Why do chickens puff up their feathers sometimes? Is it a sign of aggression? Are they happy to see you...maybe they’re cold?
There are a number of reasons why chickens puff up their feathers. It can mean they’re too hot, scared, being aggressive, feeling sick, or are broody. In this article, I’ll explain how you can interpret your chicken’s body language from their ‘puffing’.
It Might Be A Sign of Aggression
A defensive or aggressive chicken, be it a hen or a rooster, will often puff up some of their feathers to try and look more intimidating.
This is normal behavior in the animal kingdom. Almost all animals with any amount of fur or feathers will puff up to try and look bigger than whatever they are facing off against.
If you’re constantly dealing with aggressive hens and inter-flock bullying, you need to do something about it.
The main reasons why chickens show aggression towards each other usually comes down to one of the following:
- Weakness or illness
It’s not usually that difficult to identify what’s causing the issues. You want to put a stop to all that flexing and fluffing as soon as possible though!
Broody Hens Puff Their Feathers Out
When a hen goes “broody” it means her maternal instincts have kicked in and she wants to sit on a clutch of eggs and incubate them to bring her chicks into the world.
Broody hens can go through a lot of changes - and who can blame them?
For some breeds, it’s unlikely as it’s not in their nature, while some breeds are very maternal. In the backyard setting, it’s unlikely a hen will go broody unless you leave eggs uncollected.
The main trigger for a hen to go broody is seeing a clutch of eggs. She will feel the need to sit on them and hatch them, so collecting eggs daily is important if you want to stop your hens going broody.
When a hen is broody, she will typically display the following changes/behaviors:
- Puffing her feathers up to look bigger and cover her nest of eggs
- Being moody or “off” with you
- Only leaving her next box briefly to do the important things, like eat, poop, and drink
- She’ll be defensive if you get close to her and her eggs
If you’re happy for her to incubate her eggs, make sure you are there to help should you be needed.
It Might Be Because They're Cold
Sometimes, seeing a chicken with their feathers all puffed up or sticking out will simply mean they’re cold.
By puffing out their plumage they are trying to keep more of their body warmth in.
If it is due to the temperature, you might notice they are also huddling up together. Or, they might be hiding a corner of their coop, standing on one leg, or staying on their nesting box.
Another reliable indicator that this is the reason is that it's winter and it’s just cold out.
Some breeds are hardier and more tolerant of cold weather than others, do a little research into what kinds of temperature your chickens enjoy most.
Sometimes It’s A Sign They’re Sick
As you will have noticed, a lot of the reasons behind chickens puffing their plumage out revolves around something not being quite right.
Often, it’s actually a sign that your chicken is dealing with a health issue. It’s hard to diagnose what that is exactly from just observing them, so you’ll have to take a close look or call a vet.
Some of the other typical symptoms that chickens display when they’re not well include:
- A floppy or pale comb
- Slow, lethargic movement
- Droopy eye and/or discharge
- Being sleepy during the day
- Not eating or drinking
It’s upsetting and distressing to see a poorly chicken, I know. Often, there are some things you can do to perk them up though.
Some of the things you can look into before calling an avian vet are:
Check if they’re egg-bound - If your hen is egg-bound you should be able to feel the egg within a couple of inches into their vent.
Related - Read this for advice on how to help an egg-bound hen.
Check if her crop is full - You can feel their crop with your hands. If it feels very full and you think it’s been like this a day, then they might have an impacted crop.
Check for mites - In the case of a mite infestation, a chicken will sometimes puff their feathers due to the discomfort. Have a good look close to the skin for lice or mites.
Check for worms - Are you able to look at some recent poop for any signs of worms? If you haven’t dewormed your flock in a while it’s a good idea.
Check for signs of coccidiosis - Coccidiosis is usually identified by mucus-like or bloody diarrhea, anemia, dehydration, and ruffled or puffed out feathers.
Ruffled, puffed, fuzzy, or any signs that your chicken’s feathers look out of place is a clear indication that something is bothering them and needs investigating.
Please be aware that this isn’t a complete list of all the possible reasons, I’ve just covered the most common reasons.
If you’re not able to identify why your chickens are puffing up their feathers - and find a good resolution - you should seek the help of a vet.