Believe it or not, one of the most frequently asked questions about chicken anatomy is; “do chickens have knees?”
It’s not that strange of a question. If you watch a chicken walking, they don’t walk as we do. As we put each foot forward, we clearly bend at the knee to bring the other leg forward.
If you watch a chicken, each foot moves forward and the joint that is around halfway up their leg – as far as we can see – actually bends backward.
This is why some people think chickens do not have knees, or actually think that their knees bend backward.
However, this is not actually the case.
Chickens do have knees. The joint you see pointing backward is their ankle. A chicken’s knee is higher up on their leg tucked into their bodies under their feathers. It’s not visible while they’re walking.
Where Are Chickens’ Knees?
I’m into raising and keeping backyard chickens more than I am eating them. If you want to clearly see a chicken’s knee, however, it’s a lot easier to do so by picking up a chicken leg at the supermarket.
If you can see a whole leg, you’ll notice that there is a joint connecting the drumstick to the bottom part of their leg and foot.
This is where the knee is.
In some parts of the world, the knee is actually a delicacy. In this article, Chinese chicken knees are described as being like popcorn chicken. There’s almost no meat though, their knees are cartilage.
If you have chickens, you can get a hold of them and feel for their knees. They’re definitely there!
What confuses most people is that their legs bend backward as they walk. This is because that first joint you see on a chicken’s leg is their ankle.
This isn’t that unusual in the animal kingdom. If you look at a cat’s back legs, it’s the same thing. Cats walk on their tiptoes, their ankle is the first joint that points backward, and their knees are right up in line with their stomachs.
If this doesn’t make sense, look at the image below. I’ve marked roughly where the ankles and knees are. As you can see (or not see) the knees are tucked up out of sight:
Related – Do chickens have ankles?
Do Chickens or Birds Have Kneecaps?
Generally speaking, birds do not have kneecaps, no. This also includes chickens.
Obviously, we have kneecaps. Our kneecaps, known as the patella, is a small bone that helps to protect our knee joint.
It performs an important function but is not essential for us to walk. This is why a lot of animals, such as birds, do not have kneecaps and neither do they need them.
There is one bird that is very different from most others though, and that is the ostrich. Ostriches are the only animals in the world to have not one, but two kneecaps!
Do Chickens Have Ankles?
Chickens do have ankles, yes. If you look at any of the images of chickens on this page, that first joint you can see halfway up their leg – that’s their ankle.
In the poultry world, the ankle is often referred to as the “hock” or “hock joint”.
The reason birds’ legs are designed so differently from ours is that their needs are so different.
Our legs are designed to enable us to walk or run long distances at a fair pace. Birds need to be light on the ground, able to take off and fly (not so much chickens), scratch around in the dirt, and kill small prey.
Their toes are also positioned with three at the front, and one at the back. This helps them form a tight grip when on their perch.
For doing these things and “being” chickens, their legs are perfectly designed!
Chickens – and all birds – legs’ are designed very differently from ours. They still have toes, ankles, and knees (not fingers!) though, their anatomy is not that different.
Just take a close look next time you see a chicken walking, or if you’re eating a leg! You’ll see exactly what I mean.
Image credits – Header image by Jehu Christan and chicken Knee Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash