Chickens Have Nails or Claws? [Care & What Their Used For]

Raising a flock of backyard chickens has recently grown in popularity. However, anyone interested in raising chickens should know that caring for them is more than just letting them free roam in the yard. Having a flock of backyard chickens requires a substantial amount of knowledge on the part of a chicken owner. To better care for chickens, it is crucial to becoming familiar with their anatomy. 

Chickens’ nails are called claws, not talons. Talons are reserved for birds of prey. Despite having similar properties, a chicken’s claws play an essential role in your chicken’s activities and even its health. 

Knowing whether they have nails or claws is not always clear for many newcomers when they enter the world of chicken rearing. In fact, you may have heard their claws commonly referred to as nails at some point. 

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at their claws, how they use them, and what you need to care for them.

What is the Difference Between Nails and Claws?

Knowing the correct terminology for the individual body parts on your chicken, what they are used for, and the health issues commonly associated with them will help you provide your chicken with the best care. 

Before we move on to the role of your chicken’s claws and how claw care can affect their health, let us look at the characteristics of claws and nails and the differences between them to better understand why we call them claws instead of nails.

How are Claws and Nails Similar to One Another?

The use of the words claws and nails is often used interchangeably when describing certain physical characteristics regarding specific species. 

Although they are considered separate terms with their own individual set of physical characteristics, nails and claws share some similarities.

For instance, both the nails and claws of animals are made from the same protein. They are made of keratin. 

Both nails and claws also grow from the digits (otherwise known as fingers or toes) on an animal’s hands. Or, in the case of your chicken, feet. They also continue to grow and require trimming.

They also have a connected evolutionary history. Claws have been a physical attribute in the animal kingdom for much longer than nails have been present in fossil records. As some species adapted to their changing environment, their claws gradually evolved to what we now call nails.

Chickens, however, are not one of the species that underwent this physical adaptation.

How do Claws and Nails Differ from One Another?

When it comes to their physical appearance, it does not take much for anyone to be able to detect a distinct difference between the appearance of their fingernails compared to a chicken’s claws.

Claws are described as being a thick, pointed, downward curved structure that grows at the end of certain species’ fingers and toes. Nails, on the other hand, are horny plates that lack the sharper point of a claw. It is these distinctions that set both claws and nails apart.

What Do Chickens Use Their Claws For?

Chickens use their claws for various reasons. Below are several ways in which a chicken’s claws aid them in their day.

Claws are Used to Forage for Food

Chickens mainly use their claws to scratch at the ground, which you will see them do quite often. As a chicken roams about, you will find that they use their claws to scratch the dirt and vegetation in an attempt to get the earth loose. This allows a chicken to uncover both bugs and seeds that were slightly hidden/buried down.

Claws are Used to Create Dust Bathes

A chicken will also use their claws to aid in its hygiene. You will find that your chickens will scratch at the dirt to loosen it for the tasty bugs and when they wish to take a dust bath. Dust baths are essential for your chicken and are an activity that they often partake in daily. This activity helps them keep parasites from invading their feathers. 

Claws are Used for their Strong Grip

Chickens also use their claws to help them perch at night. If you have ever seen how chickens sleep, you may have wondered how they never seem to fall despite being completely asleep.

The way that a chicken’s claw is structured allows chickens to stay and sleep in elevated areas without fear of falling. The hold that their claws give them allows them to perch on branches and keeps them from losing their grip and falling while staying safely elevated from predators as they sleep.

Claws are Used in Defense

Although chicken claws are mostly used for scratching and digging at the ground, their claws also double as weapons.

For the most part, chickens will use their beaks to attack, peck, and flog their opponent. However, they will also use their claws in a fight. This can be seen when the pecking order is disrupted and two chickens challenge one another for superiority. The flexibility of their digits and the curved point of their claws aid a chicken in defending itself.  

How Can Claw Care Affect a Chickens Health?

A chicken’s claws play an essential role in its daily activities, as mentioned above. Without proper claw care, your chicken will find themselves having trouble foraging for food, cleaning themselves, defending themselves. They will be unable to perch or even walk correctly. Excessively long and sharp claws can also cause a chicken to unintentionally cause harm to its bodies as well as other chickens.

What is Proper Claw Care for Chicken?

As mentioned earlier, claws are not very different from nails in that they continue to grow as time goes on. Just like for humans, chicken claws need to be trimmed to prevent them from becoming so long that it hampers their ability to engage in daily activities.

Owners of chickens should regularly check the claws of their chickens to make sure they don’t need help being trimmed. How often they need their claws trimmed depends on several factors. However, as you can see, chickens use their claws for nearly all of their activities.

The more they use them, the less likely they will need to be trimmed regularly, as their activities help keep their claws filed down.

Cutting Their Claws

If you notice that your chicken’s claws are getting a little out of hand (i.e., you see them beginning to curl into themselves), then it is time for you to step in and trim them. 

To make it easier on yourself, soak your chicken’s feet in warm water to soften the claw. This will provide you a clearer view of where the quick is in it.

Cutting the quick can be painful. So, if you are unsure where the quick ends, it is better to trim a little at a time. You will also want to keep in mind that the longer the claw has grown, the longer the quick will be.

If you are hesitant to do so yourself, you can always contact your chicken’s veterinarian for assistance. Have them show you a few pointers on how to cut your chicken’s claws without causing them harm or stress.

Final Word

Chickens’ claws are vital for their everyday wellbeing. Pay attention to their claws, and if you see anything unusual, you will want to take action.