A Guide To Understanding The Chicken Pecking Order

The chicken is a social bird that enjoys the company of its flock. Many social animals work out a hierarchy, and the chicken is no exception. The...
By Pinky · Jan 19, 2013 · ·
  1. Pinky
    What Is The Pecking Order And Why Is It Important?

    Being lower in the pecking order than the black chest rooster, the lighter rooster left the hens as soon as the rooster higher in the pecking order arrived.

    The chicken is a social bird that enjoys the company of its flock. Many social animals work out a hierarchy, and the chicken is no exception. The hierarchy created is a means of attaining and keeping order. When referring to this ordered social structure in chickens, and sometimes other bird species, it is called the Pecking Order.

    The pecking order is a natural process that chickens have to work out among themselves. This order of social dynamics determines the status of individual birds of a flock and their roles. The pecking order has an influence on many chicken activities such as feeding, drinking, egg laying, roosting, crowing, mating and even dust bathing. Stronger members of a flock are ranked at the top of the pecking order, while more submissive or physically weaker birds are placed lower in the order. Alpha roosters who are healthy will crow to signal their dominance to the other chickens and often take on the job as head of the flock. Roosters who are the flock leader will look out for the hens by watching for predators, find them treats, mating and chasing other roosters away from the hens. Roosters and cockerels lower in the pecking order do not crow or breed with hens when the rooster higher than they are is around. Hens high in the pecking order are known to chase other hens out of nest boxes that they favor. The higher ranking chickens get to eat more while the lower ranking members usually wait or move out of the way until the higher placed chickens have had their fill. Chickens with higher status in the pecking order get to choose where they will roost, leaving the other chickens to take whatever roosts are left.

    I have even noticed that my hens apply the pecking order to the water dishes as well. The top hens will peck at the lower hens until they move. The weaker hens then have to wait until the dominant hens are gone to drink, or position themselves between roosters to avoid the higher hens.

    The pecking order is established early in a chicken’s life when raised in a flock. Young chicks peck each other and bully one another when they are around food. The stronger chicks get to eat first, or eat the best foods and treats. Pullets and cockerels that grow up together will run and bump into each other, with the stronger one often chasing the other.

    After slight pecks, chasing and minor disputes on the roosts, order is established and is evident by the peaceful nature of the flock, because each bird knows where they rank and who they can and can not push around. Unless a member of the flock is removed or added, the pecking order may remain the same for a long time, although it is never permanent. One bird will always find another that it can push around, allowing that one to climb higher in the pecking order.

    How The Pecking Order Works

    Chickens use the rooster dance to dominate other members of their flock.

    Pecking order positions are established when one or more flock members are confronted by another member. If one of the chickens turns out to be stronger or more intimidating than the other(s) being challenged, the individual that is weaker will back down and is now lower in the order than the stronger member. If neither chicken is willing to back down or they are equally matched, a quarrel may occur. According to how determined each bird is to become the higher ranking, the dispute can be minor and no longer than a few seconds with minimal injuries such as loosing a few feathers, to minutes with a possible risk of serious injuries like eye loss or even death. I personally suggest that you should try not to interfere with chickens establishing their pecking order unless blood is shed, in which case you should separate the injured bird from the aggressor to prevent further injuries.


    One of my roosters that ranks at the top of the pecking order in his flock. He is flapping his wings together to make a loud clapping sound, announcing that he is at the top of the pecking order.

    Usually the pecking order is established with a peck or two from a dominant chicken to a less dominate bird though it sometimes requires chasing and the use of other body language as well. Flaring hackle feathers with the head usually lowered is used as an intimidation technique. Both roosters/cockerels and hens/pullets can fluff and flare out their hackle feathers. Loud wing flapping with the head held high and chest puffed out is a way to show dominance, while flapping with a lowered head and a slight run in the opposite direction of the opposing chicken is a way for one chicken to show submission without ever touching each other, preventing possible damage to itself. Another common non violent way for one bird to show they are high in the pecking order is the wing dance(or chicken/rooster dance). The dominant bird will come up sideways to the other bird, lower their outer wing and ‘dance’ in a half circle around the other chicken. If the other chicken runs or walks away, the dominant chicken is now higher than that bird in the pecking order.

    New Chickens And The Pecking Order

    To avoid possibly serious injuries to newly acquired chickens that you want to introduce to an existing flock, separate the new chickens from your current flock with a cage or large dog crate. If possible, you can also section off a portion of your current coop/run for the new birds that you can later remove if you wish. Keeping them separated but visible to the existing chickens will allow your current chickens to get acquainted with the new chickens. This way they can start the pecking order while getting to know each other through interaction without actually coming into contact with one another and it will also give you an idea of how they may act once they are together. I keep new birds separated about one to two weeks, depending on how well they behave with each other while in the temporary cage, before I let them out into the actual flock. To make the pecking order process even less stressful to new chickens, provide plenty of hiding places for them, multiple feed and water areas, and plenty of roosts in the coop.

    The rooster with his wings open is being chased away from the hens by the more dominant rooster. Being lower in the pecking order means he does not get to mate with the hens.

    You And The Pecking Order

    As a chicken owner your chickens may view you as a member of their flock, which places you in the pecking order. Normally, A strong and healthy rooster is at the top of the pecking order as the leader of the flock. In the absence of a rooster, the most dominate hen will take the rooster’s place. The top bird is strong willed and keeps the rest of the flock in order, breaking up fights and caring for the hens. Sometimes a rooster will try to challenge a human if they view the human as part of the flock. Doing the chicken/wing dance around you and charging towards you are some of the first signs of a rooster (or sometimes hen) trying to dominate you. Pecking and jumping at you to claw or spur you and attacking you every time you turn your back usually follows, with the birds behavior getting worse and more aggressive every time they see an opportunity. If you experience this or similar behavior from a chicken, that chicken is trying to dominate you.

    If you catch this behavior early you can stop it by making the chicken view you as the dominate one. First, never run from the bird, stand your ground or run and chase him. If he still tries to attack you, one technique you can try is to grab him and hold him down to the ground with a hand around his wings and back, and a hand over his head or neck. Gently hold the chicken to the ground until it calms down, then you can let it up. Do this one or two times and it should correct the behavior and how he views you. This is how I correct any rooster that tries to attack me and it works nearly every time, but sometimes the aggressive bird will not give up. In this case, I usually send that bird to the stew pot, but if you don’t want to do it then you can give it to someone else as long as you make sure they know the bird is aggressive.
    The larger red rooster is chicken dancing around the other rooster to show he is higher ranking in the pecking order.
    A human aggressive chicken can cause some pretty painful wounds. If you have children around your chickens, I suggest keeping roosters pinned up when the children are outside because children like to run and play. This behavior is normal to us, but to a protective rooster it can seem threatening and cause him to attack. With children being shorter than adults the attack could cause serious facial damage, especially to the eyes.

    Two roosters flaring their hackle feathers. Although separated by a fence, the red one soon ran off
    and is now lower ranking than the other one.

    Topic of the Week - Chicken behaviour and flock dynamics - Part 1 - The pecking order

    Topic of the Week - Chicken Behaviour and Flock Dynamics Part 2 - Bullying Behaviour

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    007Sean, SA Farm, agedog1 and 18 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. 007Sean
    "Hen pecked!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed May 13, 2019
    Good article explaining the pecking order of chickens, and what to expect in the transitioning of different groups of birds.
  2. ButtonquailGirl14
    "Awesome Article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Mar 17, 2019
  3. Leenidia
    "Amazing and insightful"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Mar 12, 2019
    73B5FF00-EE37-4F0D-B17D-6985BAA3A0EB.jpeg 763D2459-C905-40AC-B0D7-B62DF541FA52.jpeg 7C9E0029-0A3F-4560-92B3-DC3BAE4D108B.jpeg F03F67FB-C435-410C-B611-317B4B2458D1.jpeg 1AB3819E-6950-487E-AB3B-4C57D7987F07.jpeg 2CB8747C-9FD9-4EA2-BA56-353A65591AA0.jpeg I have a beautiful feathered family and learned their social behavior just by watching, hours on end. However, didn’t really have pay much attention until I read this article. Enlightening it was!

    I love my feathered babies! They greet me each and everytime no matter the time, day, weather.. they’re loyal and I back to them. ☺️


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  1. Losanders28
    This definitely helped me understand the pecking order. I know its nature but it just breaks my heart to see them peck at the smaller ones. The first time I saw them peck at one another i clapped my hands at them (as if they were dogs or cats lol!) And they looked at me like I was nuts and then went back to pecking the lower ranks. :lau little s#!+$! Haha! Hopefully there will never be any bad fights with injuries or death. That would break my heart! They are all my babies!
  2. Gripen
    Thanks, did not know there is a pecking order.
  3. Col1948
    The farm where I bought my chickens had a lot of roosters and they were all crowing, some were small some were big fellas, but the smaller ones still crowed.
    I don't have a rooster because I live very close to neighbours, I have noticed though the pecking order has changed a bit as time has gone on.
  4. droy1028
    Very helpful! Especially for people new to roosters. The technique of pinning them gently to the ground and holding them down is effective and makes sense from a biological stand point. Nice work!
      Fluffnut and ShanasCastle like this.
  5. Purple_grape84
    Informative. Gives actual behaviours to watch for and how to treat an aggressive rooster.
  6. woodenfarm
    I have a hen that is trying to attack me each time. She will stop when I put my hand on her but watch her closely after that.
    How long does it take for them to stop she has been doing it the pass 3 days
    1. ShanasCastle
      You need to assert your dominance over that hen just like you would the rooster. Gently push her to the ground just as described, and do this every time. She will stop! I had one that was a little feisty to now the only time she attacks me is when I have treats LOL and it's not really an attack as much as it is insistence!
      Fluffnut likes this.
  7. BonDEEroo
    Great information. I have 2 14-week old cockerels and 9 hens and pullets of various ages. It has been really interesting watching the dominant cockerel working his way up the pecking order. I will get a few more pullets to balance things out - I was thinking another 5 or more?
      Fluffnut likes this.
  8. Gibbie
    Great Article! Thank you for posting it for us.
  9. Taylorbrood
    i have seven 11 week old hens, have noticed 6 get stuck on one roosting bar and one has the whole bar to it's self, by the nesting box. selfish little bugger
      Nats Chickens likes this.
  10. Chickenrunlady
    Great info here, I am paying extra attention to my roo. So far he is very friendly and hoping he will stay that way.
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  11. chickensrock12
    Thank you for your post. There was one thing I didn't get. Grabbing the rooster or chasing him. I did that with my grandpa's rooster. I tried to chase him. But, He ran around me and pecked my foot. That I grabbed him for about 10 mins. Then I let him back up, then he peck at me again. I don't really think it works. Am I doing it wrong.
  12. BlueJuniper
    I love this article, and I think it has wonderful information. Thank you so much for posting!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  13. FlyWheel
    Sooooo....in order to keep my Roo from challenging me I should crow loudly when entering the pen?
      HushMeadows likes this.
  14. Chickartforever
    Thanks!!! it helped alot!!!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  15. Hooligan Burl
    Very informative. I gave this article to my wife who has recently become fascinated with the behaviors and personalities of each chicken in our flock. She now has more insight into what makes them tick.
      Fluffnut and HushMeadows like this.
  16. Justplainchickn
    Thank you for the great article. It came in very handy this week. My rooster has had some aggressive behavior that just started and I tried what you said and it seems to be helping. We also acquired a new chicken and with the help of BYC members and this article I think the little gal will find her spot in the flock.
  17. slordaz
    behavior modification is easily done with young chicks or at start of the behavior from what my flock of chicks/duckling is showing me. We let ours do their pecking order but as we interact a lot with them they realize when we are there with them we are still boss. There are a few different things you can do to deter bad behaviors, we found making a chicken jail inside the coop was worse for the trouble makers as they lost there spot as the others that were below trouble maker were elevated and the trouble maker couldn't do anything about it, this worked much better than completely separating them from the flock . My dominant pullet not egg laying age yet,the only time she had a cow was when she heard baby chicks and she wanted to play momma hen she chicknapped 1 from us ran and took it to her box so we took the other 3 to the box instead of putting them in a brooding pen, even though they were a different breed. She still realizes we are over her though on pecking order but as the others get older we will definitely have to watch that she doesn't try to steal the other hens chicks so far it hasn't been a problem but it is something to watch for.
  18. hipmarye
    When you reintroduce a bird to the flock will/can the others peck on the bird to the point of death? How can you prevent this?
  19. annemarie g
    Thank you so much for the information. I was also told to hold the rooster upside down by his feet to help curb aggression and to assert my dominance with him. Have you heard of this or do you find the pinning them to the ground works better?
  20. Kluk-Kluk
    Great article. Thanks!
  21. Goethe12
    cool info. thanks!
  22. jak2002003
    Very good article.. but I would disagree with a couple of points. Lower ranking roosters do mate with the hen in the flock.. but not right in front of the top rooster.. They will also all crow.. not just the top one. But, again, they will all keep their distance and lower down pecking order bird will not crow close to a higher ranking rooster.. or he will be chased off. And, its not just the stronger birds that are higher in the pecking order... you will often find a small bantam can be higher up that a standard chicken.. also it depends on their personality. some physically strong birds are just more mellow.. and take a back seat.. and some weaker birds are super annoying and aggressive and climb the ranks that way.
      Fluffnut and elmo like this.
  23. moms3cuties
    Great help! !!
  24. sunflour
    Great article.
  25. gclark94560
    Very informative! Thank you for the insight.
  26. Honomi
    Fascinating article. Thank you. I wonder if the pecking order will exist even it's just between two hens?
    1. achiekitty
      I realize this is an old question but seeing that nobody answered, the answer is yes. When I only had 2 hens, one (Grey) definitely dominated the other (Brownie), and Brownie would put her head under Grey when they slept side by side. But because Brownie is the “more adventurous” one, Grey would follow her around.
    2. ellend
      yes. They might be best friends and go everywhere together, but one has to be dominant. Our second in command was mean to the others, and occasionally the dominant girl, the second's best friend, would have to give her a little knock to remind her to be more chill.
      Fluffnut likes this.
  27. sourland
    Well written!
  28. sekeyslaks
    Awesome writing!I myself have a dominant rooster,he flaps his wings and crows a lot and he hovers around the hens when I'm around,funny thing is he has Never challenged me!Not even once!I have always thought he's an odd rooster,he's too nice to be so dominant!I also have a young RIR hen that was very dominant as a chick and would rush me when she wanted to bully me.that wasn't going to happen.I ended That dispute quickly!Now she is submissive,but sometimes I have to re train her.
  29. TexasChicken12
    This is an awesome article. I am hopping to get a couple of bantams this spring to add to my flock of 9 LF pullets! This will deffinetly come in handy! Great job.
  30. kingsleycoop
    Thank you! Really helps to understand them more!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  31. Jajika
    I don't have roosters as I live too close to neighbors who would not enjoy the crowing. Plus, I really don't have the room and time for baby chicks.

    However, I do have eight hens and it is clear who is "top bird."

    For a while one of my hens, Chloe, started pecking at me. She became very aggressive. Someone on this board gave me the same advice you have for aggressive birds. I pinned her down, so to speak, for several minutes. I think she may have been humiliated as well as learning who is boss. Totally corrected her behavior.
  32. rainlips
    My hens where doing this yesterday and I thought hmmm strange but I get it now! Thanks!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  33. rainlips
    My hens where doing this yesterday and I thought hmmm strange but I get it now! Thanks!
  34. TheChickenMan13
    I want a rooster soooooo bad. :(
  35. Chickies2
    Thanks Corona-Barb
  36. Corona~Barb
    Yep, my favorite hen of my original flock was Minnie the Moocher. She followed me everywhere and I miss her. Not all roos are aggressive. I don't want to have to watch my back all the time or not enjoy my time out with the animals. Aggressive roos don't like you messing with their hens, which means it makes it difficult to pick them up, etc.
  37. Dawna
    My Buff Orpington hens ARE sweet, One likes to sit on my chair beside me when I am outside. None of them shy away from me when I reach down to pet them. My rooster also allows my hand on his back, but is gradually getting aggressive. Just natural I guess. They all follow me around most of the time when I am outside. They aren't afraid of our Longhorn cows and bull either. When we feed them the Buff's are right there walking all around them. Our daughter is a rural mail carrier and one place she has to get out to deliver mail has Buffs. She says they all come running up to her and follow her to and from the house. Very friendly!!
  38. Corona~Barb
    I've seen more than a few comments about agressive Buff Orp roos...I just don't understand it. The hens are usually so sweet.
  39. Dawna
    This spring I ordered some Buff Orpington chicks, one rooster and five pullets. All are beautiful birds, especially the rooster, but I am going to have to get rid of him He has attacked some of my grandchildren, luckily not the smallest. But I can't take the chance that he will. He has advanced toward me a couple of times and I stood my ground, luckily he backed off. But he'll have to go. I sure hate it because he is just doing the natural thing and protecting his flock. His feathers are like iridescent orange. He is so beautiful. I also have watched the "pecking order system" in my flock. I have three Silver Laced Wyandottes and they run the rooster off, so far. I have one Rhode Island Red and one Barred Plymouth Rock. The BPR is the top hen. Sometimes feathers fly when one has to be reminded about who is boss.
      Fluffnut likes this.
  40. Corona~Barb
    Yes...she is submitting to be bred. Give her a back rub and send her on her way. ;-)
  41. Chickies2
    What does it mean when you get close to the chicken to pet it and it couches down? Submission?
  42. coopscritters
    Thanks. More than a few questions answered.
  43. trooper
    Thanks for this article.It has alot of good info that I had never thought of.I appreciate you sharing it with us.
  44. Litleburgs
    This is a wonderful article. I have an interesting situation going on and maybe you can help me? I have two silkie bantams, a silkie frizzle cochin and a tiny serama. My white silky is very stubborn and is very broody. The silkie frizzle cochin is a great layer and very aggressive with my broody silkie. She is so aggressive towards my silkie bantam that she has plucked all of the top head feathers out of the silkie's head. No blood has been drawn and has been an on and off relationship for months. Any suggestions?
      Irish1951 likes this.
  45. PrairieChickens
    What a timely article! I read this last night before bed, and then this afternoon my black Australorp Mr. Carson did the dominance dance around me and pecked at my hand. I promptly grabbed him and held him down the way you instructed until he calmed down. Hopefully it got the message across--after dealing with two vicious roosters from earlier generations, I'm not inclined to tolerate any nonsense, and it'd be a shame to have to send Mr. Carson to freezer camp.
  46. Corona~Barb
    Great idea DebbieDrake...and funny!
  47. DebbieDrake
    I carry a water gun with me when I'm around the roosters. They HATE being squirted with water and as soon as they see it in my hands they back off. It doesn't hurt them, its lightweight and rather humorous! It also works for other animals. The goats will run back to their pen as soon as they see me holding the water gun, the dogs get off the furniture immediately; occasionally, even my hubby backs off when I reach for it.
  48. Popcorn
    Nice article. Makes me wonder about my roosters though. They both mate, flap, and crow. They are a year apart in age and he older one is, as far as I can tell, more dominant. They've never fought and actually work together keeping the hens safe when hawks are around. Personality wise they are at opposite ends, the older one is a huge marshmallow and the young one is an insane people hater. Neither one cares if I pick up one of their hens.
  49. Lil Ts Chicks
    I have read & read till I cant see anymore, I have a rooster that just jumps on 1 hen, she sees him coming and just tucks her body down on the ground. He jumps on her if I catch him just a few sec. However he has guts because no sooner that Lucy starts to run away, that &*^%#$ runs right after her again. We have 4 hens, one just gave us baby chicks June 6th, he dose not do that to them, they are missing a few feathers from there back, but Nothing & I mean Nothing like my poor Lucy.
    What is his major malfunction? I have had all of them just a little over a year. I "used" to adore him he almost died trying to save 2 other hens but that was over a year since they died. Please any ideas welcomed. He has made me so mad that I tell him "I would not even make him Sunday dinner cuz he would taste mean. They have been in separated for weeks, but when catches me off guard the first thing he dose is make a be-line to Lucy. Thank You for letting me vent..
    1. ellend
      Pls. be more clear. By "jumps on," do you mean he tries to mate her, or he beats her up? If he's constantly mating her a "chicken saddle" would help her so he back doesn't get clawed up.
  50. coopscritters
    Good information. Answers some questions that I have been asking for awhile
      Cathy Roberts likes this.

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