As any owner of backyard flocks will tell you, one of the prettiest parts of a chicken is its tail feathers, particularly on roosters.
Chickens have tailbones as part of their skeleton, so a chicken can break its tail.
If you wanted to see their actual tail rather than just the feathers, you’d need to remove the feathers located at the tip of their body or just wait for molting season.
Although a chicken can break its tailbone, what people most likely see when they think their chicken has a broken tail is called “wry tail.” It is a genetic condition where the chicken’s tail is held at an angle in a relaxed position and looks broken.
If your chicken’s tail suddenly droops at an angle when it did not, examine them for an injury, abscess, or cyst and treat them accordingly as they might be in pain.
To find out more about chicken tails, keep reading!
How Chicken Tails Work
Birds generally have tails to provide balance and maneuverability when flying.
Domestic chickens do not fly very far, but their tails are important in courtship rituals.
While roosters have larger, ornate, and colorful tails, hens have smaller, more plain ones.
They both have the “pope’s nose” structure or the “parson’s nose” at the end.
The technical term for this structure is the pygostyle.
This is the small roundish stub of fat the tail feathers grow out of.
(When roasted, this small piece is considered quite tasty!)
There is a gland at the base of the tail called the uropygial, or preen gland, which secretes oil for the chicken to spread along their feathers while grooming.
Chicken’s tails are very expressive and will have droopy tails when they are sad or lonely.
Most chickens are happy and hold their tails erect with a jaunty posture.
If a chicken’s tail is down, it can mean illness or injury, so examine your chicken carefully if their tail is held down.
Wry Tail Vs. Broken Tail
A wry tail occurs when the tail extends out at an angle, not in line with the line of the backbone.
While it may look broken, it is not.
Because the wry tail is a genetic condition, vitamin supplements won’t help as they will with a wry neck.
Further Reading: Wry Neck Vs. A Broken Chicken Neck
A wry tail will not negatively affect your bird’s health but is considered a fault for show birds, and the bird should not be bred.
If you purchased the chicken from a hatchery or farm, let them know as they will want to root out the genetic line producing the wry tail.
Wry tail is also a condition occurring in horses.
Why Is My Chicken’s Tail Down?
Chickens hold their tails down for various reasons, not just the possibility of a broken tail bone.
A drooping tail may indicate an egg-bound hen but would usually be accompanied by the tail moving as the hen strains to lay the egg.
Other signs something is wrong with your chicken are:
- Lower egg production
- General inactivity
- Sitting on haunches or lying down
- Cloudy/dull or closed eyes
- Pale combs
- Drooped wings
- Abnormal droppings and discharges
- Ruffled feathers
- Chicken feather loss not related to molting.
Check your chicken from head to tail for vent gleet, signs of bacterial infection, fungal infection, injury, or illness, and consult with your veterinarian.
A crooked tail may also signify paralysis from injury or shock.
If it is from shock, your chicken’s tail might straighten out on its own once they recover.
Sometimes a chicken’s tail droops from being stressed.
Types of stress are:
- Environmental – too light, too dark, too cold, too windy, too damp, too dirty, not enough ventilation, change of seasons
- Nutritional – change in feed, poor feed, can’t access feed
- Physiological – growing quickly (we’re looking at you, Cornish Rocks!) or maturing sexually
- Physical stress – being caught, handled, transported to vet or shows, etc.
- Social – overcrowding, inappropriately mixed sizes, too many hens per rooster or too many roosters per hen, or absence or death of a flock mate
- Psychological – fear of predation, including by other pets, fear of children chasing them
- Pathological – exposures to toxins, diseases, or overstimulation of the immune system from a dirty environment
What Can I Do for a Sick Chicken?
Experienced backyard chicken keepers have a chicken first aid kit and a chicken “hospital.”
Use a dog crate or other secure and cleanable structure to make a chicken hospital with clean, warm bedding free from drafts.
Injured chickens will recover faster if removed from the chicken coop and placed somewhere secure and warm to recover.
Keep your ill or injured bird hydrated and provide chicken feed, although they might not eat.
Water is crucial; they use it in every part of their body, from digesting food to regulating body temperature.
A dehydrated bird will have a much harder time recovering.
Can You Grab A Chicken By Its Tail?
Ideally, you pick up a chicken by scooping them up with one arm underneath their body for stability and the other over their back, keeping their wings from beating you.
Grabbing them by the back and tail is far more stressful.
A phenomenon called “flight molt” can cause the tail feathers to be released, leaving you with a handful of feathers.
The chicken’s feathers release into the predator’s mouth so the chicken can run away.
Can Chickens Regrow Tail Feathers?
A chicken can regrow tail feathers in several weeks or months, depending on why they lost their feathers and if the situation is remedied.
A low-stress, comfortable environment helps.
High-protein feather-building feed is also recommended.
Sometimes chickens will not regrow their feathers until molting season, usually in the late summer or fall.