Chicken Feathers

About Chickens

Chickens (Gallus domesticus) are domestic birds that cannot fly and have nearly 150 distinct breeds of chicken in several colors, patterns, and sizes.

These birds are omnivores and will depend on small seeds, grubs, insects, herbs and leaves, and even small creatures like mice if they can reach them.

The average number of total feathers on a chicken is nearly 8,000, which falls within eighteen different feather classes. Indeed, smaller breeds can possess less, while larger breeds can have more.

Most species of chicken have around ten primary feathers and 14 secondary flying feathers on their wings.

Although they are flightless species, they do tend to attempt flight. Chickens do this by flapping their wings and running. They sometimes succeed and fly for very small distances, like over fences.

Types of Feathers

Chickens have four main types of feathers: contour, filoplumes, plumules, and bristles.

Contour Feathers

Contour feathers are the primary feathers you observe on a chicken. They are the chicken’s largest feathers and cover the outer part of the bird, which gives them shape and serves as the initial line of defense against the circumstances.


Plumules are also referred to as down feathers. They lack the hooks that connect barbs, so they are fluffy instead of smooth. These feathers are most visible on amateur chicks. After all, the main purpose of down feathers is for insulation to catch air and maintain body temperature.


Two smaller feathers, filoplume, and bristles are less visible but still offer great functions. Filoplumes have some barbs at the top, providing them with a hairlike display. Their specific function is not completely known, but they do own sensory receptors at their base.


Bristles are the tiny feathers near a chicken’s nose, eyes, and mouth. They protect those spots by blocking out debris and dust.

Types of Chicken Feathers


Frizzle chickens are getting popular with backyard chicken keepers because of their appealing appearance. You can notice frizzle feathering in several different chicken breeds.


Silkie chickens have unique feathers that cannot zip the barbs together. It indicates Silkies have no waterproofing, so they need to take proper care in wet weather.


Nothing makes a feather’s function more at a leading-edge than molting. In late summer, autumn, and even early winter, chicken owners focus a lot on feathers as they may be losing them at a fast rate.

There may be plenty of shed feathers around the coop. At times, it can even seem like the bird exploded. You may see birds walking around half-naked.

So, what is molting, and why does it occur? Molting is a natural and essential process where birds drop almost all old feathers for new ones. Chickens will experience their primary adult molt at around 18 months of age and will molt yearly after that.

The molting period is timed with the start of cold weather so that birds have a fresh, completely functional set of feathers throughout harsh weather.

It begins from the head and goes down the body. Both roosters and hens will molt. Hens will reduce egg-laying or stop completely during this time and will switch to feather production instead.

Birds take 8 to 12 weeks to complete the molting process. Molting chickens may seem a little “off” through this period. They are not ill, but their bodies are functioning hard to regrow feathers.

New, immature feathers identified as pinfeathers can be seen as a chicken replacing lost feathers.

Pinfeathers are also seldom called blood feathers as they have a blood supply that supports the growing feather. Do not handle your chickens much during the pinfeathers period.


Grooming movement in birds is known as preening. Decent grooming is necessary not only for looking great but also for maintaining the feathers’ performance and function.

Feathers are intended to provide insulation and waterproofing, which they can’t do if they are disordered. When a chicken operates these feathers through its beak, they are preening.

Another goal of preening is to supply oils to the feathers. These birds have an oil gland at the base of their tail, and they use their beak to take the oil from the preen gland.

So, if you’re worrying about why your hen keeps hitting at the base of the tail, it’s not due to their feather being broken or some other difficulty; they are collecting oil to supply over the feathers.

Frequently, they will preen each other in large flocks rather than doing it completely by themselves.

Dust Bathing

These birds don’t bathe in water as humans do; instead, they prefer dust. It may look like dipping in the dust would make them polluted, but the fine particles in the dirt actually make the chicken’s feathers clean and even help them keep lice, mites, and other insects out of their feathers.

When a chicken is set for a dust bath, they will dig a small trench, then they’ll roll in it until the dirt completely coats the chicken’s feathers.

The process of dust bathing is also a relaxing group activity–don’t be surprised if an entire group of chickens is dust bathing together!

Why do Chickens Have Feathers?

Feathers are the outcome of several hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. If they drop out or are plucked out, they grow back in the same way as the hair.


Even though chickens are not good flyers, they can do, which is one of the main purposes of flight feathers. Feathers
offer a vast surface area on the wings for powered flight. The aerodynamics of the feather enables the bird to fly and move in the air.


They trap air close to the skin and help the bird stay cool in summer and warm in winter. They also offer a barrier to
the sun and wind and protect sensitive skin.


The feather pattern of some chicken species helps the birds to combine in with their surroundings.


They help secure the skin against all forms of weather and insects.


There are formations called Herbst’s corpuscles at the feather base, which are thought to identify changes in the
sound vibration and air current.

Feathers developed over considerable time, and their applications to the bird are various. Being eminently strong yet lightweight, only 3 to 4 percent of the bird’s total weight is feathers depending on the size and breed.

How to Identify the Feathers?

It’s great to understand how to identify the feathers you notice when looking at a chicken. By using accurate terms, you can fully understand your bird and describe it when required.


These feathers typically make a ring enclosing the neck, including the side and rear feathers. Both roosters and hens possess hackle feathers, but the rooster’s hackle feathers are more noticeable, long, and pointed.


The saddle is placed near the rear of the back, where it connects the tail. A rooster’s saddle region is coated with large pointed feathers.

Tail Coverts

These feathers comprise the base of the primary tail feathers in roosters and most of the tail in hens. A rooster’s tail coverts are showy and long.


The chief sickles are the two large curving feathers at the tip of a rooster’s tail. Secondary sickles are on the side and meet the main tail.

Main Tail Feathers

These are the long, stiff, and straight feathers of the tail. They are less noticeable on a rooster but covered in both sexes
by the sickles and tail coverts.


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