14 Reasons Your Chicken Is Losing Feathers (And What To Do About It)

We love chickens and we know that other chicken owners love their chickens too. That’s why it can be so worrying to suddenly discover that your birds are losing feathers. Fortunately, most of the time – this is not something to worry about at all and if it is something to worry about, we can tell you how to deal with it.

Our 14 reasons your chicken is losing feathers are molting, preening, mating, broody hens, vent pecking, bullying from other chickens, insect infestation, rodents, fungal infection, dietary deficiency, dietary change, bird of prey attacks, poisoning and stress. We’ve also included a handy guide on what to do about each of these situations too.

Do Chickens Lose Feathers When Molting?

All chickens molt. It’s a natural process that allows their bodies to replace their old (and now worn) feathers with new ones.

It tends to happen during the Fall/Autumn season and while it can be a touch disconcerting the first time you witness it – you’ll soon be able to recognize it and be relieved that it’s nothing more serious.

This means that your chickens are ready to go into Winter warm and in a tidy new feather suit.

During molting hens stop laying and the chicken will lose the feathers all over their bodies (breast, wings, back, head, and neck).

It depends on the chicken and to some extent the breed as to how long this will take – some birds seem to spend a week on things and are quickly back to new, others take their time of it and it can go on for months.

What Should You Do?

If you see the chicken looking a bit shabby, then it’s time to give it a once over. You want to make certain that they’re not bleeding, or infested, or sick and are, in fact, just molting.

If it’s Fall and the days are become ever shorter, it’s very likely to be molting.

You can’t do much about this – it’s a natural process and you can’t really influence when it happens or for how long it will happen.

Some say you can give the bird a higher fat and protein content in their diet while others warn that trying to rush the process may harm their laying potential.

We’d say – just take care of them as you normally would, molting won’t last forever.

Why Do Chickens Preen?

There is no more common cause of feather loss in chickens than preening.

Fortunately, this is completely natural, and your birds will preen all year round because it’s how they keep themselves tidy and comfortable.

If you find what appears to be a huge pile of feathers on the coop floor and no obvious candidate as to where they came from – it’s almost certainly due to preening.

Why do they preen? Well, it allows the bird to ensure that they’re not becoming infested with parasites and to move the oil (from the glands in their tails) around the body to protect themselves. It makes the feathers more waterproof and oddly, it also plays a part in the chicken getting Vitamin D from the sunlight.

What Should You Do?

Absolutely nothing. If your chickens are losing feathers during preening – you should be happy, it indicates that they’re happy and are up to taking care of themselves in the way that they should.

If your chickens look healthy then just smile and sweep up that little pile of feathers on the coop floor – there’s nothing serious going on, at least, for now.


There’s no easy way to put this, but just as with human beings, sometimes a male chicken is quite simply a lousy lover. An over-excitable poor-technique rooster can end up accidentally ripping feathers out of his hen lover during the *ahem* act.

You may be able to narrow this problem down early because your hens will start losing feathers, but your rooster won’t, which suggests he might be the cause of the problem.

Unfortunately, in the most extreme cases this goes from mildly annoying feather loss to something known as “over-mating”.

That is the rooster rips out so many feathers he leaves the hens essentially naked to the elements. He may, also, at this stage start to tear the hen’s skin. This is bad news because it makes the birds vulnerable to other types of infection.

We’ve heard of cases where a randy rooster has damaged the skin so badly that the hen developed a maggot infestation and needed to be put down.

This is a rare problem but a very real one when it happens.

What Should You Do?

If your rooster is hurting your hens, there’s only one real solution – separate him from the flock or possibly it’s time to cull him.

If this happens on a regular basis, however, it’s possible your roosters need more hens. Ideally, you should have about a dozen hens per rooster if you want him to share his energies effectively between them.

Broody Hens

A broody hen is a hen that becomes obsessed with the hatching of her eggs. She’s going to end up sitting on them forever and a day in the hopes that soon she will be blessed with some chicks.

Unfortunately, broodiness is a stressful thing in hens and when a hen becomes broody it can become so upset that it starts to yank out its own feathers.

They might use these feathers to add to the nest, in the hopes that this will make the nest even nicer for a new chick because it will be soft and warm.

If you see your hen spending a lot of time in the nesting box and she starts going bald – it might be because she’s broody.

What Should You Do?

The good news is that broodiness is not dangerous to your hens though you may want to discourage it if you want the maximum productivity from your birds. To do this – just collect eggs a few times a day, particularly in Spring, then they won’t be tempted to take up residence on them.

This will protect her feathers and her overall sense of wellbeing too.

Vent Pecking

This is an unpleasant topic of conversation and it’s almost certainly an unpleasant time for any chicken suffering from vent pecking.

The vent is the duct through which an egg passes on its way out of your chicken. Sadly, for the chicken this isn’t the easiest of processes and the vent can become swollen and red and it stays that way for a while after laying.

Unfortunately, chickens are rather like bulls and the color red seems to send them insane. When they see the red, swollen vent instead of offering a comradely, “there, there dear” they start to peck at it, instead.

Yes, this is every but as painful as it sounds and if left long enough – it might even lead to cannibalism (chickens don’t mind snacking on each other). However, in most cases things won’t get to these extremes.

What Should You Do?

It’s best to keep the lights low (or off) inside the nesting boxes. If they chickens can’t see the red, they can’t peck at it.

Another trick can be to install a dim red bulb in the nesting box this will stop the red from being visible at all.

Don’t whatever you do, install any other color of light as this is likely to make the problem worse.

You might also choose to separate your birds until mid-morning when laying is done and they’re less likely to have sight of each other’s swollen vents.

Bullying From Other Chickens

This is an amazingly common problem in chickens just as it is in humans and while, to some extent, the pecking order is an essential to the harmony of the flock a bird on the outside is going to have a miserable time of things.

When you first bring a group of chickens together – you’re going to get some lost feathers. It’s part of establishing the pecking order. No chicken should end up badly harmed by this, it’s just how chickens are.

However, over time it may be that a pattern of bullying is established with stronger hens in the pecking order giving those lower down on the totem pole a very hard time, indeed.

Once this starts, your chickens can turn into the most ruthless and vicious bullies ever. If you want to be sure that bullying is a problem – look at the affected chicken and check for actual physical damage to them, their feathers and even the shaft of the feathers.

If you find dried blood – odds are bullying is the problem.

If you are concern that one of your chickens is being a bit of a bully then head over and read one of our other articles all about chickens pecking order and bullying.

What Should You Do?

Firstly, if a chicken is bleeding – you need to isolate it immediately. Blood is red. Chickens go mad for red. If you want a chicken to get pecked to death, let it bleed in front of its flock mates. The cannibalism will commence shortly.

Now, if you know bullying is taking place you have two real options:

  • Cull the bullied bird or separate it. Sometimes, you just have to be cruel to be kind and if the rest of the flock is fine – this can be the easiest way to keep the peace.
  • Cull the bullies. If this is not the first time that bullying has taken place and you want to keep harmony, cull the bullies instead.

This is, however, assuming that there’s enough space in the coop for your birds because the number one cause of bullying in chickens is not enough room to go around. In that case, evolution has prepared them to fight for their square footage.

Insect Infestation

Chickens are happy to eat insects in your garden but sadly for the chickens, some insects have developed a taste for chicken in return.

There are two common insect infestations in chickens, and they can both lead to loss of plumage – mites and lice.

They’re picked up in the coop or the yard and they can quickly spread between your birds. Most of the time a dust bath will keep them at bay but if things get bad, the lice and/or mites will breed quickly and give the chickens skin lesions and infections.

Leave things infested for long enough and your chickens can even die.

What Should You Do?

Start by ensuring that the coop is cleaned on a regular basis. Unless you are using the deep litter method of maintaining your birds, weekly is recommended.

Make sure they have room for dust baths and dust to bathe in. This is the natural way chickens keep insect infestations under control.

If that fails – get some insecticide powder from your vet and use it to treat the chickens with. It won’t take too long to get them back on their feet. Don’t waste your time with “natural remedies” – they don’t work.


This isn’t common and, in fact, you’re more likely to see your chickens swallowing a baby rodent than you are to find rodents munching on your chickens, but it can happen.

The obvious signs of rodent attacks on chickens are lumps missing from feathers. A rat or a mouse can’t bite off a whole feather but can take chunks out of one.

In general, most rodents that break into a chicken coop just want the chicken’s food. This is problematic because rodent feces and urine can make your chickens sick, but it ought not to result in plumage problems.

However, if they’re a bit short of protein in their diet the rodents might start to gnaw on the feathers. Some rats have even been known to take feathers home with them to help construct their own nests!

What Should You Do?

Make sure the windows and doors to the coop are either closed or covered at night.

Then go around the coop and make sure there are no holes or gaps that a rodent can get in. Anything bigger than ½” needs to be plugged or covered.

Some folks say that the smell of mint can keep rodents at bay and it certainly couldn’t hurt to plant some around the outside of the coop or even scatter a little mint on the floor of the coop (it will smell nice if nothing else).

Fungal Infection

The most common fungal infection in chickens, which is likely to result in the loss of feathers, is vent gleet. Yup, the vent is that pipe through which your chickens both poop and lay eggs.

Vent gleet is pretty nasty. If they catch it, they’re likely to start oozing a whitish-yellow pus-like discharge, so you ought to be able to spot it pretty easily. They’re also going to shed feathers like crazy.

The feather loss will probably start near the vent and then spread out across the body.

Vent gleet is caused by a yeast infection. Yup, the same kind of yeast infection that causes thrush in human beings. So, you probably don’t want it around you or your eggs any more than your chicken wants it inside them making them miserable.

What Should You Do?

Sometimes, you can’t make a diagnosis by yourself – you have to call in a professional and if you suspect vent gleet – it’s time to call a vet and have them do all the necessary tests.

Vent gleet is contagious, and the vet may require you to treat both the infected bird and the other birds to prevent the spread of the condition.

It’s not hard or expensive to treat vent gleet but given that it arises from poor hygiene in the coop, it’s probably even easier to prevent it in the first place by cleaning your coop regularly and ensuring they always have fresh food and water.

Dietary Deficiency

While chickens are often susceptible to vitamin and mineral deficiencies neither of these problems directly affect the feathers. What does, however, is a lack of protein in their diet.

Just like human beings, chickens need a nice mix of proteins and amino acids to keep them ticking along. Now, if you’re feeding your chickens professionally produced feed and they have enough space to run around free range, there is almost no chance of a bird every developing a protein deficiency.

Just read the label on the feed, make sure the bird is eating and you should easily be able to determine whether or not it’s getting enough protein.

What Should You Do?

If it appears that your bird is developing a protein deficiency it will affect their laying and general health too. Your first port of call is to re-read the instructions on their feed and check your sums, are they really getting enough protein for their stage of life and level of activity (laying requires more protein)?

If you think they are but protein remains an issue – you could try adding some high protein table scraps or treats to their diets for a few days to see if this makes the difference that you wanted. If not, talk to a vet.

Dietary Change

There’s something funny about food and the relationship that animals have with it. Human beings may seek out variety, but your chicken is a bit like a 90-year-old grandmother, they know what they like, and they don’t want to change, thank you very much.

If you give your chickens a change in food; they can immediately respond by losing feathers or even triggering a full molt. In fact, there was a time when this was done by cruel industrial farmers because it could force a change in the quality of egg production at the same time.

Fortunately, it’s illegal for factory farmed chickens to be treated like this now (well, in most of the world at least).

It’s important not to spring surprises on your bird when it comes to their eating regime unless you’re prepared to spend a while without eggs.

What Should You Do?

Don’t make sudden changes in the birds’ diets. If you know that you will need to change their feeding patterns for any reason, it ought to be done gradually with the two feeds served in slowly changing mixes until the old is finally completely replaced with the new.

Feather loss in the case of a surprise diet change is essentially an act of shock and it’s a really bad idea to do this to your chickens.

Bird Of Prey Attacks

Unfortunately, if you’re a chicken, then your average bird of prey attack is likely to end with the chicken being dead. Hawks, eagles, etc. are quite capable of picking up a chicken and making off with it completely.

So, you should be relieved if all the vicious things got away with are a few pulled feathers. This is normally because the bird of prey was too young to carry the load rather than because your chickens have some sort of ninja-style about them.

If they can’t carry the chicken, it just falls out of their claws as they start to accelerate upwards and soon, the chicken tumbles to earth minus a few feathers and assuming that they didn’t get very far they may have no other injuries except to their pride.

These attacks are normally signaled by chickens grouped together screaming loudly around a pile of feathers and a slightly more naked chicken. You might, if you’re really fast, see the bird of prey getting away from the scene too.

What Should You Do?

There’s not much that you can do. Firstly, it’s against the law in almost every country to interfere with a bird of prey because most of them are endangered species. Secondly, you’re unlikely to be able to act quickly enough during an attack to make a difference anyway.

You can, however, if you know there are birds of prey around in your area make sure that your run is covered with wire fencing, which ought to stop them from getting their hands on your chickens in the first place.


It is possible that your birds may experience some form of poisoning which either triggers enough stress for them to start removing feathers of their own accord or which causes the direct loss of feathers.

The big issue when it comes to toxins is that there are just so many of them. It is impossibly, to write a useful guideline to poisoning because you simply cannot predict what might arise in the environment in any given area.

What Should You Do?

If you cannot isolate any other possible cause of feather loss, then it’s time to turn to your vet. If they think poisoning is a possibility, they can do bloodwork.

Then, they can recommend a treatment (if any) and how to remove the source of the poisoning from the chickens’ environment in the future, so that your chickens remain safe and happy.


Chickens are a lot like people and out last, something of a catch-all, possible cause of feather loss is simple stress.

It might be very easy to treat a chicken’s stress and it might be next to impossible because most of it will come down to how much control you have over their environment.

If you’re on a nice farm in the country, you’ll probably have a lot of control but if you’re raising chickens in your backyard in the city, not so much.

These are possible sources of stress:

  • Overcrowding. Given that this will eventually lead to bullying and cannibalism, it’s never a good idea. Cull the flock of build them a bigger space.
  • Lights on for too long or which are too bright. Chickens need to be able to sleep and they sleep in the dark, they don’t need night lights, they’ll just stress them out.
  • Too hot or too cold. Chickens are comfortable in similar temperatures to most other outdoor creatures, in extreme heat or cold, things can get stressful.
  • No ventilation/poor ventilation in the coop. They need air to breathe when they roost.
  • Not enough access to food. If your chickens all feed at once, they each need a feeding station.
  • Boredom. Yup, chickens get bored. Give them toys or games to play.
  • Loud noises. If it’s too loud, then things are not going to be happy for your chickens.

What Should You Do?

Wherever possible remove the source of stress. If you can’t, then try to mitigate against it. Some breeds are hardier than others – so, it may also help to change up your chickens if you can’t sort out the stress.


As you can see there are up to 14 reasons your chicken is losing feathers and the good news is that most of the time, it’s a natural process and you won’t need to worry about it. Preening and molting are, by far, the most common reasons for feather loss.

The rest of the time our guide on what to do about each condition should have you primed with the information you need to make your chickens’ lives easier, immediately.

Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops:

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of AnimalKnowhow.com. I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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