PHOTO: Ana Hotaling
Your lesson in chicken anatomy undoubtedly started years ago at the dining room table. Through meals, you learned to recognize breasts, thighs, wings and drumsticks. You might have even learned about (and eaten) the liver and gizzards—and discovered there’s no such part as a nugget. As the owner of a flock of chickens, you swiftly learned to identify each bird’s comb, wattles, ears and beak.
But there’s much more to these domestic birds’ bodies than meets the eye. Lessons in chicken showmanship and the occasional peek at a poultry book can expand your knowledge. Why wait until then, though? Here are five poultry parts to increase your understanding of fowl physiology.
Located at the end of a chicken’s digestive, urinary and reproductive tracts, the cloaca leads to the shared external opening known as the vent. This rather ingenious chamber shifts and folds depending on what bodily function needs access to the vent. When a chicken defecates, the cloaca folds back, sealing the oviduct. At egg-laying time, the cloaca covers the excretory exit to keep feces and uric acid from contaminating the egg. When chickens mate, the rooster’s cloaca comes into contact with that of the hen. This is called a “cloacal kiss.”
Hock and Shank
The hock is the leg joint located at the base of a bird’s thigh. Its placement in the middle of the “leg,” and the way it bends when chickens walk, readily draws comparisons to our own knees. However, the hock is most like an ankle, connecting the bird’s thigh to its shank, which we consider the leg but in actuality is the foot. That’s right: Our chickens stand and walk around on their toes all day long.
Translated from the Latin as “before the cavity,” the proventriculus is known as a chicken’s true stomach. (In the chicken anatomy diagram above, it’s the oblong area connecting the crop and the gizzard.) In the proventriculus, digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid are secreted and mixed in with the bird’s food to begin breaking it down. From here, the food travels to the ventriculus, or the gizzard, where it will be ground for digestion.
We end this chicken anatomy lesson with a bit of fluff, literally and figuratively. Those soft, fleecy feathers on your bird’s bottom? That’s her fluff. Not all scientific terms have to be complicated!