Can Chickens Walk Backward?

By Nick

Chickens seem to be walking on chopsticks. Like most birds, you never see them walking backward. So can they walk backward?

Let's see.

Can chickens walk backward?

Yes, chickens can walk backward. They have ankles and knees hidden under their feathers that allow for backward motion. However, they rarely do it, and if you ever see them walking backward, they might be suffering from a severe condition.

Chickens are no exception, and most birds can walk backward. Some people claim there are some exceptions and emus can't walk backward, but videos online show them walking in reverse. It turns out that even emus and penguins can walk backward.

Birds are just not really efficient in walking backward. Most birds will hop back, but chickens can take complete steps to slide backward.

However, if you ever find one of your hens showing off with a moonwalk in the run, they might be suffering from vitamin deficiency or severe illness.

How do chickens walk backward?

It might seem that a chicken's legs are bending backward. But anatomically speaking, they walk on their tiptoes. What you are seeing is the chicken's ankle. The chicken's knee hides behind the plumage.

Anatomy of a chicken's leg with knees bending forward and ankles bending backward

The chicken's hind limbs have plenty of muscle to move the bones in a backward motion. You know how large the muscles can get if you've ever eaten a drumstick. Chickens use it for jumping and walking. Forward and backward.

Actually, their legs are pretty similar to ours with some minor differences:

  • their shinbone is merged somewhat with their upper foot, called the tibiotarsus
  • we have a muscle in our lower leg attached to our toes, the extensor digitorum longus. In chickens, this muscle extends over their full legs

However, these changes do not prevent them from walking backward. They even have thick thighs that are similar to our quadriceps. These muscles work as hip flexors and are fully functional knee extensors needed for walking backward.

Why do chickens rarely walk backward?

You might see your chicken taking a few steps back when they notice a worm underneath them while scratching the soil. But other than that, they walk forward.

They don't have to walk in reverse, and they are not proficient in it either. Thousands of years of evolution from dinosaur to backyard chicken has optimized every muscle and bone to walk forward. It's just easier to turn around and go the other way.

When chickens are fighting, you might see one of them take a few steps back. But they will never run backward. After all, why would you run backward if you can fly? And let's be honest, we aren't that skilled in walking back on our heels either.

That said, you might find your chickens suddenly taking giant steps backward for considerable distances. Although this might look funny, it's a clinical sign that something is seriously wrong.

Why does my chicken walk backward?

When a chicken is walking backward, this indicates brain damage or a neurological disorder.

Conditions that can provoke chickens into walking backward are:

  • Head injuries - chickens that bump their head or get pecked hard on the head can easily suffer from head traumas. Injuries are especially common with breeds like Silkies and Polish chickens, as they have an open hole in their skull. The spot is the largest when they hatch, but it's usually still there in adult chickens. One well-aimed peck can be enough to incur a head trauma.
  • Coryza - contagious respiratory disease in chickens caused by bacteria. Symptoms show up after one to three days after infection. Birds have swollen wattles, watery or closed eyes, nasal discharge, and pus. It's usually not fatal, but it is prevalent as few chickens are vaccinated against coryza.
  • Kinky-back - a misplacement of vertebrae in the spine of a chicken that's pinching the nerves in the spinal cord. Chickens are stumbling around, sitting on their tail, walking backward, or falling on the side.
  • Viral diseases - some viral diseases attack the nerves and brains of a chicken, including the severe Newcastle Disease and Marek's Disease. Depending on what nerves are affected, the symptoms vary but can be tough, including strange neck positions and paralysis.
  • Vitamin E and Selenium deficiency - vitamin E is an essential vitamin for optimal functioning of the nervous system. Selenium is a mineral that plays a vital role in metabolism. Deficiencies can cause several disorders, such as Encephalomalcia and Exudative diathesis. Encephalomalacia is a severe disorder that can cause permanent brain damage. Vitamin E and Selenium have a complementary anti-oxidant effect, and supplements commonly contain both vitamin E and Selenium to fight oxidative stress.
  • Wry Neck - Wry Neck or Crook Neck is not a disease, but it's a symptom that refers to chickens having their head and neck in a strange twisted position. This can result from many disorders, including the ones in this list.

In case you are wondering what happened with the chicken in the video. In a follow-up video, Eva-Marie Allen explained the bird did recover from a vitamin and selenium deficiency by adding tuna to the chicken's diet.

If your chicken is walking backward, contact a veterinarian.

Can chickens fly backward?

No, chickens can not fly backward. They are not the most proficient flyers, and they are certainly not hummingbirds that can fly backward and upside-down. The closest they come to flying in reverse is walking backward while flapping their wings.


Chickens can walk backward without any problem. They have ankles, knees, and muscles to do so. They just don't do it often. Only when they need to step back in a fight or when scratching the soil.

Contact a veterinarian when you notice a chicken walking backward for more considerable distances, as this is a symptom of brain damage or a neurological disorder.


Nick is a chicken fan, writer, and an all-time chicken fanboy holding a master in engineering. He has a passion for chemistry and he loves running with his border collie that's protecting his flock.

Related Articles

scaly leg mites chicken
Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens - Symptoms & Treatment
14 November, 2022
free printable chicken saddle templates
Free Chicken Saddle Patterns - Printable PDF Apron Templates
25 October, 2022
chicken wearing a chicken saddle
Chicken Saddles 101: What, Why & When?
25 October, 2022
chicken saddle pattern, elastic and fabric from old clothes
Free Chicken Saddle Pattern for Regular-Sized Hens (Printable PDF)
25 October, 2022
chicken saddle pattern for large breeds banner image
Free Chicken Saddle Pattern for Large Chickens
25 October, 2022

You might like

purple chicken egg
Purple Chicken Eggs
20 September, 2022
rooster peeing against hay
Do chickens pee?
12 September, 2022
Can chickens eat chocolate
Can Chickens Eat Chocolate?
17 February, 2022
blue and brown colored chicken eggs
Egg Color Genetics
28 June, 2022
chicken egg with green yolk
Why do Hard-Boiled Egg Yolks Turn Green?
21 July, 2022
chicken with two eggs in one day
Can Chickens Lay 2 Eggs a Day? (Explained)
23 April, 2022
lavender orpington rooster
20 Amazing Giant Chicken Breeds
26 September, 2022
blood in chicken poop on shavings
Blood in Chicken Poop
17 April, 2022
Chicken Breeding and Genetics
17 June, 2022
chicken drinking beer
Can Chickens Drink Beer?
4 May, 2022

Latest Articles

a flock of chickens in the snow
Will Chickens Eat Snow For Water?
30 April, 2022
DIY A-Frame Chicken Coop Build Plan Design and Plan
A-Frame Chicken Coop Plan - Free Plan & DIY Instructions
30 April, 2022
Rooster eating crumble feed
Can Roosters Eat Layer Feed?
30 April, 2022
DIY Chicken Coop Plan for 4 to 6 Chickens - Easy
30 April, 2022
scaly leg mites chicken
Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens - Symptoms & Treatment
30 April, 2022