What does head shaking signify?


Premium Feather Member
14 Years
Dec 11, 2009
Colorado Rockies
I know this subject has been brought up a zillion times, but I've never seen a satisfactory answer as to why a chicken shakes their head.

I know there are many reasons and they're mostly transient in nature - a shake of the head to get rid of something such as an insect or moisture. But my SS pullet does it all the time, and it's quite extreme at times, accompanied by scratching the side of her head with her foot.

I've examined her head very closely on several occasions, but she appears completely normal and healthy. Clear eyes, nostrils, nothing seems to be wrong with her ears, no parasites. However, when she was just two weeks old, she was scalped by the rooster. The skin on the entire back of her head was surgically removed. I carefully tended to her wound for many weeks until she re-grew her skin and even feathers.

Could she be suffering residual brain injury? Can chickens get ear infections?
I'm not entirely sure, but I can only imagine that she would think that her head still feels a little weird, perhaps as a result of the wound healing? My chickens will shake their head and scratch when there is something on there like, like you said, an insect.

Anyway, I'll give this thread a bump and see if someone with more experience will answer :)
They can get ear infections, mites on the head area, just itchy areas, etc. There are several reasons for head shaking. Roosters often have the Stevie Wonder imitation going on--I figure it's the only way they can scratch their big wattles, LOL.
I just had a serama acting odd and shaking and scratching and sometimes even stretching her neck oddly. I picked her up to check her and noticed she had something stuck in her ear! As soon as I got it out she was fine. This weekend I happened to check the rooster and pulled something out of his ear as well. Never realized I needed to check ears!
Another possibility- check the mouth and throat. Sometimes there are parasites or other problems in that area. I posted on the emergencies forum about my hen, that was one of her symptoms. She would shake her head hard, I'd say it was violent - so her feet would come off the ground like a dog does when he gets wet. I finally thought to look down her throat and she had a yellow growth in there. She would also scratch at her head like you said.
Gee! Thanks a bunch for the great info. I shall inspect chicken ears first thing in the morning! I'll also look down her throat!

If I find anything, I'll report back!
Hint on ears: Look for fur, it doesn't really look like feathers looks like fuzz. You just rub it back with tip of finger to expose the ear canal. Oh and one other hint, be sure to take a small pocket type flashlight, especially helps when looking in mouth/throat.
Well, I hog-tied the patient and looked in her deep, cavernous ears and then shined a search light down her throat, and all were pink, healthy-looking and normal in every respect.

I dumped some sample ear canal oil for itchy ears down her left ear, the one she always is scratching with her foot. So now I'm watching to see if that improves the head shaking. Maybe all it is is a case of itchy ear.

Thanks again for all the help. Chicken ears are awesome! And such cute, little pink, pointy tongues!

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