Roosting Outside

At night, when we close up the barns, we count the hens to make sure that everyone has come inside. Last night, Steve went into the Big Barn and counted… three. Out of eleven hens.

three on roost


It was fully dark out. This was very, very strange. Where were the girls? They were pressed together on the outside roost.

outside roost


My hens are not allowed to sleep outside. Raccoons rip off hawk netting. Fisher cats shred chicken wire. Weasels slip through two-inch gaps to come hunting chickens. No, outside roosts are never, ever a safe place to be at night. Chickens know this. Hens put themselves to bed. As soon as dusk begins to fall, they trot into the coop, chortle and coo, and nestle in next to their best friends on the ladders leaning against the wall.

Chickens have exceptionally good vision in the daytime, but can’t see a thing at night. They know that they are literally “sitting ducks” if caught out in the dark. And so, they go to bed early. They are never out after nightfall. So, what were my girls doing huddled on that roost? A light drizzle was falling. It wasn’t because they wanted to enjoy the summer weather.

Chickens avoid roosting inside only if there is something wrong with the coop, or if there is something threatening in there.

When it is very hot, hens avoid stifling temperatures, and so they’ll find a cooler place to roost. If that is the case, improve your coop’s ventilation and possibly add a fan. That wasn’t the issue last night.

Sometimes, without you realizing it, the coop becomes infested with mites. These usually come out of the woodwork at night and attack the flock. That wasn’t the case here, either.

Predators can scare chickens away from their roosts. Snakes take up residence. An opossum decides to nap in a nesting box. A bobcat has been pacing by the door. Again, that wasn’t why my hens were outside.

Sometimes, the design of the coop keeps the hens from going inside. One popular blueprint, available on-line, of a coop on stilts, has the ramp going into the coop from the center of the floor. Sited in the shade, the area below the coop becomes too dark for the hens to see their way inside, and so they can become stuck out in their pen all night. I’ve advised a couple of people who have had this exact issue, to cut a door on the side of the coop, and the problem was immediately solved. My girls can easily see their way inside. What was going on?

The answer was obvious. That morning I had put a new feeder inside the of the coop. Grandpa’s Feeders had asked me to try one of their models. The hens step on a lever to open it up. This prevents sparrows from getting to the feed. I have a sparrow problem, and this sounded like a good idea. My hens didn’t agree.



I put the feeder out-of-the-way (or so I thought!) in the corner of the coop. For the first week it is kept in the open position so that the hens learn to step up to eat. Obviously, my girls had no intention of stepping anywhere near it. In fact, that piece of metal was so terrifying that once they were outside, they daren’t come back in. Not even at night to go to bed.

One by one, I carried the girls inside.

carrying hen


This morning, after the sun rose, the hens had more time to eye the contraption.

scary feeder


They didn’t like what they saw and stayed safely at a distance, talking heatedly about the intruder.

under roost


I, on the other hand, think that the feeder is well-made and would be delighted if I could stop providing sparrows with laying hen pellets. I left the feeder in the corner and opened up the big door so that the girls could hurry out past it.

At some point the Gems will figure out that there is food in there. Maybe. You can guess, but you never really know what chickens are thinking.


  1. . . . . . .and here’s the opposite situation.
    i have been raising a baby wild bird – no idea who he is, but he’s growing now a little top-knot on his head. makes hem s-o cute.
    he’s living in a chicken-cage for baby chicks that my feed supplier lent me. on the back porch. very safe for him and nice because he can be outside like he should be. i have a couple of small tree branches in there, he can hop and fly a little bit, and will soon be ready to leave.
    and who’s scared now? who won’t walk past this scary intruder?
    my cat!

  2. MOM! We HATE that thing! WE are NOT going inside the house until it is gone!!!!!!! HILARIOUS! Thanks for the laugh today!!!!!!!!

  3. Such a great pictures of all the girls (well, most of them…) outside on the roost. Beautiful ladies!

  4. It is hysterical when hens get their feather’s in a flutter. Seems like a very nice, fancy feeder. When the girls take to it, I’m sure your sparrow problem will be solved. Good Luck. Looks like the three brave ladies in the coop were not turning their backs on that contraption for a minute when they settled down to roost.

    • PS- Doesn’t surprise me Misty is one of the brave three. She looks as gorgeous as ever.

  5. Scatter a little scratch corn around it and a few kernels in it … they’ll find the feed soon enough!

  6. I wish you all the best in getting them over their fear. I tried one of these and my alpha decided that the movement was scary and would NOT eat from it no matter what. I let her struggle with it for several days before I realized she wasn’t getting any food and it forced her into an awful and ugly molt. Sadly, I had to return the unit. I was disappointed. I really wanted it to work.

    But once they decide it’s scary, it’s tough to convince them otherwise.

  7. I started to use Grandpa’s Feeder in May and my girls were wary of it as well. In less than a week they knew how to feed from it. Now we all love it. It saves a great deal of feed and the number of wild birds has diminished.

  8. A perfect example of why that late night check is so important! One just never knows.

  9. Great read. Great info.

    Several years ago I went out, just like you, a few hens in the coop. The pop door somehow came off the hook and blew shut.
    My hens were roosting all over the place. I had no netting over the top at the time so they were on top of the fence, gate and even on the roof of the coop.
    Well when I started pulling them off their spots most started screaming bloody murder, so much so the neighbor came a investigating with his flashlight.
    When he “spotted” me with the flashlight all I could say was “Don’t shot”. ;-)

  10. Something new could be something that eats you! A good response for them, but hilarious at times from a human perspective!

  11. This is one reason why our new chicken barn will not be getting automatic chicken doors. My main coop currently has an automatic door but I always have to go out and check anyway just in case something like this happens. I might as well save the money!

  12. While looking for help with a sick chicken I ran across your site and videos! They’re fantastic; as are the instructions. The photos and captions are great. It looked like you have a couple of Speckled Sussex, which are my favorite!

    I know my hen is at least 2 years old. She stopped using her legs about 8 days ago. No respiratory issues but doesn’t see well so eating and drinking is an issue. I have her in a rabbit cage in my laundry room and feed her by hand about 4 times a day. I’ve used antibiotics the first week and now use a poultry water soluble vitamin in her water and food. But I am so excited to try the Spa Treatment!! Thank you for the suggestions!

    • I’m sorry to hear that your hen is so ill. Often respiratory disease doesn’t show any signs of congestion like in humans – but eyes swell and close. Do email me directly if you want further help (there’s the contact Terry bar on the far right of the page.)

  13. LOL!! That is SO like my girls. Mine go inside but I have one that if I didn’t go tell her to “go to bed” she’d wait for me outside all night. After loosing all but four of our flock to a momma fox and her kits, we learned..the hard lock every one up tight at night. When my hubby added on to our coop, he added a window on the west side. Now there are two big windows one on the east and one on the west. We added strong small welded wire over the windows (no more trusting screening!!). In the summer, we hang a large box fan outside of the east window and it runs constantly day and night. The feeder and water fountain are inside and when it’s very hot, we add frozen water bottles to the fountain a couple times a day so that the girls always have cool water to drink.
    I loved your story. Chooks really don’t much care for anything “new” in their home do they.

  14. It’s aways something. Might the shiny finish be putting them off??

  15. I put a treadle/automatic feeder in my coop about a month ago. Two of my hens got used to it quickly, but my third hen took a while longer. She no longer is afraid to step on the treadle to open the door and eat, but she still is frightened by the door clanging shut when she steps off the treadle. She squawks, flaps her wings, & runs. Poor thing!

  16. funny i looked in .last night saw nary a hen, one lone white chicken on the ladder. how funny

  17. My seven girls use a Grandpa’s feeder; I followed the directions that came with it and they did great. I keep it in the covered part of their run. Until they really learned to use it, they had access only to this feeder. After a few weeks, I hung another feeder inside their coop as well, but they rarely use it. Between the Grandpa’s feeder and nipple waterers, their food and water stays clean and is not spilled, etc.

  18. WOW! Even Pearl hoisted herself up on to that outdoor roost!

  19. So funny. I just bought a new plastic waterer with a purple base. I of course love purple. I don’t think the girls like it. I have been using metal waterers. I wish they made a bpa free plastic chicken waters. My metal one has rust that I can’t seem to get rid of. It is only 4 years old. Well I left the Metal one in the run along with the new plastic one. They walk far away from this purple it’s been 4 days and I still haven’t seen them use it!

  20. Well, I’ve pondered all the possible reasons you list for hens to start roosting outside, and still can’t figure out why my two girls started roosting on the jungle gym in their run.. It started in late Feburary (wasn’t too hot in there!), I keep the coop scrupulously dry & clean, no mites, no furniture changes, they’d slept happily in it for a year, as had many chickens before them without incident, and the new pullets who I introduced just a few weeks ago think it’s just fine and put themselves to bed inside no muss no fuss. But Cow and Fozzie insist on roosting either up in the rafters of the run, or on their little 3 foot high jungle gym. The run is well sealed up with hardware cloth dug 6 inches deep, so I’m not too concerned about predators, but I know you can never be sure. But I’ve let it go for now. I was going to put an end to it this spring, but then I decided it wasn’t the worst thing in the world for the little girls to get comfortable in the coop without the big girls in the way.

  21. Off the hens taking a look see at your goats one looks like his eye is swollen!!!

  22. Honestly, from one of your pictures with a view from above (like the perching chickens) it looks like the Jaws of Death. I would be afraid too.