Chicken Losing Tail Feathers: Why + What to Do

Chickens can lose their tail feathers due to bullying, stress, molting, and bites from parasites like lice or mites. To help them grow back, you need to find the exact cause of feather loss to address the issue precisely.

The loss of tail feathers is not usually a distress sign that may threaten chickens. If you spot a chicken losing tail feathers, undertake a close examination to unearth the underlying issue. Only by identifying the cause of tail feather loss can you appropriately address it.

Why is my chicken losing tail feathers?

While chickens may lose their feathers because of several factors, parasitic infestations, stress, and molting are the main reasons.

Chicken Losing Tail Feathers
Chicken Losing Tail Feathers

Broodiness, pecking, bullying, and instant dietary change may also lead to the loss of tail feathers. Often, the loss of tail feathers may not indicate a serious health issue for your chickens. Here are details on what happens:

1. Molting

Molting is a normal activity that occurs every year in mature chickens. Generally, molting takes place in the fall, marking the end of the season for laying eggs.

Molting, lasting about six weeks, assists your chicken in shedding feathers that are old and no longer useful. The new, vibrant feathers are important in helping keep your birds warm and protected against harmful natural elements like rain.

Apart from the loss of tail feathers, you may also notice that the comb is pale during molting. And egg production may reduce or stop completely. The chicken needs to utilize its reserves of proteins and nutrients in making feathers and not eggs. So, provide your birds with plenty of high protein sources during molting.

Chickens lose tail feathers when molting happens every year. Molting displaces old and tired feathers with new and vibrant ones. Since molting occurs naturally, you cannot stop it. But, you can enhance the process by providing food-rich protein nutrients to your flock.

2. Parasitic infestations

A parasitic infestation or disease will make your bird lose its tail feathers and even stop egg production. Parasites that commonly attack chickens are mites and lice.

Identifying mites is often difficult since they are mainly active at night when they attack roosting chickens for their blood. Excess blood loss may lead to anaemia and the death of your birds.

It is very easy to see lice as they exist on the unwanted skin scales of your poultry. Lice do not thrive in bloodsucking.

If your flock is infected with parasites, use poultry dust such as Sevin dust for treatment. Apply the chemical to the chicken’s body and inside the coop.

3. Pecking and or bullying

Chickens that are confined, especially in a small space, tend to peck and bully each other as they try to establish a flock’s hierarchy. Broody hens also get bullied and pecked because they have exposed flesh around the breast area.

Chickens habitually peck at red skin because of curiosity and the rewarding taste of blood.

Although mostly normal, the pecking and/or bullying may cause your chicken to have missing tail feathers. But, if the behaviour is aggressive or abnormal, separate the hen or rooster targeted from the rest of your flock.

4. Preening

This is a maintenance behavioural trait that your chicken utilizes to keep its more than 20,000 feathers in top shape. With preening, your birds can remove parasites, worms, and debris from their feathers and make sure every feather is in the best possible position.

Preening is a process that involves the preen gland producing a substance that is oily and waxy. It is the material your chicken relies on for keeping the feathers flexible and waterproof. The oily, waxy stuff coats and protects the feathers uniformly.

During preening, broken and worn-out feathers may even be discarded.

5. Mating

When a rooster mates with a hen, he often catches the plumage on the tail and back, occasionally pulling them out. As a result, the hen may have bald patches at the back and lost tail feathers.

Mating may not lead to a noticeable loss of tail feathers if the rooster breeds with several hens.

6. Diet change

Subjecting your chicken to an unexpected change in diet may trigger molting and stress. A change in diet is one of the popular methods relied upon by chicken keepers to boost the quality of eggs.

However, a sudden diet change may lead to your flock having insufficient proteins and a loss of feathers on the tail and other body sections.

Any potential change in diet should be gradual, and the diet should be richly packed with proteins. The diet of an adult chicken should be at least 20% protein.  

If chickens lose tail feathers, will they grow back?

If chickens lose their tail feathers from nibling, pecking, or fighting, they will eventually grow back. Sometimes though, it may take a bit of time for lost tail feathers to regenerate and appear, depending on the general health of a chicken, the breed, and the current life cycle.

For instance, heavily feathered chickens, like Cochins and silkies, will need more time to regrow and replace their lost tail feathers.

How to help chickens grow back their tail feathers

After finding out the main cause, you will need to address it. If you do not get to the reason, there is no way you will help the feather loss situation. To help chickens replace their missing tail feathers:

1. Increase their protein intake

If the main cause is diet, provide lots of protein for developing feathers. Feed your poultry treats and snacks with plenty of protein, like mealworms and lentils.

In case you find that there are external parasites like lice and mites that are biting your chickens, you need to get rid of them first. After that, provide your birds with a healthy diet of proteins and iron to replace the lost blood the parasites have drained.

2. Stop stressing them

Eliminate sources of stress and irritation. The chicken coop must always be clean and spacious. Avail sufficient water and feed, which is accessible to every hen or rooster. And keep your chickens safe from predators.  

Maintain the right breeding ratios in your flock. Have one rooster for every five hens. This minimizes the pressure of mating and pecking placed on a single bird.

Separate chicken without tail feathers from the flock, particularly if it is being bullied. Place the bird that bullies others in a separate coop. A couple of days alone will make it more humble and submissive.

3. Remove parasites on their feathers

Regularly treat the chickens with external parasites like mites and lice. Use poultry dust or organic treatments such as garlic juice. Parasites that live on the feathers can reach into the body and bite the chickens. As they try to scratch them off, they lose their feathers.

You can also use Sevin to dust your chickens for mites, lice, or other physical parasites. Dusting them will kill and also prevent the bugs from coming back on them.

Free-range your birds to enjoy dust bathing. Free-ranging is also important in allowing your chickens to get enough nutrients from different types of food. Even if you always let them find food in the fields, provide the right diet and avoid unnecessary sudden changes.