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‘Wild’ chicken behaviours & what they mean

Do you ever watch your chickens and wonder why they behave in a certain way? During our ‘Chicks Gone Wild’ competition we have observed a examples of natural chicken instincts and behaviours from our entrants. We may think some of these ‘wild’ behaviours are strange, but they are perfectly normal in the bird world! Here is our list of some of the most common chicken behaviours and what they mean:

Chicks Gone Wild video entry from Dean Sutton.

Pecking and peck order:

Pecking is one of the first behaviours chickens learn. It is established when the chick pecks at the shell during hatching. Pecking is mainly used to pick up feed, but during its lifetime, birds learn to use pecking to eat, drink and keep personal space.

In one of their most intriguing behaviours, birds in the wild tend to peck other birds to establish a pecking order. This rite of passage is used to establish a social hierarchy in chicken flocks. Organisation is established separately for males and females in the same flock. The pecking order commences at an early age and, depending on flock size and complexity, will be established by 10 to 16 weeks.

Roosting and perching:

Chickens have a natural desire to roost or perch above the ground. A protective mechanism, height keeps chickens safe against ground predators. It also allows birds to find a refuge away from the more dominant birds.


In the wild, jungle fowl spend more than 50 per cent of their time foraging. Foraging behaviors include pecking and scratching, as well as looking for and sampling possible food sources. This behaviour is important to stimulate the natural curiosity of the chicken.


Birds preen as a way of grooming themselves. The main reason is to keep their feathers in top condition as they have an important role in insulation and keeping the birds dry. The feathers are made of a shaft with several long thin structures called barbs. These barbs are held together by smaller barbules. If barbs are pulled apart, it makes the feather ineffective for insulation and waterproofing. Preening also keeps the feathers oiled and reduces brittleness of the feathers.

Dust bathing:

Dust bathing is the chicken’s act of rolling or moving around in dirt to cleanse the skin and feathers of parasites, dead skin, and other skin irritants. It also helps prevent the build up of the oil from preening. When chickens do not have access to dust baths, they will nonetheless go through the motions of dust bathing.

Birds are intelligent animals – observe their behaviour to learn how smart they are!

Don’t forget to capture your interesting and funny chicken behaviours on camera and share them on the Sustenhance Facebook page.