• Michelle Hunniford

Fowl Language: Part II

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

This post is a continuation of Fowl Language: Part I. Part II contains a short list of bird- or chicken- specific body part names that I thought were important to define! Although there even more technical scientific terms exist (did you know another name for the comb is the crista carnosa?), I will use these more common words freely in my posts. I may add to this list as I continue to write posts so check back for updates!


The beak is a distinctive feature of birds! It is typically hooked and sharp, and is made of keratin. It forms the nose (nostrils are called nares in chickens) and mouth of the bird. Chickens use it to peck at their environment, especially to explore and find food. They also use it to preen their feathers, or remove dirt and parasites to keep the feathers clean!

The comb is the erect (or floppy) red piece of skin on top of the heads of chickens. It turns red as the chickens mature and signals they are ready to lay eggs, for hens at least.

Combs, ear lobes and wattles on male and female chickens. Image from "Avian Anatomy, 2nd Edition" by Konig et al.

Wattles are folds of skin that extend below the chicken's beak. In males, the wattles are even larger and more dangling. They are largely ornamental and are used as a signal of sexual maturity, especially in males.

Ever heard the phrase "don't get your hackles up!" That is referring to the neck feathers, or hackles, that become raised when chickens are being aggressive. Mammals do this too! Sometimes chickens will raise these feathers when they are in pain as well.

Did you know that chickens always stand on their tippy toes! The flat part of their foot is called the shank and it is covered in scales. This is not to be confused with the name for a homemade weapon...

... the hock is the ankle joint of the chicken. If I need to carry multiple birds at a time, I will often hold them by their shank, in between the toes and the hock joint.

This may warrant a longer post later, but the cloaca of the chicken is the orifice through which eggs, feces and uric acid (the chicken version of urine, the white stuff on their feces) are expelled. Yes, all out of the same hole... Another term sometimes used to describe the back end of a chicken is the vent. When I am looking at the feather condition of the birds, I pay particular attention to the vent area for evidence of severe feather pecking and cannibalism.

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