Chicken Anatomy 101
When raising backyard chickens, it’s important to know some basics on their anatomy and the function for each part. This way you can keep close tabs on your flocks’ health and notice any changes that might signal a problem.
Chickens are gorgeous birds and were created so well. When you sit and really think about the process a chicken goes through to lay their egg, it’s astounding!
Today we’re going to be talking about the basic anatomy of a chicken. You can always do a deep dive into the ins and outs of the entire chicken, but today we’re going to focus on their most basic anatomy. I’m going to touch on the parts that may be a mystery to us as to what their true function is.
So, let’s talk dive into some of the main body parts of a chicken.
Photo Credit: Community Chickens
Beak and Tongue: The beak is a super important part of the chicken. Chickens don’t have hands, so the only way they can move something or pick up their food is with their beak. Inside the beak, you will find a triangle tongue. Chickens use their tongues to taste food, latch onto their treats they find in the yard and help them make different noises.
Crop: The crop is a muscular bag at the bottom of the chicken’s neck that stores anything chickens put in their mouth. Food, treats, bugs and grass are regular visitors in a chicken’s crop. A chicken’s crop should be empty and flat in the mornings. Throughout the day as they eat and graze, their crop will fill up and be in the shape of a small ball. It will pass into the gizzard overnight and empty out. If the crop gets impacted, your chicken needs extra attention. Occasionally, a chicken's crop can get impacted. If this happens, separate the affected bird, and remove the food source from her. Give her water and a little bit of olive oil to loosen things up. Gently massage the crop and allow her plenty of rest and water. It should pass. If it doesn’t pass, you will need to give her more attention. If you don’t it can become a problem. Read more about impacted and sour crop here.
Gizzard: The gizzard of a chicken is very important. Because chickens don’t have teeth and swallow their food whole, they need this organ to grind and mix their food. Chickens drink a lot of water to soften the food in their crop. They will also pick up small rocks (I provide grit) to grind their food up inside the gizzard. It’s a muscular organ that does this! Isn’t that cool?
Oviduct: The oviduct is an organ that looks like a tube along the backbone between the ovary and the tail. The egg yolk is developed in the ovary. According to Poultry Extension, “When ovulation occurs, the ovum (yolk) enters the oviduct. The oviduct is a twisted tube that is 25 to 27 inches long when fully developed and is divided into five major sections. These sections are the infundibulum, magnum, isthmus, shell gland, and vagina. The oviduct makes up the entire system of making an egg outside of the ovary where the yolk is formed. How intricate!
Cloaca: The cloaca is the only hole for the reproductive and digestive system of a chicken. The cloaca, also known as the vent, is where chickens poop from, where the eggs come out, and where they mate with a rooster. Yikes! This may bother some people when thinking about eating their eggs. However, no need to fear. When laying an egg, a chicken’s vagina flips inside out of the cloaca, so the egg never touches the poop area to become contaminated. Whew! You can read more about all of that here.
Eyes: The last body part we are going to talk about today are the eyes of chickens. I wrote an entire blog about the chicken eye, and you can read it here. I learned that chickens have a nictitating membrane. That’s just a fancy word for a third eyelid. It's a see-through eyelid that operates on its own. Chickens will use this eyelid to protect their eyes from dirt and dust while dust bathing and clean them if something gets in their eye. It swipes horizontally from front to back and honestly looks a little creepy when they use them! Chickens will also use this eyelid while sleeping sometimes so they can rest but also watch for predators. Chickens can also sleep with one eye completely open. That brings new meaning to that term, doesn’t it? Chickens can also see more colors than we can and can remember up to 100 faces. They are incredible!
Obviously, I didn’t hit all of the chicken's body parts, but we’re off to a good start! These are some of the main parts that are good to know so you know the basics. Looking out into our yard and seeing beautiful chickens sprinkled all over, it’s sometimes easy to forget how intricate they are. Knowing fascinating facts about their anatomy makes raising backyard chickens even more interesting and fun!
Until next time,
–The Wing Lady