Chickens Piling On Top Of Each Other – What’s Going On?

If you’re a chicken owner, then it’s very likely that at some point in your pet’s lives that you’re going to find them all heaped up on top of each other in a pile. At that moment, you’re going to wonder why they’re doing this and whether you need to do anything about it? And the answer is that you do and this is why.

Chickens piling on top of each other appears to be related to either fear, cold temperatures, or a change in location. The trouble is that if you don’t do something about it, this strange phenomenon could end up being dangerous to your pets and lead to suffocation.

So, here’s what you need to know about chickens that pile.

Why Do Chickens Pile Up On Each Other?

The exact mechanism that triggers piling appears to be complex. PhD researchers in Switzerland have been examining the phenomenon as they have found that it occurs on many farms and that the events can have very serious consequences for chickens and for farmers.

In certain situations, when chickens pile on each other – it’s a brief episode that lasts from about 30 seconds to a minute and a half. In others, however, chickens can pile on each other for hours and it is these piles which can be particularly problematic for the birds.

Why Piling In Chickens Matters: The Dangers Of Piling For Chickens

It sounds cute and it looks quite cute too – lots of chickens (or chicks – it can happen with very young birds too) all piling up on each other but sadly, it’s not cute for the chickens involved. The trouble is that whatever instinct triggers piling – seems to deactivate the birds’ sense of self-preservation at the same time.

This means that they can smother each other to death when they pile and the longer the pile lasts, the more likely that this outcome becomes.

As you can imagine, this is an unhappy circumstance if you keep pet chickens as you will lose birds but, on a farm, this can be a financial disaster. When hundreds of birds pile up on each other – there is a serious problem and it’s not easy to remedy.

Farmers say that the big issue is that manually intervening in a pile up doesn’t prove to be effective – it’s something that pet chicken owners may find too – the piling instinct is very strong and the birds are highly resistant to being removed from the pile and are very keen to return.

The only effective ways to break up these piles are not considered to be humane and involve the application of things like electric fencing around the sides of the bird’s enclosures.

The Theories Of Why Chickens Pile

There appear to be three potential triggers to chickens piling and they are:

  • Fear – this is a difficult thing to predict but anything from the scent of predators to the introduction of loud noises to the chicken’s environment may trigger this instinct.
  • Cold temperatures – oddly, the warmer the place that you keep chickens in the more that cold can lead to piling. Chicken owners in Southeast Asia, for example, find that this is a huge problem in their flocks when temperatures start to fall.
  • Changes in location – this may actually not be linked to changes in location at all. Many chicken owners report that their birds tend to pile when they introduce new chickens to the flock and thus assume it’s the new home that triggers the instinct. However, it might be the change in lighting that’s to blame – chicks, before they are released into the adult environment, are often kept in the light 24 hours a day.

How Can You Prevent Piling In Chickens?

The best solution to chickens piling on each other is to prevent it from happening in the first place, there appear to be 5 tried and tested strategies that have shown some degree of success in this. We’ve not tried them all but the ones, we’ve tried, seem to have worked with our chickens.

Keep Strangers Away At Night

Chickens are creatures of habit to some extent and if fear can get them to pile up – it ought to be logical that anything that breaks their routine, might induce the fear that triggers the piling. So, one simple precaution to take is simply to keep strangers away from the chickens at night.

Chickens can’t see very well in the dark. That’s why they roost and band together when the sun goes down, so, anything new that turns up is immediately something that is concerning and something that they can’t really puzzle out and that can easily turn into fear.

When Introducing New Birds Leave A Light Source In The Coop

If the change in light conditions is really what triggers pile ups with new chickens coming into your flock, then the best way to avoid this is to make the change over a little more gradual for the new arrivals. So, with that in mind, you want to install a light in the coop and leave it on for the first few nights before switching it off.

This gives the new arrivals a chance to learn their place in the roost and to feel more comfortable with their environment before pitching them into darkness.

Modify The Corners Of The Coop To Avoid “Congestion” When Piles Occur

Square corners make it very easy for birds to pile in an awkward fashion and this may lead to more injuries. So, the easiest way to remedy this is to build in curved corners into the coop to prevent that kind of corner-based huddling.

You don’t need an engineering degree to do this, you can use either flexible boards or plastic to create these curves – just make sure to cover the gap between the material and the wall or you may find chickens get stuck in there.

Think Twice About Putting Young Birds Out In The Cold

If you expect temperatures to fall during the night, then it’s best to keep them inside rather than allowing them out at night until they’ve had some chance to acclimatize. 2-3 nights should be enough to prevent the worst from happening.

Consider Giving Your Chickens A Sugar Solution

In Southeast Asia, they’ve found that giving your chickens a sugar solution with a very low level of sugar, prior to their bedtime can help them generate more energy during a cold night. This is quite an easy thing to implement.

Dissolve 10 grams of sugar in a liter of water and then mix thoroughly. Then add the water to their drinking source about 2 hours before they begin to roost. They recommend that you continue to provide this solution for the first 3 nights of cold weather.

How Can You Break Up Piling Chickens?

If you do find your chickens in a pile, and it last for more than a minute or two – you may want to manually intervene. If that’s the case, you want to wear gloves as a piling chicken may be very resistant to being removed from the pile.

Remove each bird as carefully as you can and place them outside the coop and don’t allow them to enter the coop for a few minutes. This ought to put an end to the pile.


Chickens piling on top of each other – what’s going on? As far as we can tell, and the research into this area is fairly new, chickens are genetically programmed to pile on each other in response to some fairly specific stimuli linked to fear, temperature or their surroundings. The problem is that piling, if it lasts more than a few seconds, can be very dangerous to the birds involved.

That means that as a chicken owner, you’re going to want to take steps to ensure that you try to prevent piling wherever possible and, as a last resort, you may need to break up a pile of chickens if they show signs of staying in a pile for a long period of time.

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of 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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