Health

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.

https://youtu.be/QEqatHLBu4g?t=13

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.

Summary

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.

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Nick

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.

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