Are Chickens Carnivores? The Surprising Diet of Common Barnyard Birds

Crowded Chicken Farm (image by davit85, Adobe Stock)

Article Summary

  • Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter.
  • Their natural diet includes seeds, insects, plants, and occasionally small reptiles or rodents.
  • Chickens are predators who hunt and eat small prey; however, their primary diet should be balanced with commercial feed to avoid nutritional imbalances.

Have you ever wondered if chickens are carnivores? As common barnyard birds, chickens are a familiar sight on many farms and homesteads. But what do these feathery creatures actually eat?

Chickens aren’t carnivores or predators. They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Chickens have a varied diet that allows them to thrive in diverse environments.

What Does a Chicken Eat? An Omnivorous Appetite

Chickens are opportunistic eaters and aren’t picky about their food sources. Their natural diet consists of seeds, insects, plants, and the occasional small reptile or rodent.

On most farms, chickens are fed poultry feed that contains a mixture of grains, corn, soybeans, and nutritional supplements. They enjoy foraging and will happily scratch and peck the ground looking for seeds, bugs, and greens to supplement their feed.

Backyard chickens will also appreciate kitchen scraps like fresh fruits, veggies, rice, pasta, and baked goods as treats. High-protein foods like mealworms, crickets, yogurt, cheese, and eggs are also excellent to mix into their diet.

Will Chickens Eat Almost Anything? Exploring Their Flexible Diet

Chickens aren’t quite goats in their ability to eat almost anything, but they aren’t picky eaters, either. They have expansive tastes and flexible digestive systems that allow them to utilize a wide variety of different food sources.

Chickens have expansive tastes and flexible digestive systems…

Chickens will sample just about any organic material but prefer options that are high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. They particularly like juicy bugs, leafy greens, seeds, and fruits.

Some human foods are unsafe for chickens, including anything extremely salty or sugary. Toxic plants like nightshade or rhubarb should also be avoided.

Do Chickens Stop Eating When Full? How to Prevent Overeating

In the wild, chickens have to compete for limited food resources. This means they evolved to eat as much as possible whenever food is available.

Domestic chickens don’t have the same constraints and can overindulge. Chickens won’t stop eating on their own accord once they are full. Overeating can lead to obesity and other health issues.

Kitchen Food Scraps to The Bin
Kitchen Food Scraps to The Bin

To prevent overeating, pay attention to recommended portions for feed and treats. Don’t free-feed dry food at all times. Spreading kitchen scratches and treats around the pen makes chickens work for their food. This keeps them active and engaged.

Do Chickens Eat Mice? Hunting Rodents and Other Small Prey

Chickens are predators as well as prey. While mice and other rodents will steal chicken feed, the birds are also quite keen to hunt and eat mice themselves.

The protein-rich meat of a mouse or small lizard is a tasty supplement to their diet. Chickens have even been known to gang up on snakes and devour them.


The chickens sharp beaks and claws make excellent hunting weapons. They are quick to catch and kill small fleeing prey.

So while chickens won’t pass up an opportunity for live protein, they should get most of their nutrients from quality commercial feed. A diet too high in animal products can cause nutritional imbalances.

Chickens Are Opportunistic Omnivores

To answer the original question – no, chickens are not true carnivores. As omnivores, chickens will eat almost anything organic. They have a flexible diet that ranges from seeds and plants to occasional meat from small rodents or reptiles.

Dwarf Cochin Hen and Chicks on Grass (image by Pixel-mixer, Pixabay)
Dwarf Cochin Hen and Chicks

Understanding the dietary habits of chickens helps provide better care. A varied diet with ample fresh treats keeps backyard chickens active and healthy. Just be careful not to overfeed them! With their big appetites, moderation is key.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chickens eat meat?

Yes, chickens can eat meat. Chickens are omnivores, meaning they have a varied diet that includes both plant and animal matter. While their primary diet consists of seeds, insects, and plants, they can also consume small animals such as rodents, lizards, and even snakes. Meat serves as a protein-rich supplement to their diet.

Is a chicken a carnivore or omnivore?

Chickens are omnivores. Unlike true carnivores, which primarily consume meat, chickens have a flexible diet that ranges from seeds, plants, and insects to occasional small animals. This omnivorous nature allows chickens to thrive in diverse environments, utilizing various food sources for nutrition.

Do chickens eat any animals?

Yes, chickens do eat animals. While their main diet includes seeds, plants, and insects, chickens are opportunistic eaters that will consume small animals like rodents and lizards. Their sharp beaks and claws make them adept hunters, and they have been observed catching and eating mice, as well as ganging up on snakes.