Everyone knows that chickens have feathers, but have you ever seen a chicken with hairy wings? It sounds a bit nuts, but apparently, there is some evidence on the internet to support it.
Some people have posted pics of chickens sporting fluffy, fine hairdos and even most remarkably hairy-looking wings. Even chicken wings from the grocery have been reported to have fine hairs on their surface. What gives?
Have been wrong this whole time about a chicken’s covering? Why do chickens have hairy wings?
No, chickens don’t have hair and don’t have hairy wings. What appears to be hair is actually frizzy or mutated feathers. Some fine filaments might also remain after a feather is plucked, looking like hair.
Well, good to know we haven’t all gone crazy, but I must admit that some chickens have wings that appear as hairy as our own heads.
Pretty interesting topic if you ask me, and one that deserves more investigation. We’ll look more into the topic in the rest of this article.
Chickens Don’t Really Have Hair
I am a bit sorry to burst some bubbles, but chickens don’t really have hair, despite appearances to the contrary that surface from time to time.
All chickens do have feathers, but depending on specifics like the breed of chicken, the type of feathers they have, hard or soft, and the presence of any mutations or defects a chicken’s feathers might appear to be a coat of fine hair or long and lustrous locks.
Additionally, a plucked feather will often leave behind a fine, hair-like filament that actually connects the feather to the tissues of the chicken.
But Chicken Feathers are Made from the Same Stuff as Hair
Even though chickens have feathers and not hair, their feathers are made from the same stuff as hair is. Confused? Don’t be.
This material is called keratin, and it is found all throughout nature. Not only is keratin in feathers and hair, but it is also in nails, skin, and scales.
What is Keratin?
Keratin is a structural protein that is found in the outermost layers of skin, and also in hair, nails, and feathers. It is also found in some animals’ horns, hooves, and beaks. The word keratin comes from the Greek word for horn.
Keratin is made of long, tough fibers that are twisted together. This protein is what gives feathers their strength and rigidity.
It is also what makes our hair and nails so strong. Keratin is usually insoluble and provides a barrier against water, UV radiation, and other environmental stresses depending on how it is arranged.
It is also resistant to degradation by enzymes. Keratin can be supple and soft, hard or quite tough. This versatility is why it appears so often in nature, and also why it is the perfect material for making feathers.
What Appears to Be Hairs on Chicken Wings are Actually Tiny Feather Filaments
So, if chickens don’t have hair, what are the fine filaments that appear on their wings and body?
These filaments are actually tiny, budding feathers, or the leftover parts of feathers that have come loose.
Depending on the breed of chicken and why they are there, these small “hairs” can be quite numerous, and easily lead someone who does not know better to believe that chickens have hair.
These filaments can be present for any one of several reasons in adult chickens, or for one obvious reason in chicks. We’ll learn more about these reasons in the following sections.
Some Chickens Might Appear Hairy Depending on the Type of Feathers they Have
Different breeds of chickens can have different kinds of feathers. These feathers are usually classed as “hard” or “soft.”
The different types of feathers are due to the amount and type of barbules that these feathers have and the presence of lack of barbicels.
Barbules are the ultrafine individual filaments that line each side of a bird’s feather and also the part of the feather that has pigment and gives the feather its color.
These are held together by barbicels, microscopic hooks that attach one barbule to another and hold them in line.
Hard feathers look like the feathers you are imagining right now: sleek, rigid, and possessing clear outlines and a classic shape.
Soft feathers on the other hand look quite different: structurally very similar, but the barbicels are not as firmly attached to one another. This gives the feathers a much more fluffy, wild, and wavy appearances, like down or hair.
Some breeds of chickens have feathers that are somewhere in-between hard and soft. These are known as “semi-flat” feathers. Chickens with these kinds of feathers can appear to be quite hairy, especially when viewed from a distance.
In addition to the type of feather, the number of feathers a chicken has can also affect how hairy they look. A chicken with a dense coat of soft feathers will naturally look “quite hairy” compared to the same type of bird with slick hard feathers.
Mutations can Cause Hairy Wings in Chickens
In some rare cases, chickens can be born with a mutation that causes the structure of their feather to twist or warp.
Though not overtly harmful, these feathers can give the chicken an appearance that is quite strange, and often makes them look like they have hair. This is usually due to an overproduction of a particular keratin precursor.
These mutations are generally not passed on to future generations, as the chickens with these feathers are often considered to be less than ideal for breeding, though in the wild or backyard flocks anything can happen.
Chickens Might Appear Hairy if They Have a Mite Infestation
Though not technically hair, mites can cause a chicken to appear very hairy indeed. Mites are tiny spider-like creatures that live off of the blood of their host.
Though not visible to the naked eye, mites can cause a chicken’s feathers to stand on end and give the bird an overall “fluffy” appearance.
In extreme cases, mites can cause a chicken to lose all of its feathers and leave behind the fine connecting strands mentioned previously.
Mites are not only unsightly but can also be quite dangerous to chickens. The incessant itchiness that mites cause can lead a chicken to pick at its own feathers until it bleeds.
This open wound can then become infected, leading to serious health problems. Mites can also transmit diseases from one chicken to another.
Filaments Might Remain After Butchering
Potentially one of the most sickening instances of hairy chickens is also, thankfully, the least worrisome and the easiest to explain.
There are scattered reports of folks purchasing skin-on chicken from the grocery only to find it covered in fine, silvery hair. Yikes!
But, as we have learned, we know that these supposed hairs are actually just those leftover filaments again, and are commonly encountered after a bird is plucked prior to butchering after being dispatched.
Though a thorough job will eliminate these fine “hairs,” they are not harmful in any way and will burn off during cooking with no ill effects.
Chicks Develop Fuzzy Down That Looks Like Hair
Of course, we cannot forget the most obviously hairy chickens there are: baby chicks! After chicks are born, they quickly grow in an incredibly soft, short, and fuzzy down that looks like hair more than anything else.
This down protects them from the cold and keeps them warm until they develop their adult feathers.
When you purchase newly-hatched chicks from a hatchery they will usually have this down still intact, as it is essential to their health and well-being. Baby chicks are absolutely adorable thanks to this fuzzy appearance, but their “hair” is only temporary.
Feathers Do Regrow Like Hair
If you see a live chicken that has a hairy spot, you don’t need to worry too much since chickens do molt and their feathers will regrow.
Just like our hair, feathers go through a growth cycle that includes a resting phase. When the feathers fall out, new ones will grow back in after a time to replace them.
Unless a chicken is suffering from a genetic defect or has permanently lost its feathers from disease or injury, you will see those filaments left on its skin give way to new and healthy feathers before long.
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.