The overwhelming majority of injuries that I have sustained from my flock have been from those sharp little points on the end of their toes. For their weight, chickens have fairly strong legs and if you’re trying to handle a bird that is frightened, it is going to use those legs in a wild and frantic thrashing. FYI, it is not fun to be on the receiving end of that.
Though chickens are a member of the fowl family, the term talon is reserved for birds of prey as they use these tools to capture and kill their food. Chickens use their claws to find food – not to kill it.
Admittedly, this is one of those things that feels like a double standard to me. After all, don’t tigers use their claws to kill? So why aren’t those called talons?
Tigers are a member of the mammalian branch. And despite them using their sharp nails in the same manner as an eagle, they don’t get to use the same cool name – talon. Only birds of prey get to do that.
Do Roosters Have Talons?
Like lions, chickens have physical traits that are generally unique to the male of their species.
On the back of male chicken’s leg, a little ways up from the ankle, you will find a rather intimidating claw-like projection. This projection is used for fighting; whether in defense of the flock or in establishing dominance. And while a rooster is fully capable of killing with it, this projection is not called a talon, but rather a spur.
Remember, a bird of prey doesn’t just kill with these talons, but they capture their food with them as well.
A rooster will not capture anything with its spur. For starters, the location of this claw-like appendage is on the back of the leg, partially up from the ankle. It would be very difficult to use this spur as the other toes would be in the way.
Also, the anatomy of a spur is very different than that of an eagle’s talon. The feet of an eagle have multiple joints and the associated muscle structure necessary for griping. The spur on a rooster has no joints – acting more like a solid projection than a griping mechanism.
What Do Chickens Use Their Claws For?
While a chicken may never catch its meal with its feet, that doesn’t make the claws on the bird any less impressive. Point of fact, a chicken’s claws are most impressive.
The primary use of the chicken’s claws is to scratch at the ground. Yes, you will see chickens using their claws to grip at a branch or roosting bar as they sleep – and their claws will do a great job of this. But chickens can sleep on their bellies, just like ducks.
What really sets the chicken apart is their innate drive to scratch at the ground. To my knowledge, no other species of bird is so compelled to do this (save, maybe the turkey).
For example, I’ve seen chicks, hours after they were taken out of the box, scratching at the ground with their claws. This is especially notable as they have to be shown, ‘this is food’ and ‘this is water’ – without that teaching they could perish. And yet, there is absolutely no tutelage necessary when it comes to scratching at the ground.
Further proving this purpose is the muscle development of a chicken’s leg. There is a considerable amount of mass on this limb for just walking around or supporting its frame.
Also worth noting, a chicken’s claw will never stop growing. And as such, without regular scratching at an abrasive surface, the nail will grow too long and eventually limit the birds mobility. Point of fact, in some cases, the claw will grow completely around and back into the birds foot/leg.
Do Chickens Scratch Themselves?
There are very few things comparable to having an itch and not being able to scratch it. I love watching videos of animals rubbing against things like trees, trying to get relief. And you can always tell when they’ve got ‘the spot’. That gratifying relief is something I think we can all relate to.
Chickens are fully capable of using their claws to scratch themselves. And for the record, it can be quite entertaining to observe this fat round bird balancing on one leg while the other is working away.
It should be noted, that the occasional scratch for chicken is really nothing to be concerned about. However, excessive scratching by one or more birds is certainly something to take note of.
A chicken’s environment is full of very small pests; such as lice. And if untreated, these kinds of pests will cause considerable stress to your flock. Early observation of pest related behavior is only going to make things easier – both for you and your birds.
### Important Note ###
One of the best things you can do to help your flock deal with the never-ending presence of pests is to provide them a place where they can take a ‘dirt bath’.
In a free range situation, where the birds are able to access large areas of ground, they will dig holes where they can bury themselves in the loose dirt. This loose dirt will eventually make its way down to the skin where it absorbs the oil from their feathers and wrecks havoc on any pests that want to live on your chicken.
If, however, your flock is not in a free range type of environment, you can still help your birds with a few bags of sand. Simply put 5 or 6 bags of sand in a small ‘kiddie pool’ (no water) close to where your chickens spend their days. At some point, your birds are sure to notice this and indulge! Just be warned, it can be somewhat of a disconcerting thing to witness. The first time I saw this behavior, I thought my bird was having a heart-attack. It will definitely leave you scratching your head and saying, ‘there is something bad wrong with this chicken!’
What Are Chicken Claws Made Of?
The material makeup of a chicken’s claw might actually surprise you. Though, when you think about the use of these tools, then it gets a little easier to accept.
A chicken’s claw is made of Keratin – the same substance found in human fingernails, hair and even skin. It is an excellent material for situations where regular abrasion is present.
Keratin is common to multiple species – mammals, fowl and reptiles. And in all three species, it is a substance that never stops growing. It is strong and has varying degrees of pliability.
In the case of human fingernails, you can associate it with the protective film for your smart-phone screen. Both the human finger and smart-phone have built in receptors. Any significant damage to these receptors, in either the finger or the smart-phone, will cause performance issues. In this case, protection is warranted.
Can You Eat Chicken Claws?
If not for the internet, I would have NEVER believed this!
Do a quick search for ‘chicken feet recipes’ and you will be astounded by the results. While I have not the courage to personally try, people have been eating chicken feet for some time. However, it should be noted, that the claws are generally used for flavoring and not actually consumed.
Admittedly, I am not a nutritional specialist. However, I personally doubt that there is any real benefit to eating chicken claws, as they are essentially the same thing as our fingernails.
As for why I will not eat chicken’s feet/claws, I’ve seen what chickens put their feet in. A chicken will excitedly claw through a pile of manure if there are bugs or seeds inside of it.
Consequently…I will not eat that! I don’t care how many times you wash it. Nor do I care what it tastes like. Honestly, it could be the secret to immortality and I still wouldn’t eat it!
But I leave that for you as a reader to decide.