There’s no denying it, chickens are very strange creatures. To prove it, we’ve rustled up a dozen weird chicken facts, all about our feathered friends.
How much do you know about chickens?
With more and more people interested in keeping backyard chickens, it seems only natural to want to know more about this peculiar bird.
Did you know that from the day chicks hatch, they know how to scratch and peck for food, preen and clean their feathers, and roost for the night when the sun goes down. It is instinct for them.
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A Dozen Weird Things About Chickens
The more we learn about chickens, the more fascinating they are. Here are some weird things about chickens:
1. Chickens Reproductive Cycle is Fascinating
When female chicks hatch out of their egg, they come into the world with a certain number of eggs inside of them, and when they turn six months oldish, they start laying them. Hens will lay several eggs a week for several years, and when all the eggs in their body are gone, they’re done laying!
Hens lay eggs even when they don’t live with a rooster. Hens go through the process of ovulation and egg laying almost every day.
2. Chickens Lay Different Colored Eggs
Growing up, I always thought that all chicken eggs were white. When I saw brown eggs for the first time it blew my mind that they came from a chicken!
In truth, chickens lay eggs in all different colors. There are some breeds of chickens that even lay green, blue, and pink eggs! Chickens of different breeds also have different colored earlobes. The general rule (not true with all breeds) is that chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs and chickens with red or brown ear lobes lay brown eggs.
3. Chickens Take Dirt Baths
In order to protect themselves from mites and clean their feathers, chickens take dust baths. They’ll find a nice patch of dirt, loosen up the soil forming a pit, and then they jump in and roll around, fluffing up their feathers and shaking about. Once they’ve had enough, they hop out of the pit, walk over to you, and shake every bit of soil and filth right in your face. Maybe they think humans need dust baths too.
4. Chickens Have One Multi-Purpose Hole
Chickens have my vote for grossest anatomy of any creature. I bet most of you don’t know that the eggs you eat come out of something called a cloaca or vent. This opening serves not only as a chicken vagina, but urine and feces shoot out of it too. A real multifunctional orifice. Omelet anyone?
5. Chickens Chew Their Food, but Not with Teeth
Speaking of gross anatomy… chooks also use something called a gizzard to chew their food. They obviously don’t have teeth, so they swallow their food whole, where it’s stored in the crop. The birds swallow small bits of sand and stone that act like teeth in the gizzard to grind the food up into tiny bits. Just imagine how horrifying humans would be if we processed our food in the same way.
6. Chickens Evolved from Dinosaurs
Chickens are the closest known descendants to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Keeping chickens in your backyard is very much like having a bunch of tiny dinos take over your property.
You can see the resemblance in a very scary way when they run at full speed. Imagine the part of Jurassic Park with the T-Rex chasing the jeep, except scaled down about 500 percent. Little Carl is our sprinter, she leans way forward, with her head close to the ground and her fluffy butt in the air and stomps at full speed to her destination. She runs everywhere she goes, and is usually yelling at the same time.
7. Chickens Will Eat Anything
Chickens are omnivores. They’ll eat practically anything. I mean, anything. The only thing I ever saw them ignore was an artichoke, and I think that’s because they didn’t know the glory of the insides. We call them “our little food recyclers.” Anything that isn’t consumed by us, the dog, or the cat, gets tossed into the chicken run. We feed them smooshy veggies, cooked meat from leftovers, yogurt, soft bananas, they will even eat their own eggs, including the shell if one happens to break in their midst.
We usually save up a few days worth of goodies and toss it out to them. It’s hilarious to see them come running from all over to scratch through it all and take possession of the goodies.
When one bird finds something AMAZING, she’ll grab it and go running with it, desperately searching for a private place to chow down. The other chooks obviously see this act of desperation and give chase. The tasty morsel gets passed to and fro, each chicken managing to take little bits of it until it’s gone.
8. There Are More Chickens Than Us
Chickens outnumber humans three to one on this planet. Now, let’s be veeeeerrryyy nice to our bird friends so one day when they manage to form superior intelligence and take over the world, they will spare the groveling humans.
9. Chickens Can Talk to Each Other
Chickens have their own language. Chickens make over 30 different sounds and each bird and flock has its own tone. Different sounds can mean: There’s a predator in the air! There’s a predator on the ground! I found something delicious over here! I just laid an egg! Get the hell out of my nest! Oh my god, I’m lost, I’M LOST, I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM!!! As you can see, chickens are very dramatic creatures that are big into exclamations.
10. Chickens Sing Songs
Many hens make a big ol’ racket every day when they announce to the world that they are indeed going inside to lay an egg. Some people call this “the egg song” and the whole flock joins in the chorus, even if they aren’t laying an egg at that moment. It’s really quite beautiful!
11. Roosters Take Their Jobs Very Seriously
Most roosters are downright gentlemanly creatures. When new food is served they make a lovely “took took took” sound to call their harem of hens over. I’m not even kidding, they’re called a harem.
Ever a believer in “ladies first,” the roo waits until everyone is eating before taking a bite. Roosters also spend the vast majority of their time protecting the flock. They constantly scan the land and sky for predators while the ladies gossip and stuff their faces. A good rooster will fight predators to the death to defend his flock, even if they’re much bigger than him!
12. There is a Hierarchy Of Chickendom
Chickens have a hierarchy of bossiness, a pecking order, if you will. This term was actually coined to describe flock behavior. Every flock has a bird at the top and a bird at the bottom, and every other chook fits into the ladder in some specific place. The order is established during mating season, times of stress, and addition or loss of birds.
In our flock, when our two foster birds arrived, it was total mayhem. Everyone had to fight for their established positions. Each bird would challenge the newcomers by sprinting up to their face and staring them down. If the newcomer stared back, the chest bumping would begin, which would then escalate to scratching and yelling.
The fighting would continue between each member of the flock. Whichever bird gives up first is lower on the ladder. Lower birds get pecked if they dare to approach the food before the head hen has graced the feeder.
Our original head hen, Little Carl fought her way back to the top in this transition, and still remains more powerful than our poor rooster. His masculinity was crushed by her scrappiness. It’s easy to tell who’s at the top. The head hen is the first to eat, and the others tend to follow her lead. If she decides it’s time to go to bed, everyone else follows.
The bird on the bottom is the last to eat. She’s forced to scurry around the chowing flock, grabbing bits of grub wherever she can. She gets the worst places to sleep at night, and everyone generally thinks she sucks. Sound harsh? It is. That’s chickens for you.
What unusual facts about chickens, have you discovered?
About Meredith: Meredith is the founder of ImaginAcres. She lives in Western New York with her incredible husband, Michael, and their menagerie of farm critters. Join her at Backyard Chicken Project where she shares more chicken antics and tips to care for your flock.