If you’ve spent any time around chickens, you will have witnessed them rubbing their beaks on the ground. Or, on other objects and surfaces - maybe even rubbing their beaks on you!
But why do they do this curious behavior of rubbing or wiping their beaks on the ground?
Basically, there are four main reasons why chickens and other birds rub their beaks on the ground.
- To clean their beaks
- To sharpen their beak
- To attract mates by releasing scents
- To keep it in shape
As you can see, there’s a lot more to beak wiping than first meets the eye! Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why chickens wipe their beaks and what it tells you about your flock.
4 Reasons Why Chickens Rub Their Beaks on the Ground
To Wipe Their Beaks Clean
The most common reason why birds, in general, rub their beaks on the ground is to remove any dirt, debris, and bits of food.
If you see your chickens doing this after they’ve eaten, this almost certainly is going to be the case.
It makes perfect sense. They don’t have hands, and they can’t use napkins, so what else are they to do? Give it a good wipe on the (not so dirty) ground, that’s what.
Just think about the kinds of things chickens eat throughout the day, too, bugs, berries, squishy things, they crack open stuff...there is lots of stuff that can get stuck to their beaks.
If they never cleaned them, just think about what would be forming on there eventually...
To Sharpen Their Beaks
Chicken’s beaks are made from keratin, which is the same substance as our fingernails are made from.
Their beaks also continue to grow throughout their lives, just like our fingernails do. Not as quickly as our nails do, of course, but they do need to rub their beak against a coarse surface to keep it sharp.
All of this contact contributes to blunting the end. Sometimes, they’ll even chip or damage the end of their beak.
They need a nice sharp beak to make a lot of their day-to-day tasks easier, so a little rubbing here and there helps keep it up to the task.
To Release Scents and Attract Mates
Chickens have some interesting courtship rituals. Roosters will do what’s known as ‘tid-bitting’, which basically means finding tasty bits of food to offer to hens.
They’ll also do a little dance to try and catch the eye of a hen, which is quite the sight!
It’s also believed that both roosters and hens also wipe their beaks on the ground to leave their scent behind for prospective mates.
A study carried out by Michigan State University found that birds use their preening oil to send out signals containing information about their genetic background and suitability as a mate.
Related - A look at why chickens scratch the ground.
To Keep Their Beaks in Good Shape
Similar to sharpening their beaks to be more effective at pecking, chickens also wipe their beaks to help keep them in shape.
Studies into various birds have highlighted a connection between beak length and shape. It’s also been proven that some birds will adjust the shape of their beak to meet their current diet.
It’s not unusual for a chicken to need to make some adjustments to their beaks. You can’t see it happening in real time, but they will make small adjustments as needed.
Why Do Chickens Rub Their Beaks on You?
If your chicken is rubbing their beak on you, I’d like to say it’s a sign of affection but it’s more likely to be one of the above reasons.
Most chickens do show affection to us, they will follow us around, enjoy being petted, and feeding them by hand is always fun and strengthens the bond.
Rubbing or wiping their beaks on you might be another sign that they like you - but they might just be trying to clean their beak on your nice soft clothes.
Why Do Chickens Peck the Ground?
Rubbing is not to be confused with pecking. When a chicken pecks at the ground, they’re more than likely either looking for food, repairing to dig out a dust bath, or arranging debris for a nest.
Chickens are great at foraging. If there is anything even remotely edible, they’re going to find it and eat it.
You’ll notice they pretty much spend most of their day going about their business walking around and pecking at the ground. There isn’t a lot more on their minds other than finding food most of the time.
Chickens also like to dig holes and arrange dirt to make dust baths. A dust bath is basically a shallow hole in the ground where a chicken will roll about and ‘bathe’.
Yes, believe it or not, chickens get clean by rolling in dirt.
There are a lot of animals to do this. The loose dirt helps remove debris, lice and mites, and some of the oils on their feathers.
There’s a lot more to most chickens' behaviors than what we see on the surface. Even something that looks as simple as a rub of the beak on the ground can have several reasons behind it.
Personally, I love watching my chickens run around and go about their business. Chickens are one of the most studied animals on the planet, yet it feels like we’re still learning more about them all the time.
Image credits - Photo by Jan Kraus on Unsplash