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. Sally Sunshine
    Thank you for sharing!
  2. sumi
    Good job! Very informative.
  3. willowbranchfarm
  4. Chickenfan4life
    Thank you for this article! It has helped me understand why my roo, The Rebel Rooster, is aggressive towards all the other roos and ME as well. Sadly, he wont last too long. He's fixin' to go to mean rooster heaven.
  5. Dawna
    I feel I need a rooster to help protect my flock, but have had to dispose of two roosters because of aggressive behavior. I have another rooster on order, but will most likely have to get rid of him, too. I have grandchildren close by and they like to get outside and run. Luckily I have two Border Collies who are good guard dogs for the chickens.
  6. Jobele
    Great article! I've got plenty of this on my place......LOL
  7. Pinky
    Thanks everyone, it was fun to write:)
  8. seminolewind
  9. BYC Project Manager
    Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
  10. TwoCrows
    Great information!
  11. vickichicki
    Thanks for e information. Just introduced some new chickens to the flock and I am struggling to watch the pecking order happening with the new introductions. I know in time they will be fine.
  12. Maemujwok
    I introduced two mature chickens to a group of "teens" that had an already established pecking order. Immediately the rooster at the top of the pecking order went up to one of the hens to let her know he was in charge. He puffed up his chest and neck feathers and moved at her. In one swoop, she knocked him on his back. He tried again and she knocked him flat again. He then went and beat up on one of his peers. It was the most hilarious thing I've seen. He came in saying "Hey, I'm in charge here" and she responded, "Wanna bet!?"
  13. Maggizzle35
    I have several roosters and it's always interesting to see them interact with one another. They can be down right brutal. Even in the hen house yard there is an order and the geese dominate the chickens, roosters and duck and keep order. They will go right after a rooster if they feel it's causing a ruckus. In the same way, they are protectors because I have young Sebastapol geese and the older Chinese, African and Embdens welcome them right into the flock and protect them just like they belong to them. This was a very enjoyable article.
  14. Jajika
    I have a hen that adopted the dominant role with my hen-only flock. She began to peck at me and was very aggressive. I used the technique mentioned above of holding her down for several minutes. Did the trick.
  15. NewChickPaula
    Great article and information.Thanks so much!
    We ended up with 7 roosters in the bunch of chicks we raised.
    We have just removed 4 from the flock and probably will choose to remove at least one more.
    I will be watching to see how this changes the dynamic of the group.
  16. youngchooklover
  17. beaglex3
    thank you for the information. we have 14 1 year old hens who have a definite pecking order, with the ones on the low end showing bald rumps and backs. :-( i have tried to catch the pecking so i can try to stop it, but they are sly and sneaky in their attacks. we got 7 new chicks in april and all of them were supposed to be pullets. imagine my surprise when i went out to care for them one morning and 2 of them crowed at me! so i really have a mess now. my older hens are pecking one another. my 2 young roos are pecking, chasing and fighting. my older hens are picking on the younger ones and the young pullets are trying to establish their pecking order. we separated the older and younger ones as best we could, but only have one coop so could only keep them in separate outside runs for 1 day. i put the newbies out early in the morning and kept them separate but visable until roosting time. from there they are going to have to figure it out. i have been feeding them separately to make sure the young ones get enough food and try to go into the run several times a day to try to create my dominant position to everyone. i do not like this disharmony in the coop but am at a loss as what else i can do.
    i am open to any suggestions :)
  18. Ohgrr
    Definitely helped me understand my chickens better. Thank you!
  19. oceanjean
    Now I know why my rooster attacked me this morning...
  20. litl red hen
    This is a great article. We introduced new additions to the flock and every example provided--they demonstrated! I knew it was a pecking order ritual. We also kept newbies in coop with a screen separator so all could visit and get to know each other for about two weeks. Transition together was quite nice--still much pecking, but not hurtful or damaging. I like the info about the roos. If I ever get a chance to have a roo---glad to know something can be tried to prevent aggressive activity.
  21. The Chook
    That explains a lot about my rooster and why he always crows and flaps his wings making a clapping noise. My rooster is clearly the top of the pecking order now that I have read this, always finding treats, chasing off birds that fly into the pen.
  22. Roxannemc
    I have 3 roosters that have done this to me. One I got rid of the second is penned and the 3rd gets out of his pen and has jumped on me from behind .
    If he comes anywhere close I have run at him, used a cane pole to poke him hard in the chest if he flares at me but best weapon Ive found is a mop.
    Shake the wet end at him and he runs like crazy
    I carry the mop around the yard if he comes any where 1/2 way close I shake it
    He moves away now if I stomp at him even .
    Of course Im sure that leaves the neighbors saying ...she has lost it now.... a mop out in the grass? SE--nile!
  23. Roxannemc
    Can 2 roosters both be top guy?
    I have a really large part english Orp roo ...so gentle and sweet runs over if he hears anyone squawk to save them from the mean roo but haven't seen him attack this mean one.It runs
    The mean roo is always running after everyone hens other roos etc. but doesn't seem to mess with the big black guy and leaves if he runs over. so whos boss? My big black M2? The mean one is always crowing with chest out though but M2 does also.
  24. Roxannemc
    Never mind just went to see and M2 is for sure the top dog...
    Meany jumped on a girl and M2 ran over booted him aside to 1/2 get on her for a only a second didn't really mate just made meany go away from her
  25. cstronks
    Great article! Thanks for taking the time to write it.
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  26. Studio2770
    Very interesting and informative. If you have an aggresive roo, try caponizing(neuter) it. It's kind of a lost art, but I think it's worth bringing back. That way, you don't have to eat or give away a rooster. They do lose the major male characteristics. But with the male hormones gone, they become docile, and little to no crows. I highly recommend researching it!
    1. ellend
      Mine still crowed.
  27. Corona~Barb
    Very well written and informative!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  28. coopscritters
    Good information. Answers some questions that I have been asking for awhile
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
      Fluffnut and (deleted member) like this.
  32. Corona~Barb
    Great idea DebbieDrake...and funny!
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. trooper
    Thanks for this article.It has alot of good info that I had never thought of.I appreciate you sharing it with us.
  36. coopscritters
    Thanks. More than a few questions answered.
  37. Chickies2
    What does it mean when you get close to the chicken to pet it and it couches down? Submission?
  38. Corona~Barb
    Yes...she is submitting to be bred. Give her a back rub and send her on her way. ;-)
  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
    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.
  41. 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!!
  42. 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.
  43. Chickies2
    Thanks Corona-Barb
  44. TheChickenMan13
    I want a rooster soooooo bad. :(
  45. rainlips
    My hens where doing this yesterday and I thought hmmm strange but I get it now! Thanks!
  46. rainlips
    My hens where doing this yesterday and I thought hmmm strange but I get it now! Thanks!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  47. 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.
  48. kingsleycoop
    Thank you! Really helps to understand them more!
      Cathy Roberts likes this.
  49. 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.
  50. 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.

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