If you’re new to raising chickens I know how excited you are to find that first egg - just as I was. An important part of the process, however, is making sure your chickens have comfortable nests to lay their eggs in.
Chickens will make nests given the chance, yes. They don’t make the same kinds of nests other birds do though. They will typically find somewhere quiet and secluded, and either dig a small hole in the dirt or use some straw or similar materials for a soft surface.
If you’re keeping chickens in a coop, it is essential that you provide nesting boxes for them. As a general rule of thumb, you should provide 1 box for every 4-5 hens.
Here’s a closer look at everything you need to know about chickens and their nesting habits:
Related - How many nesting boxes per chicken is ideal?
Do Chickens Need Their Own Nest To Lay Eggs?
Chickens do not necessarily need their own nesting box to lay eggs. It’s normal for 4-5 hens to share a box without any issues.
In fact, it’s not for the hen’s benefit that we provide boxes. It’s for our benefit, as it makes it easy to find and collect their eggs.
If you don’t provide nesting boxes, chickens will still lay eggs. They will make their own nesting areas and lay them wherever they feel is the safest option.
In a coop, this will quickly become a nightmare. You will likely have broken eggs, which chickens will get a taste for eating, and the smell will attract predators like rodents and other unwanted guests.
If they’re outdoors, you’re going to have a job finding the eggs as I’ll explain in more detail further on in the post.
So, this is why we put nesting boxes in coops. It makes everyone’s jobs easier and cleaner.
Do Chickens Make Nests in the Wild?
Chickens will make nests in the wild, yes. When we use the term ‘nest’ for chickens, however, we’re not talking about them building a circular nest from twigs and other debris like other birds.
When a chicken wants to lay an egg, they instinctively find somewhere they think will be safe from predators. Just like other birds, their priority is obviously safely hatching their eggs.
For a lot of birds that are better at flying than chickens, this means building a nest high up in a tree, on a rooftop, etc.
Although chickens can fly for a few seconds and they roost high up in trees to avoid predators themselves, they do not nest and lay eggs up high.
Chickens will find the quietest, most discreet spot they can on land to lay their eggs. In the wild, this usually means in thick brush or undergrowth. Or, if they are near buildings and structures, they will enter a building and pick a quiet spot.
Obviously, chickens are very adept at surviving in the wild - they’ve done a pretty good job for the past however many thousands of years!
So, if there is a good spot to hide their eggs, they’re going to find it. It just won’t look like a typical bird’s nest.
Will Free Range Chickens Make Nests?
If you allow your chickens to free-range and they have a decent amount of space to explore, there is a chance they will pick a spot to lay their eggs outside of their coop.
This is something you should keep an eye out for. You don’t want your chickens laying eggs outside of their coops for a number of reasons.
The main issues being:
- They may attract predators to your land when word gets out that there are free eggs!
- Your hens are more likely to go broody with a clutch of eggs to sit on.
- You’re missing out on collecting and using those eggs.
It’s usually not hard to ensure your chickens lay their eggs inside their nesting boxes. Make sure you have enough boxes, they have clean bedding in, and you round up your chickens every night.
Related - Where do free-range chickens lay eggs?
Broody Hens and 'Brood Nests'
When a hen goes broody, it means their hormones have shifted and they want to sit on a clutch of eggs to incubate and hatch them.
One of the first signs that a hen has become broody is that she will start forming a nest in a quiet place known as a ‘brood nest’.
This is different from a general nesting area where a hen just wants a safe place to lay her eggs. She is planning on sitting on them and bringing them to hatch.
She may start making this nest in a coop, or it could be somewhere outdoors. You’ll see when building a brood nest, hens will actually put more effort into making it comfy.
They’ll collect some straw, and even pull out her own feathers and use those. This also enables hens to expose their skin and provide some extra warmth when sitting on eggs.
You will have to decide if you want a clutch of chicks being born. As well as establishing if the eggs are even fertilized (hint; do you have a rooster?). If it’s not going to be successful, you will need to ‘break’ a broody hen for their own good.
Now you know, chickens do make nests if you don’t provide one for them. Their nests are very simple and easy to find, unlike the elaborate and complex nests of many birds situated in trees and other high-up places.
Chickens will build their nests in a variety of places including boxes, old refrigerators, hen houses, or any place that has a flat surface and some protection from predators.
They will also make their nest on the ground in a shallow depression or under bushes or trees that have low-hanging branches.
Image credits - Photo by tasy5kg on Unsplash