Ask any longtime keeper of chickens and they will tell you: when the sun starts to get low in the sky, the flock heads home to roost.
This means they head to their coop, most of the time, but every now and then you might have some chickens that decide to follow the call of the wild and roost in a conveniently nearby tree.
For keepers, this is a major bummer. Chickens roosting in trees, though they are following ancient instincts, are more susceptible to predators at night.
Worse, they’re just generally a pain to deal with since you now have to struggle in a risky attempt to get them down.
Falling out of a tree after dark is not going to help you get a good night’s sleep! And to make things worse this bad behavior can spread to other chickens like a germ, and before you know it half your flock will be taken to the treetops when it is time to bed down.
To help you deal with these wayward tree-roosting chickens quickly, easily, and safely we are bringing you 9 easy ways to get them back down to the ground and into the coop where they belong.
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Why Would Your Chickens Be Up a Tree in the First Place?
Before we give you the solutions it is helpful to examine why your chickens are roosting in trees at all. Perhaps understanding their motivations for doing so can help you stop it from happening again in the future.
There are three basic reasons why a domestic chicken would take to the trees:
1. Natural Roosting Instinct
The first, and most likely reason, is that they are simply following their ancient but natural instincts telling them to find a safe place before nightfall. Ideally, this is their coop, but the instinct remains!
Chickens are descendants of jungle fowl, a wild bird that still roosts in trees today.
In the wild, this helps them stay away from predators on the ground that might eat them, especially at night when these birds are more vulnerable. Thanks to their bad night vision, they have even worse chances of defending themselves in the dark.
Sure, there are plenty of nocturnal predators that will scarf them up right out of the tree- but there are more of them on the ground!
2. Reacting to Danger
The second reason your chickens might head up into the trees is to escape something. If they feel like they are in danger, or if there is some predator getting too close for comfort, their first reaction will be to escape; in this case by heading up, into the tree.
This is usually a sign that something is startling or actively threatening your chickens and it is worth investigating closely to see what it is.
If it turns out this frightening stimulus is actually YOU, then you need to spend more time with your birds and be a lot calmer about it.
3. Keeping Lookout
Lastly, in the case of roosters, they might just be picking out the prime spot from which to survey their kingdom before the sun goes down.
Roosters do this both to keep a better eye out for approaching threats, and also to guide the flock to safety.
Once they have decided on their perfect perch they will crow to let all their ladies know where they are, and hopefully entice them to join him up there.
This behavior is especially common in young roosters who haven’t yet learned their place in the pecking order.
I Though Chickens Couldn’t Fly Well
Some can’t fly at all, most can’t fly very well, but some fly surprisingly well. The point is they might have enough “hops” to reach a branch that is well out of your reach!
This is why it pays to pay attention to your flock and know what they are capable of. If you have large and mostly ground-bound birds, you likely don’t need to worry.
If you have light, sporty, and known flighty birds, then you had better take action ahead of time or get very acquainted with the procedures on this list!
9 Easy Ways to Get Chickens Down from Your Trees
Now that we know some of the reasons your chickens might end up roosting in a tree, let’s look at how you can get them back down again.
1. Wait It Out
This is the best method if you have the time and patience and you don’t think your chickens will be in much danger from weather or predators.
If your chickens are roosting in a tree at night because they feel unsafe, they should come right back down in the AM once they feel like the coast is clear. Once they get hungry or thirsty they will come down on their own accord, don’t worry.
Also, keep in mind that you likely will not wake up and see all of your chickens gone. Chickens will typically stay very near their home, with reliable food, sources of water, and habitation.
They typically will not just head very far in a random direction, and even if they do you can rest easy, usually, because chickens have excellent direction-finding capability. They will know how to come right back!
The problems arise when there is a legitimate cause for concern. If there are predators about, or if the weather is bad and you think your chickens might freeze or get soaked, then you will need to take more active measures.
Consider also that chickens are creatures of habit: if they find a nice comfy spot in a tree, they might just decide to keep going back there!
There is much to recommend nipping this behavior in the bud if you have the time and means.
2. Grab a Ladder
The most direct route for getting chickens down from the tree is to head up after them. Compared to climbing the tree by hand and foot, this is much safer and quicker.
You can find a tall ladder at any hardware store, or even borrow one from a neighbor if necessary for the task.
If you don’t have a ladder that is high enough, you could also use a taller object such as a picnic table or lawn chair to give you the extra boost you need to reach a low-hanging chicken. Be sure that whatever you use is sturdy and will not buckle or shift under your weight.
And take care: ladders are responsible for tons of house, homestead, and jobsite injuries every year.
You want to make sure that the ground you have it set upon is firm and level, and that the branch or other part of the tree you are bracing it against (if using an extension ladder) will not snap or give way unexpectedly.
The very last thing you want is to tumble off the ladder while trying to fetch a pesky chicken!
Also, expect complications. Even a tame, friendly, docile chicken is likely to shimmy away from the ladder and away from you.
They may even flap and squawk when you grab them, and this can be problematic when on top of a ladder.
Be quiet, firm, and gentle, and try to tuck the bird under your arm like a football to secure it once you’ve laid hold of it. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
3. Shake the Tree
The next method is one that is commonly overlooked and works only on thinner, smaller trees, but it is a good one.
If the tree is small enough that you can physically move it when you push it you can try giving the whole tree a good shake back and forth.
The technique is kind of a rocking motion; for smaller trees and saplings, shake them briskly. For bigger but still flexible ones push with all your might, release and then push again when the tree rebounds.
As the motion builds more and more this will dislodge any chickens roosting on the branches, and may even bring them all down at once in a flapping panic.
Sure, we would prefer to avoid stressing our birds, but they started it. Besides, they are more than capable of braking on the way down.
This technique is a good method to try first before resorting to other, more dangerous, or difficult ones on smaller trees.
4. Hook Pole
A convenient and easy option is to fashion a hook-on-a-pole from any lumber, PVC piping, and other materials you have set handily around.
This can be a mildly time-consuming affair, but it is a good solution for branches you cannot reach or cannot safely scale. As a bonus, you’ll have a tool to reach for next time.
The idea is to fashion the tool so the hook will let you snag and pull a bird off its branch. It must be long enough to reach, light enough to handle, strong enough to hold up, and maneuverable enough to thread between branches.
Think of an extra long version of those hooks clothing store employees use to get garments down from upper racks and you aren’t far off.
Now, this is as simple as it gets in theory, but there is some technique to it: you need to be able to snag the chicken by its leg (or sometimes its torso), and then have enough leverage to pull it free from where it is roosting, all the while without harming it.
It goes without saying the hook should be completely blunt, but you’ll need to be brisk enough to “pop” the bird off the branch so it starts falling and does not have time to hop to another branch.
Too slow and ginger and they will probably just step back to where they were or an adjacent perch.
5. Catch Pole
The catch pole is a sort of variation on the hook pole method, only this one takes advantage of a quirk of chicken reflexes to good effect.
Chickens have a natural reflex to step back when something presses firmly into the part of their leg between the ankle and toes (the ankle being what a lay person would call their knee).
If you can press this spot with a horizontal piece of wood or pipe, they will step back and right onto it, allowing you to lower the miscreant bird under control.
A catch pole has two parts: the first is the long shaft, similar to what you would use for the hook pole. The second part is a short perpendicular piece of pipe, wooden dowel, or something similar.
I like to use a scrap bit of whatever their roosts are made of in their coop. Make sure all parts are secure, and the pole is sturdy, and then get to it.
The trick is to get an angle of “attack” behind the chicken, and then move the pole up to its legs.
Press quickly and firmly at the prescribed spot and be ready for the chicken to step onto the pole.
As soon as that happens, quickly but smoothly lower the bird out of the tree. If you dilly-dally, they will hop right off again.
6. Use a Water Hose
If you have a water hose with enough pressure and the tree is close enough to your house or other building, another simple solution is to turn the water on full force and direct it at the birds in the tree.
The stream of water will agitate the chickens perched on the branches, and they should come down in an effort to escape the water.
Another variation in this method involves the use of a water gun with some volume and range if your hose won’t reach.
Now, this method has some obvious drawbacks and should not be done lightly. For one, it risks soaking and chilling your chickens, which is obviously not ideal. Not for nothing, soaked chickens don’t fly or glide so well…
Furthermore, there is a risk that the birds will head higher up the tree in their effort to escape. For very tall trees, you have just made your problem worse.
But for shorter trees or desperate times, especially if the weather is warm, this method is definitely worth a shot. Pardon the pun.
7. Make a Show of Putting Up Other Chickens
Chickens are social critters, and often key off of you and their flockmates.
Assuming your whole flock isn’t up in a tree, you might coax a recalcitrant chicken down by making a conspicuous show of carrying and then putting away another chicken or three in the coop as sundown approaches.
This has a powerful, three-pronged effect on chicken psychology: if all the other chickens are going in, then by gum so should they because they want to roost together if they can.
Furthermore, seeing other, known chickens going one way will prompt them to follow by way of flocking instinct.
Chickens also, seemingly, dislike to be left out of anything that their person is involved in, and may come down from a tree to be included.
Of course, this method only works if you actually put the chickens away in the coop and don’t just dangle them in front of your wayward charges and then let them go again.
This means timing is everything: chickens have a competing instinct to sit tight when the light starts failing, meaning that if you wait too late to try this tactic it may have no effect.
You don’t want to put up the other chickens when it isn’t time to do so, but you cannot wait until it is too late either.
8. Lure Them with Food
A time-tested technique for getting chickens to come to you is to lure them with food. It might be their favorite treat, or it might just be a bowl of their usual fare.
Chances are they don’t have too much to eat up in that tree and hunger is a heck of a motivator. You’ll need to be ready to snag them in any case. Now, the choice of “bait” might make a difference here.
Consider using the individual chicken’s known favorite treat, and one that is both visible and aromatic. The more senses you can tickle the better.
Take care if setting out a bowl of food as it may attract predators and that is the last thing you want.
If your chickens don’t come down for the food in a reasonable time, or at least in the time that you have to watch for them, you should probably give up, take up the food and try one of the other methods.
9. Clip Their Wings
Not so much a method of getting them down as it is a method of prevention. If you know one or more of your chickens are habitual tree climbers, consider clipping their wings.
This will not hurt the chicken at all when done properly, and will only reduce their ability to generate lift. This is a high priority for known flighty or lightweight birds. You probably don’t need to bother with giants.
This needs to be done with some skill and attention to detail, however, with an eye towards limiting their flight only enough to prevent them from climbing the tree.
This might entail snipping more or fewer feathers on one or both wings. Do keep in mind they will regrow their feathers and if they could fly, regain their ability!
Now, another thing to keep in mind is that this won’t stop a sufficiently determined chicken from finding other ways to get up into the tree.
A row of trees of varying heights could allow a chicken to start at one end and simply walk or hop the rest of the way up.
Chickens that cannot properly fly might still be able to jump high enough to reach low branches and go from there.
I once helped a neighbor figure out how his clipped rooster was getting up onto the roof of his two-story house every day.
Observation showed the clever bird was jumping from the trashcans to the roof of the shed, back to an exterior molding on the house, walking around that, and then jumping to the lowest part of the roof on the backside before making his ascent to the ridge. True story!
Give Yourself an Edge by Trimming Back Low Branches
One of the smartest things you can do to prevent having to employ the techniques you have learned is to just trim back all low and low-hanging branches on trees that your chickens could conceivably reach.
Do this whenever you notice any new growth, or if you have been lax and allowed the trees to get shaggy.
This is not to make your yard look like a park, but it will give your chickens fewer perches to reach. A little extra effort on lawn care days could save you a ton of grief in the future.
Get Those Birds Back on the Ground Where they Belong
Seeing your chickens perched serenely in trees may be chuckle-worthy, but it’s actually a serious safety issue for them and potentially for you.
If you have chickens, take steps to prevent them from getting into the trees in the first place, and if they do get up there use one of these nine methods to get them down safely. With a little effort and ingenuity, you can keep your flock safe and sound on the ground.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.