Why Do Chickens Dig Holes? (3 Main Reasons & Their Behaviours)

Chickens provide endless entertainment, and every single day you feel like you are learning more about your feathered companions.

One interesting observation that a lot of new chicken owners find absolutely curious is when their chickens are seen digging holes in the dirt or ground. 

You’ll find this is completely normal, and although you may not like your chickens digging up your garden bed, they have their reasons!

Here’s why your chickens dig holes, why they sit in them, and how to prevent them from digging in certain locations!

Why Do Chickens Dig Holes?

Chickens are very instinctual and don’t need to observe their mother hens’ behavior to know that they should dig holes. In fact, there are actually three main reasons chickens dig holes each carrying a distinct purpose.

The three main reasons chickens dig holes are:

  1. In order to find insects and grubs amongst the soil.
  2. To make themselves a dust bath for cleaning themselves.
  3. To dig into the dirt and sit in it to help regulate their temperature.

Each of these purposes come with their own unique observable behaviors, so you can tell exactly why your chicken is digging the hole simply by watching what they do next!

Here’s why chickens dig holes plus what the behavior is that demonstrates why they’ve done it in the first place.

Why Do Chickens Dig Holes And Search Around?

One of the frequent reasons you’ll see your chickens digging holes is that they are simply searching for protein-packed insects, grubs, or other matter they can eat.

The clear reason that demonstrates this is why they are digging, is you’ll see them kick a few times then quickly look down to see what they’ve uncovered. They’ll actually do this kicking and searching behavior in many different environments, from soil, ground, bark, sand, and even grass. 

This is completely normal and forms part of your chicken’s foraging habits. Chickens are known to eat any kind of grub, insect, or even purposefully eat some dirt. The end result: a trail of holes in your backyard left by your chickens.

Why Do Chickens Dig Holes And Kick Soil On Themselves?

One reason your chickens like to dig holes in your soil, sand, or bark is to make themselves a nice dust bath. You see, chickens don’t bathe in water like other birds. They rely on a dust bath in order to maintain their hygiene.

You can easily spot this behavior, as they will first dig into the ground a bit, followed by some kicking and flapping in the dirt or sand to cover themselves with the dust and debris. Chickens will even dust bath from as young as a few days old. It’s just their instinct!

This dust bath helps to remove dead skin cells, old feathers, grass, food, and coop bedding that might be trapped in the chickens’ feathers. 

Why Do Chickens Dig Holes And Sit In Them?

The other two reasons chickens dig holes, foraging or dust bathing, are somewhat obvious as to why they are doing it compared to this third main reason. I mean you can simply watch their behavior and make the judgment yourself.

But, if you’ve seen your chickens dig holes and sit in them, without foraging or without dust-bathing, then you might be somewhat confused as to what they are actually doing!

However, chickens will dig holes and sit in them in order to help regulate their body temperatures, whether it’s to help keep them cool or warm them up. 

You see, chickens aren’t excellent at regulating their temperature, although they are technically warm-blooded. They don’t sweat to cool them down, and they don’t have any ways to quickly heat themselves up either. So, your chickens will use everything in their environment to help keep a steady and maintainable temperature.

One of these ways is to dig into the dirt and press their bodies to the ground. This allows them to either absorb heat from the ground to stay warm or cool themselves down in the colder, under layers of soil. 

So, if your chickens are too hot, or if your chickens are too cold, you may see them sit in holes to help adjust their temperature.

Other Reasons Your Chicken Is Digging Holes

Although less common, there are a number of other circumstances where your chickens will feel the need to dig holes. These don’t come with extra specific behaviors, but if you observe closely as to what the chicken is doing before and after digging you can come up with a pretty good explanation!

Here are the other, less common reasons your chickens are digging holes:

  • Chickens can dig holes in the ground if they have nothing better to do. This activity can keep them occupied for a few hours or even days. 
  • If you don’t have enough nesting boxes per chicken, your chickens may dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs.
  • If your chickens are scared, they might dry to dig a hole under a shrub, tree, or fence in order to hide.

How to Stop Chickens From Digging Holes Your Garden

It’s perfectly normal for your chickens to dig holes. It’s part of their natural instinct so you shouldn’t try to prevent them from doing it. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t encourage them to dig holes in certain places of your backyard and discourage them from doing it in your nice garden bed! It makes things more difficult as chickens do eat geraniums or wildflowers too!

If you want to discourage your chickens from digging in particular spots of your garden, you can try:

  1. Give your chickens a designated dust bath, or allow your chickens an area to dust bath in your yard and fill it with soil or sand.
  2. Chickens prefer to dig where the ground is loose, so filling your bare earth patches in your garden beds with stone.
  3. Place a permanent or temporary fence around your garden bed to discourage your chickens from entering it in the first place.
  4. Make sure that your chickens are properly and adequately fed all the time. A regular supply of food and water will be enough, just so your chickens won’t feel the need to dig to find extra food.  

Last Thoughts

The main reasons chicken dig holes all serve a biological purpose, being to find insects or food, to dust bath, or to help regulate their temperature when they sit in them!

You can tell why your chicken is digging its hole by closely watching what they do afterward as each purpose comes with its own distinct observable behavior. 

Although you shouldn’t try to stop your chickens from digging holes, you can try to encourage them to do it in certain places – keeping your garden or flower bed separate!

At the end of the day, chickens digging holes is a small price to pay for the genuine enjoyment of these amazing creatures.

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