Again, my site is aimed at the person who keeps chickens for pets and eggs--not the rancher. If your disposal method of choice for dead birds is the dumpster, no need to read any further. But chickens are quickly gaining acknowledgement and favor as pet animals, even making the leap to becoming house pets. Most dog owners would never toss their dead family dog in the dumpster, and that's the way we feel about our chickens--they are our family pets who just happen to give eggs, fertilize the yard and do darned fine bug control. :)

Sometimes the final step of euthanasia is the kindest, best and only thing we can do for our feathered friends. This is never an easy choice and being human and attached to your animals, you'll probably agonize for a long time afterward over whether you did the right thing or not. Once in a while the choice will be clear-cut and obvious, but life is usually messier than that and there will be more shades of gray. You'll waffle back and forth and agonize over your decision–you wouldn't be human if you didn't. You are to be commended for stepping up, being responsible, making a decision and doing what needs to be done in the best interest of your animal. That is the mark of a decent, true human being and good animal husbandry.

Euthanasia, Death & Grieving

Putting Your Bird Down, Or Euthanasia

Velvet Sparrow

Euthanasia Methods

I'm going to discuss here briefly and matter-of-factly the various ways to euthanize birds, but there will be no graphic explanations or photos, no debate. I'm also including several links to different pages that discuss euthanasia techniques--some are worded kindly, others are more blunt and may offend--but I'm including them here because they offer valuable information that you may need at 7PM on a Sunday night when the vet has gone home for the day and you need to take action NOW. None of these particular webpages has any graphic images.

It's generally agreed that the cervical dislocation method is the quickest and most humane method, but it does take a certain amount of nerve, skill and steady hands--and some people simply cannot bring themselves to use this very personal method, or they fear they will do it incorrectly and cause further suffering. I simply offer the information here in case you can't get your animal to a vet for euthanasia there. The only difference in putting down adults versus chicks is really the size of the animal and the degree of difficulty in restraining a large, adult bird.

Whatever method you use, do take a moment to hold your friend and soothe it by speaking softly, giving it some pets and maybe some little favorite food tidbits. Take the opportunity to say thank you and goodbye. You will be more at peace with yourself afterwards.

Cervical dislocation:



Good page on how to euthanize and descriptions of various methods, written for use on House Sparrows (a pest in many areas) but certainly useful for chickens as well:

A page describing the starter fluid method:

I'm not going to make any judgements as to right or wrong, and don't allow other people to second-guess you when you have to decide what to do–no one knows your pet better than you. Also, non-chicken people can be REALLY less than kind regarding your grief over losing one of your birds--to most people who have never interacted with them, it's 'just a chicken'. If they act bewildered or lose their temper over your strong emotions, just try to remember that to most people a chicken is a food product, seen wrapped in plastic in the grocer's cooler. They can no more identify with having one as a pet as they can having an insect as a pet. To them chickens are simple animals with no personality or affection. Chicken people know better, and there are plenty of people online who can and do sympathize with your loss. You can search online for various sites for help with pet loss, here are a couple especially good ones I've found--

Good site on pet loss and how to deal with it here:


Good article on pet loss when others find it hard to identify with you, here:


Just realize that you are not alone in your grief, and it's not at all unusual. What is sometimes VERY hard are additional guilt feelings--knowing that you could have done should have known should have realized something was should have acted sooner...anything like that. Sometimes yes, it's true and it's a hard pill to have to swallow. In those times you can take some comfort in using the experience as a life lesson so that it doesn't happen again, or sharing your experiences with others to help them avoid falling into the same trap. Other times the death was accidental or unavoidable, or you truly did everything you could. Sometimes the bird was already gone when you discovered it, and there was nothing to do.

And yes, chickens do mourn for dead flockmates.

Your flock also needs help in mourning the loss of a flockmate. Birds, and chickens especially, are flock animals and are very bonded to each other (and you--more later on why you going to Hawaii for a weeks' vacation equals you DEAD to your chickens). When one of them dies, especially if the death occurred out of their sight, they need you to help them understand that Henrietta won't be coming back. In my own experience, I've found that when one of my birds dies (or is removed from the flock for a time due to illness or injury and so is out of sight) the others become saddened, bewildered and genuinely grieve for the missing bird. They wander about, searching, crying out plaintively and acting obviously stressed. They will come up to you and plainly show that they want YOU, as Chicken God, to fix it and make things right again. If you go out and try to comfort them, they will be more clingy than usual and require more comforting. Chickens need closure just like you and I do.

I've discovered that the best way to deal with a dead flockmate is to show it to the flock so that they can understand what has happened. When one of our pets dies, we prefer to bury them in the back yard, so the first thing that happens is that the grave is dug. The small amount of ceremony also helps our young daughter understand that the living and dying process is a natural part of life. We have had some of our birds for so many years (8 to 12 years) that some of them know what this type of hole-digging means and they will either stand nearby quietly or wander nearby and cry out a bit. After we have dug our hole and gathered some garden flowers to accompany our friend, we bring out the body of the bird and lay it gently next to the grave. Then we step back and give the flock the opportunity to come up to their friend and see that it has passed on. After a moment we place the body and the flowers into the grave, say our goodbyes and fill in the hole. We have found that our flock is much less stressed, do less searching for the lost flockmate and cry out less when we have followed this procedure. Some people might think it a little 'New Age' to include a chickens' fellow feathered friends in graveside goodbyes, but the difference we have noticed has proved to us, anyway, that it really does work–it helps us AND our surviving chickens.

The only time this process did not help substantially was when we lost two birds within 48 hours of each other--first our Head Hen (Wild Child, age 10 years) and unexpectedly, less than 48 hours later, our Head Roo (Jack, age 9 years). This proved so upsetting to the flock dynamic that it literally took months for them to recover and cease looking so lost. For a long time they required more attention and petting from us, and while we do finally have a new Head Roo (Phoenix, Jack's son), filling the Head Hen position took considerably longer–three hens shared the job for months until one emerged as the new Head Hen. It just goes to show how strong a bond a flock has and how important each member is.

The Grief Process, For You And Your Flock

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