If you have a flock of chickens, it can be tricky to check every individual daily. Fortunately, nature has provided an unmissable first-warning health system in the form of a prominent fleshy comb on their heads that sends out plenty of clues if you know what you look for.
The good health of your delightful flock of backyard chickens will be reflected in their combs’ healthy, bright color and firm texture. However, occasionally the vibrant-colored combs may appear paler than usual. When that happens, chicken owners need to move into top gear to understand when a change in comb color is normal and when it is not.
Why Is My Chickens Comb Pale?
Comb colors in perfectly healthy chickens range from pale pink to pitch black. If you are comparing the color of your chicken’s comb to your neighbor’s birds, they may simply be entirely different breeds. A pale comb may not always be a sign that something is wrong.
Before we cover the reasons why your chicken’s comb may suddenly not look as bright as it did, we need to understand the function of this peculiar-looking structure.
Why Do Chickens Have Combs?
Doves and bluebirds don’t have combs, so why do chickens have such prominent fleshy growths on the top of their heads? It turns out that combs are a feature specific to a family of birds in the Gallinaceous family. That is a big word, but it includes other game birds like turkeys and quail, who also sport combs.
Besides only making chickens look super awesome, another important function of combs is to keep the bird cool. Chickens can’t sweat like humans, so when blood goes up through the exposed comb section, it helps to cool it down. It is kind of like when you stick your foot out from under too many blankets at night if you start feeling too hot.
Chickens also use their combs to impress other chickens and outbid them in the struggle to reproduce. Male chickens, in particular, often have large impressive chickens’ combs. A healthy-looking comb is a signal to other birds that it is in peak health and ready to mate. In hens, a bright, healthy-looking comb indicates that it is mature and lays eggs.
Chicken combs are made of soft collagen covered in an intricate system of blood vessels. As a chicken ages, its comb may get too heavy and flop over, but that is simply a cosmetic issue and does not have any detrimental health effects.
Chicken combs vary not only in color but also in shape. There are seven different comb-shape variations that include names like Buttercup, Strawberry, and Rose combs. Understanding what your chicken’s comb is supposed to look like will give you important clues about its age and overall health.
Ten Reasons Why Your Chicken’s Comb Is Pale
While monitoring a chicken if its comb is noticeably paler than usual is vital, it is not necessarily always a sign of illness. It is important that you know what color your chicken’s comb usually is to be able to spot and remedy potential problems quickly.
Let’s check out nine reasons why your chicken’s comb may be paler than usual.
1. The Chicken Is Young
A bright red, healthy-looking normal comb is a signal to other chickens, especially potential mates and is an indication of sexual maturity. If you notice that some of the birds in your flock have slightly smaller, pink combs compared to the older members, it may just be that you have some juveniles that still have a bit of growing to do and the color of their combs will turn to a red color with age.
The development of the comb is influenced greatly by hormone levels in a chicken’s body. When your hens have a bright, rosy comb, they are typically in good health and producing eggs.
2. Pale Combs Can Be Caused By External Parasites
External parasites can quite literally suck the life out of your chickens if they are not controlled. Chicken combs are packed with blood vessels, so a bird with parasites can quickly become anemic. Microscopic mites, sticktight fleas, fowl ticks, or even bedbugs could be feasting on your chicken’s blood, causing its comb to be paler than usual.
While several external parasites can affect chickens, one particularly pesky variety is chicken mites. These tiny bugs are challenging to identify and treat because they don’t actually live on the chickens full-time. They lie in wait in dark crevices inside roosts and only appear and night to feed on the birds. While the birds are roosting, the tiny bloodsuckers are at work only to vanish into the woodwork again in the morning light.
3. Internal Parasites Can Cause Pale Combs
Like all pets, chickens should be dewormed regularly to wipe out any internal worms that may present. Poultry is susceptible to both worms and protozoa, which can adversely affect the overall health of birds and may result in pale-looking combs.
The list of health issues that the presence of internal parasites can cause is lengthy. A pale comb may reflect as one symptom along with an overall problematic growth to feed conversion or general unwellness. Internal parasites can be quite tricky to diagnose, but clues to confirm their presence can often be found in the bird’s droppings.
4. High Temperatures
Poultry is highly susceptible to heat exhaustion and can quickly overheat and die on hot days. One of the primary functions of a hen’s comb is to regulate its internal temperature and transfer it’s body heat to the surrounding air. Chickens with larger combs are able to transfer heat more effectively than those with smaller combs. If the weather is hot and you notice that your chicken’s combs are paler than usual, you must act quickly.
When a chicken is a bit hot, it may pant slightly or hold its wings away from its body. If it starts losing color in its comb or wattles it means the blood flow is reducing and there is poor circulation – causing body temperatures to continue to rise.
It needs to be moved into a shaded area and provided with an ample supply of cool water. Ensure adequate ventilation and add a fan inside the coop if possible to keep air circulating. Offering chilled snacks like watermelon and cucumber can also help and help keep the birds well hydrated.
5. A Chicken With An Anemic Comb May Be Sick Or Injured
There are plenty of poultry diseases that can wreak havoc on the health of your chickens. A very pale comb is sometimes a sign of illness, if you suspect that your chicken is sick, you should carefully separate her from the rest of the flock. This ensures that the illness doesn’t spread and infect the entire flock. Black spots could indicate fowl pox which you need to be very vigilant about and call your vet straight away.
You should always seek professional advice when you have a sick hen and take the recommended course of action so that the chicken has the best chance of survival.
This is the most worrying cause of a pale comb or pale wattles, we’ve had a couple of very sick chickens over the last few years and they both displayed this characteristic. Fortunately, one of them survived and lived a long and happy life.
Anemia in chickens means that the bird is not able to replace red blood cells as fast as it is losing them.
Causes of an anemic chicken are varied and may result from a chronic infection or even some sort of poisoning. Chicken anemia virus (CAV) is an infection that can occur in younger birds.
A sick chicken or a chicken that is injured and has lost blood will also have a visibly paler comb. Chickens sometimes peck each other, resulting in open sores on their combs. Unfortunately, once a sore spot on a flat target surface like the comb has been created, the pecking behavior from the others may be exacerbated.
It is essential for chicken owners to isolate and treat injured birds immediately to prevent further suffering or fatalities.
A white comb indicates that blood has stopped flowing to the hens comb. This could be the result of an injury that has caused blood loss or anemia caused by disease. It is an extremely dire symptom and may indicate that death is imminent.
6. The Chicken May Be Molting
If you notice that your hen’s comb seems a little paler during autumn, it may not be your imagination. All chickens molt annually, and as the days get shorter, old feathers fall out and get replaced with a nice new layer of warmth for the winter months ahead.
But all the feather-losing and regrowing can take its toll on the overall condition of your chickens. Egg production tends to fall as the birds don’t have enough energy to produce new feathers and a continuous supply of eggs simultaneously.
Molting is an entirely natural annual process that may make your chicken’s combs appear slightly paler than usual. Fortunately, the cycle is temporary, and once they have a new layer of fresh feathers in place, their combs will be restored to full brightness.
Chicken feed supplements and tonics are available to boost chickens through the annual molting process if their combs become very pale.
7. Combs Get Pale During Laying
This is a temporary reason, but your hen’s comb may not look as bright as usual while it is laying. Blood is drawn towards the bird’s vent during the final stage of the egg-laying process, which results in the comb looking paler than usual as the blood flow is redirected.
Fortunately, this is an extremely temporary situation. The moment the egg has popped out, normal blood circulation is restored, and the bird’s comb should return to a healthy color.
8. Chicken Is Broody
Most chicken owners know the challenge of a broody hen that refuses to give up, even after it is clear that the hatch will not be successful. When hens are broody, they naturally lose a lot of weight, but they can become lethargic and sickly if this condition carries on too long.
By now, we know that pale floppy combs are an indicator of a chicken’s health, so if your hen is broody and her comb has become pale and unhealthy, it’s time to get her out and about again. If you aren’t sure if the eggs are viable, place food and water close to the hen so she has easy access, and it may encourage her to grab a few beakfuls.
If the incubation period of 21 days has passed and you’ve added a few extra just in case you counted incorrectly, it is essential to get the hen out of the broody phase. Physically remove her and keep her in a separate cage – preferably one with a wire floor, so there is plenty of cool updrafts to help break the broodiness.
9. Pale Combs Can Be An Indicator Of Stress
Backyard chickens are delightful pets, but these entertaining birds are very sensitive to conditions around them. A stressed chicken will often have a pale comb, and several common causes can lead to poultry being on edge and anxious.
- Lack of space – Chickens do not thrive in cramped conditions, and it makes them more susceptible to disease. They quickly become stressed if too many birds are kept in a confined space. When getting young chicks for the first time, consider their adult size when planning the coop.
- Being low in the pecking order – In the chicken social structure, some individuals are more dominant than others. This is called the pecking order, and birds that are higher up may relentlessly bully and harass lower-ranking birds.
- External stressors – Chickens can become stressed out by potential predators lurking about. This includes threats like hawks, snakes, and foxes but can also nocturnal pests like rats.
- Inconsistent supply of food – Any animal will become stressed if it undergoes a rapid change of diet or does not receive enough food to sustain itself. Nutritional deficiencies are also a huge contributing factor to chickens’ poor health and behavioral issues, particularly in laying hens.
- Temperature – Extreme heat or cold. Chickens are incredibly temperature sensitive and particularly prone to heat stress.
A dehydrated chicken is likely to have a pale comb which may also be floppier than usual. Recovering from dehydration, especially in laying hens, can take several weeks. It is a preventable condition that should be avoided at all costs by providing plenty of drinking points that even the lowest ranking birds in the flock can enjoy in peace.
Most poultry owners immediately associate chicken dehydration with hot weather and insufficient water points, and they’d be correct. However, this problem can also occur in the dead of winter when birds are kept inside their coops and water bowls freeze over for extended periods.
Chickens combs are a nifty external health indicator that poultry owners can use to monitor the health of their birds. Although a pale comb or droopy comb may be a perfectly normal part of a chicken’s natural cycle, it can also indicate a problem, so owners must remain vigilant and nip potential health issues in the bud as soon as they present.
Why Is My Chickens Comb Black?
Fowl cholera is still one of the most frequent causes of a black comb in chickens. It’s a bacterial sickness caused by E. coli, the same bacteria that causes human diarrhea. Chickens afflicted with this illness will have diarrhoea, and if it is severe enough, they may stop eating. The bacteria will eat away at the skin on the chicken’s head, turning their combs black and squishy. In extreme cases the germs can also infect the lungs and cause pneumonia.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.