Over the years I have had chickens that are daft enough that they could get lost in their own yard as well as a couple of dedicated Houdini types.
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Dealing with lost chickens:
Chickens can get lost. Chickens behave in a weird ways when they are scared or frightened, they’ll either hunker down and stay put under something or they’ll fly away or run wildly. A wild runner almost always gets lost.
A hiding chicken can be worse, since they’ll can stay wedged underneath or behind something till they starve to death or die of thirst. I had a hen who managed to get frightened but a dog and fly across a field and hide under some blackberries. She was 120 feet away from us but absolutely would not move. I took me three days of hunting to find her and a further day or so of having her back in the coop to recover.
Firstly if you think you have lost a chicken is to make sure that it or they are definitely lost and not stolen or been taken by a predator. When and how did they go missing and is there any evidence of a predator.
Free-range chickens are less likely to get lost than chickens that are usually locked in a coop. They know their way around.
Below: A free range flock member investigating the other side of the fence to see if the grass really is greener.
Young birds panicking are more likely to get lost as are rescued battery chickens that have never been allowed out.
One of the big reasons keepers think they have lost their chickens is they go broody on a nest away from the coop.
Do chickens get lost?
Chickens do occasionally get lost. Chickens that are kept in a coop and run and not allowed to free range get lost very easily if they escape.
Because I have chickens I have had to deal with more than a few lost chickens wandering the neighbourhood. I have become a master at chicken catching, way better than I am, so he usually goes and catches them and hauls them to the isolation pen while I search for a neighbour minus a favourite hen or rooster.
Below: A dog causing trouble chasing chickens.
Chickens that been chased by dogs or even cats may well run off or fly away and get a little lost.
Do chickens come back?
Chickens can and do come back on their own.
Over the years I have been had one that was taken by a fox and managed to get away. She came home 3 days later with just a few feathers missing but otherwise unharmed. It turns out that chickens do have a trick up their sleeves or wings when it comes to finding their way.
It is a much less precise version of the homing mechanism that pigeons use to find their way. Chickens are capable of magneto-reception, meaning essentially they can sense the Earth's magnetic field.
This is the same adaptation that allows for accurate migration and while they can't migrate hundreds or thousands of miles like other species, they can orient themselves to some degree using this ability. It also helps the chickens create a mind map of it's area.
My chickens rarely leave the line of sight of my house which is two stories and on a hill, but I suspect they would find their way home from half a mile away.
Below: A lost chicken on a sidewalk.
Do not forget to keep checking your coop to see if they have come home. They may be late getting in and you don't want to lock them out all night.
If your chicken has disappeared during the day but coming home later then it is likely that she has found either a stash of food or a good place to feed or is laying away from the coop. If you have lost one that has not returned then it is likely broody on a remote nest or it has been taken by a predator.
Below: This naughty girl is sat on a nest of eggs away from the coop.
They can learn, over time, to take a complicated route, but if they took some extra turns in their wanderings that day or went through a gate that's usually closed, they might get confused.
It also depends on how resourceful and smart the chicken is. The smartest ones will just fly over any obstacle but not all birds can make this leap.
Do chickens hide when scared?
Some chickens hide when frightened. The problem with this is that when panicked they can wedge themselves in so tight that they cannot get out. Some birds just won't come out either and will starve or die of dehydration before they do. Its an odd quirk that some chickens have.
These are the chickens you need to look for and the good news is they may not be far away. I have found a bird I thought to be lost behind a water barrel just 20 foot from the coop and another under a garden shed.
Where would a chicken hide?
I have had a chicken hiding in the coop before now. She had got herself wedged in a tiny spot between the nest boxes and the shed wall.
Trees and undergrowth are a favourite hiding spot for frightened birds and the unfortunate thing is they like the thickest bit of foliage they can find.
Don't forget to look under buckets or plant pots that are overturned, I have had birds caught out when something they were perching on tipped over and trapped them.
I had one that manged to get inside a galvanised metal feeder and I only found her when I went to refill the feeder.
If you have set animal traps on your property then check those.
I have almost trodden on a chicken in hiding in the long grass. I never cease to be amazed how small a space they can squeeze into.
How to help lost chickens come home:
- A local lost pet group on Facebook.
- Use a torch at night to spot reflective eyes looking back at you.
- Signs around the neighbourhood.
- Use a dogs nose. Put the dog on a a leash, give it a feather to smell and see if it can locate the bird.
- Check to see if they find their own way and don't lock them out when you close up the rest of the flock.