Chickens are amazing creatures.
I’ve been keeping backyard chickens for years now, and they never cease to amaze me with interesting things I’m learning about them every day!
They provide us with fresh eggs, help control pests in the garden, and can even make great pets.
And if you have ever wondered, “Do chickens yawn?” you are in for a surprise.
Because, yes, chickens are capable of yawning!
Whether you’re new to the world of homesteading or an experienced farmer, learning about the curious habits of your feathered friends can deepen your connection to the animals you raise.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the truth about whether or not chickens yawn, and what it tells us about these fascinating creatures.
Do Chickens Yawn When Sleepy?
First of all, it’s essential to understand what yawning is.
Yawning is a reflexive and involuntary action that almost all vertebrates perform.
It typically occurs when a body is tired, but it can also be stimulated by several other reasons, like boredom, anxiety, hunger, and even social factors.
Now getting back to our query, “do chickens yawn?” recent studies have confirmed that chickens do yawn but not as much as mammals.
Chickens yawn around five or six times a day, while humans, dogs, cats, and other mammal animals yawn up to 20 times a day.
One of the primary differences between the two is that our (mammals) yawn helps in regulating our brain temperature and oxygen levels. It’s something we naturally do when we’re tired.
But, in chickens, this process is not as prevalent.
Unlike mammals, chickens make use of other body mechanisms to regulate their body temperature and oxygen levels.
Chickens pant to cool themselves off and lower their body temperature.
This action is a crucial adaptation mechanism for chickens as they do not have sweat glands, and hence, panting helps them cool down.
Furthermore, chickens breathe using their abdominal muscles, where they take up massive air volume with every breath, and this helps with oxygen intake.
So Why Do Chickens Open Their Mouth Wide a.k.a. Yawn?
As a chicken owner, you may have noticed your feathered friends opening their mouths wide, almost like they are gasping for air or—you guessed it—yawning.
This can be concerning, especially if you are new to raising chickens.
Here’s why they’re doing it.
Adjusting the Crop, a.k.a. Crop Drop
The crop is a sac-like organ in a chicken’s digestive system where food is stored before being broken down.
When a chicken eats, the crop fills up, and when the food is digested, the crop empties.
The crop is located in the chicken’s neck, and when it is full, it can push against the bird’s windpipe, making breathing difficult.
When this happens, chickens can open their mouths wide to help regulate their breathing and make more room in the crop. This behavior is called “crop drop.”
The good news is that crop drop is not always serious and can be treated easily in most cases.
To alleviate the discomfort, you can gently massage your chicken’s crop to help move the food along.
You can also encourage your chicken to drink water to help the food move through the digestive system.
In severe cases, your veterinarian may need to perform surgery to address the issue.
Swallowing Stuck Food
Sometimes, chickens can accidentally ingest an object that gets stuck in their crops, causing discomfort.
This can include long pieces of grass, feathers, or anything else they may come across while foraging.
When this happens, your chicken may open her mouth wide, as if she is trying to regurgitate the item.
If the item does not pass through the digestive tract, it can lead to blockages and other health issues.
If you suspect your chicken has swallowed something that is causing discomfort, contact your veterinarian immediately.
One common reason why chickens may open their beaks wide and gasp for air is the presence of gapeworms.
These parasites infect the respiratory system of poultry and can cause severe damage if left untreated.
Gapeworms usually spread through contaminated environments or infected hosts, such as earthworms or slugs.
Chickens with gapeworms may also exhibit other symptoms, such as weight loss, lethargy, and difficulty swallowing.
To prevent gapeworm infestations, keep your chicken coop and run clean and dry, avoid overcrowding, and use veterinary drugs such as fenbendazole or levamisole as directed.
You can also add garlic or apple cider vinegar to your chickens’ water to boost their immune system and repel parasites.
If you suspect that your chicken has gapeworms, take her to the vet or use a vermifuge that contains piperazine or ivermectin.
Another potential cause of gaping in chickens is sour crop, a digestive disorder that occurs when food stays in the crop for too long and ferments.
Sour crop can be caused by various factors, such as eating spoiled or moldy food, overeating, or underlying health issues.
Chickens with sour crop may also show signs of lethargy, weight loss, bad breath, or vomiting.
To prevent sour crop, provide your chickens with fresh and clean food and water, avoid over-treating them with treats, and monitor their crop regularly for any abnormalities.
If you notice that your chicken has sour crop, you may need to take her off food for a day or two, massaging her crop gently, and administering probiotics or antifungal drugs as advised by your vet.
The third possible cause of gaping in chickens is canker, a bacterial infection that affects the throat and mouth of poultry.
Canker is caused by the protozoan Trichomonas gallinae and can spread rapidly among birds through contaminated water or feed.
Chickens with canker may show signs such as coughing, sneezing, bad breath, or yellowish or white spots in their mouths.
To prevent canker, practice good hygiene and sanitation in your coop and run, avoid feeding your chickens moldy or contaminated food, and isolate sick birds as soon as possible.
If your chicken has canker, you may need to administer antibiotics or antiprotozoal drugs as advised by your vet and disinfect your coop thoroughly to avoid further infestations.
One of the possible reasons why your chicken is opening her mouth wide is due to an ear infection.
Infections in the chicken’s ear can cause significant pain and discomfort, leading them to stretch their mouths wide in an attempt to relieve themselves.
Other signs of an ear infection include affected balance and a tilted head.
Ear infections in chickens are often caused by mites or bacteria and need to be treated with medication prescribed by a veterinarian.
Fowl Pox is another potential reason why your chicken is opening her mouth wide.
This viral disease usually affects chickens aged between three to six months and is transmitted through biting insects such as mosquitoes and mites.
Fowl Pox causes the formation of lesions in the chicken’s mouth, throat, eyes, and featherless body parts, leading to difficulty in breathing and eating.
If your chicken is infected with fowl pox, isolate them from other birds, provide them with a warm and clean environment, and seek veterinary care.
Another possible reason why your chicken is opening her mouth wide is due to Fowl Cholera.
Affected birds can experience swelling in the face or wattles, and can lead to labored breathing, hence the gaping.
This highly contagious bacterial disease can also manifest in lethargy, swollen joints, discolored wattles, and pneumonia, to name a few.
Fowl Cholera usually occurs in chickens that are under stress, malnourished, or have a weak immune system.
Treatment involves antibiotics and proper hygiene control to prevent the spread of the disease.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Fortunately, Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is not a common ailment in chickens, but it’s vital to know about it if you see your chicken opening her mouth widely.
SCC is a type of cancer that affects the skin and mucous membranes in chickens’ heads, including the beak, eyes, and mouth.
If your chicken is experiencing this condition, she will open her mouth wide to let air in because the cancerous cells are blocking her airways.
Trouble Breathing When it’s Hot Out
Chickens have a natural way of cooling themselves when it’s hot out—panting.
If the weather is too hot or humid, your chicken will open her mouth wide to cope with the heat and excess moisture in the air, allowing more air to circulate into her respiratory system.
This behavior is a common and natural way for birds to regulate their body temperature.
Regulating Their Body Temperature
Another reason chickens open their mouths is to regulate their body temperature in cold weather. Opening their beaks helps to lessen the freezing air they breathe in.
Chickens’ respiratory systems are sensitive to cold temperatures; in fact, temperatures below 0°F can be detrimental to your bird’s respiratory health if the living area is not adequately insulated.
Chickens preen themselves to get rid of dirt, debris, and parasites that get caught in their feathers.
When your chicken opens her mouth during preening, it’s a sign that she’s clearing her mouth and throat of any foreign objects that she may have swallowed while foraging or pecking around.
Just like humans, chickens need to stretch their bodies and muscles to stay healthy and limber.
When your chicken stretches, she might take a deep breath and open her mouth, which is a healthy sign.
When is Yawning a Problem?
Now you know that yawning in chickens can be caused by a wide variety of issues—many of which are not really issues at all, but instead just natural behaviors. So when should you start to worry?
When you notice your chicken breathing heavily or gasping for air, it’s often a sign of respiratory illness.
This could be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, such as avian influenza or infectious bronchitis.
If you notice this symptom, it’s best to isolate the chicken and contact your vet immediately.
A dry or wet cough may indicate a respiratory tract infection.
In some cases, the cough may sound like wheezing or rattling, making it difficult for the chicken to breathe.
You can treat minor respiratory infections with antibiotics, but it’s always best to talk to your vet for advice.
If you notice your chicken constantly shaking its head, it could indicate an ear infection or mites.
Inspect the ear for any signs of discharge or redness. If you suspect mites, dust your birds with poultry dust or contact a vet for treatment recommendations.
A swollen or impacted crop could indicate a digestive problem, such as sour crop caused by a fungal or bacterial infection.
Keep a close eye on your chickens’ intake of food and water. If you notice a problem, contact your vet for further advice.
Finally, a chicken that is not drinking or eating may be feeling unwell. When you notice this symptom, it’s important to isolate the bird from the flock, give it plenty of water and call a vet.
What to Do if Your Chicken Keeps Yawning?
Again, yawning is not problematic if it occurs by itself or just every once in a while. It’s a normal chicken behavior!
However, if it’s become a chronic issue and you’re concerned, here are some things you can do.
Have Her Tested for a Respiratory Disease or Worms
Respiratory diseases or worms are common causes of frequent yawning in chickens.
If your chicken is yawning excessively, take her to a veterinarian for a check-up.
A vet will examine your chicken and conduct some tests to determine if she has a respiratory disease or worms.
If the test results are positive, the vet will recommend appropriate treatment.
Head to the Vet
If you don’t have a vet for your chickens, it’s time to find one. A vet will be able to provide your chicken with the necessary care and treatment.
They will also be able to advise you on how to prevent the problem from reoccurring in the future.
If you can’t find a vet that specializes in chickens, look for one that deals with small animals. They should be able to help you.
Isolate Her From the Flock
If your chicken is infected with a respiratory disease, it’s important to isolate her from the rest of the flock immediately.
This is because respiratory diseases are contagious and can spread quickly to other chickens.
Keep your sick chicken in a separate coop until she recovers or the vet gives her the green light to rejoin the flock.
Keep the Coop Clean
Keeping the coop clean is essential for your chicken’s health.
Make sure you clean the coop regularly to prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria and microorganisms.
This will help prevent respiratory diseases and worms from spreading.
Also, make sure you use clean bedding and replace it regularly.
Provide Clean Water
Make sure that your chickens have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
Dirty water can harbor bacteria that can cause respiratory diseases and worms.
Make sure you change the water daily and clean the water dispenser to prevent the build-up of bacteria.
Be Mindful of What You’re Feeding
Finally, be mindful of what you’re feeding your chickens.
Some foods can cause health problems for your chickens, such as cracked corn.
Small pieces of cracked corn can get lodged in your chicken’s throat, causing respiratory problems.
Make sure you feed your chicken a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients.
Yes, Chickens Yawn! But…
Of course, as with any animal behavior, not all chickens yawn.
Some birds may tend to do it more than others, depending on their individual temperament and environmental factors.
Some breeds of chickens are also more likely to yawn, while others might rarely display this behavior.
The important thing is to remain observant of your chickens, and to approach their behaviors with curiosity and respect.
So there you have it—the truth about whether or not chickens yawn.
While it may seem like a small detail, understanding this behavior can be an important part of caring for our feathered friends.
Whether you’re a seasoned homesteader or just starting out, taking the time to learn about the behaviors of your animals can deepen your connection to them and help you provide the best possible care.
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