Reasons for Missing Feathers on Backyard Chickens


Missing feathers on the backside of this chicken 

Feather loss and missing feathers happens within every flock at one point or another.  Suddenly, one day you happen to notice that one or more of your chickens are missing some feathers. Missing feathers should always cause you to do a bit of detective work.  There are reasons for missing feathers.  Some reasons are obvious, while others require you search a little deeper into the underlying cause of the missing feathers. 

Feathers can go missing anywhere on a chicken's body. However, sometimes the location as to where they are missing can provide you with clues. Sometimes missing feathers occur during the normal process of molting.  Molting can take up to several months to complete and typically occurs in flocks at least one year of age.  It can also be triggered by stress. During their annual molt, typically in the fall, chickens systematically lose their feathers, starting at the head and moving down the body from neck, then chest, back, wings, and finally their backsides and their tails. Some chickens have heavier molts than others and their degree of molting can vary from year to year.  The Silkies in our flock rarely show any evidence of molting other than a few feathers here and there strewn throughout the run and coop. On the other hand, Oyster Cracker is one of those chickens that seems to drop all of her feathers overnight- leaving her bald and mangy looking for months.

Location of missing feathers and possible causes 

Head- others chickens pecking, other hens asserting dominance, molting, lice

Chest-broody hen, molting

1/5/2013 2:55:47 AM

Melissa, all great information for the diagnosis of chicken molting behavior. I wonder if wild turkeys go through the same process. I'll have to watch them a little closer next year and see if that happens with them. Wouldn't they lose their ability to fly if the wing feathers were lost? I don't recall them losing their feathers last year but that was the first year of my gardening there. I hope to get to know their habits a little better this next year. The good thing for me is that I don't have to worry about any of their health care needs. I have never seen any dead ones nor have I seen any bones of remains from one. They seem to be pretty wily and able to stay away from harm. Even through they meander across busy roads and scratch their way along the banks of fast moving traffic, I've yet to see one dead in the road. That's not to say that skillful drivers have avoided such catastrophes but I think their saving grace is their meandering unconcerned attitude. Drivers have plenty of time to avoid them and they don't spook and run. They are a very low key type of bird. It's quite the novelty to have such wild life wandering through my garden. Have a great healthy chicken day.

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