Raising Chickens

Can Chickens Find Their Way Home?

By Chicken Fans Editorial Team

Chickens are curious animals, and they can be quite the escape artists. They'll fly or jump over the fencing and wander off to wherever the day takes them. Or maybe you're thinking about free-ranging your chickens? In that case, you want to ensure they all return home safe and sound each night. Can chickens find their way back home? And how do they do that?

Let's find out.

Can chickens find their way home?

Yes. Chickens can wander off or escape, but they usually return at dusk, when they go to bed. They're smarter than we give them credit; they'll remember where they came from and return to roost when it's dark.

roosting chickens at dusk

There is only one 'but': your chickens had to be long enough in the coop to recognize it as their home. They have to associate the place where they roost with food and shelter. So it won't work with newly purchased chickens. This is why you should always keep new adult chickens inside an enclosed run for a couple of days before letting them free-range. Chicks can free range on their own from 8 weeks old if weather conditions are 'normal'.

How can chickens find their way home?

Like in migratory birds, domesticated chickens also have a magnetic compass to find their way back home. They use the earth's magnetic field to orientate. Several studies have been done to prove the existence of this magnetic compass in domesticated chickens. This proves the important role of this mechanism in a bird's daily navigational task.

How far do chickens roam?

Not very far. Most chickens won't go further than 200 yards from their coop, especially if there is plenty to eat and drink in the area. But chicken owners with large land have seen their chickens use up the entire space, especially during winter, when there are fewer bugs to find.

On the other hand, chickens are prey animals and always keep their guard up so they won't wander off to where they don't feel safe. As long as they feel secure and safe, they'll use up the entire area for free ranging.

Reasons why your chicken is not returning home

Like all pets, you don't immediately need to worry when your chicken isn't returning home. The reason why could be quite innocent, but it can also be a sign of sickness or a predator attack. If you are worried, search the surrounding area of the chicken coop first. It's not unusual for a chicken to hide in a less obvious place but close to the coop.

If she can't be found in the proximity of the coop, alert the neighbors to keep an eye open. And try and look for her yourself; however, this won't be easy. There are several reasons why your chicken isn't returning home; we'll address the most common.

Injury

When your chicken is wounded or injured, chances are she cannot return home.

Predator attack

Chickens free range or wander off as they please, and it's nothing to worry about if you have the space for it. But be aware that chickens are much safer inside the run, even in the daytime. Many daytime predators are a treat for your flock, like the neighbor's dog, snakes, or birds of prey. Free-ranging your chickens have its benefits but is not safer for your beloved birds.

Broodiness

If your hens frequently free range, chances are, they'll lay their eggs everywhere. And when one hen gets broody while free ranging, she'll stay on the eggs no matter what. She won't join the rest of the flock at dusk to return to the coop but sits on the eggs until they hatch or if the eggs aren't fertilized until the broodiness stops. You can try and find her if you know where the hens lay their eggs. But otherwise, it's easier to find a needle in a haystack. Just be patient; she'll return someday.

Conclusion

Chickens are curious animals and can wander off when looking for food. But they return home at dusk to roost. Chickens use the earth's magnetic field to find their way back home, like migratory birds. If your chicken isn't returning home after a day of free-ranging, there are several problems that may have occurred, like broodiness, a predator attack, or an injury.

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Chicken Fans Editorial Team

The editorial team consists of 3rd generation chicken owners Kat, journalist, editor-in-chief, and Nick, working with illustrators and specialists in the field.

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