You Might Have Mites on Your Backyard Chickens

June 23, 2011

The last few times when I have cleaned out the girls’ coop each week, I have discovered a couple of mites in the litter.  I instantly got the heebee jeebees and thought that they were crawling all over me.  Then I thought of the poor girls.  How did they feel?  In the little research that I had done, I knew that most mites on chickens like to feed off the chickens at night when the girls are fast asleep.  A bad infestation can kill chickens due to anemia.  So, I decided to do some research and share with you what I learned.  

mites on chickens
Photo Credit You have to look very closely to discover these tiny mites on your chickens.

Types of Mites on Chickens

Mite populations seem to swell during warmer summer months. There are two types that are the most prevalent in North America. Those are the Northern Fowl Mite (Ornzthonyssus sylviarum) and the Chicken Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae).  Most often, the Northern Fowl Mite is commonly mistaken for the red mite.  Know that for a few hours after feeding, it will appear red in color.  Otherwise, the Northern Fowl Mite is opaque.  This mite can be found on your chickens anytime of the day, where as the Chicken Mite is nocturnal.

The life cycle of the Northern Fowl Mite is 7 days.  Once eggs are laid, they hatch within 24 hours and the mites are fully grown at 4 days of age.  This is a very rapid cycle that can lead to an infestation within a matter of weeks.  A bad infestation can lead to pale combs and even feathers can be soiled with mite excrement especially around their vents. Of note, the Tropical Fowl Mite ( Ornzthonyssus bursa) is very similar to the Northern Fowl Mite. They are active during the day and night.

How Can I Tell if My Chickens Have Mites?

Chicken Mites are known as red, gray, and roost mites.  They can live in the human home.  They can also lead to anemia, causing pale wattle and combs.  Sometimes chickens refuse to lay in nesting boxes infested with mites.  Mites can easily kill young chickens and broody hens.  As they are nocturnal, you will not find them on your chickens during the day.  Instead, during daylight hours, they hide in the nooks and crannies of your coop.  Once laid, they grow to adulthood by day 10.  They can live in a vacant chicken coop for up to 5 months.  They can survive that long without a host.

So what can you do?  First, it is important to assess your flock once a week in the summertime.  Hot weather helps mites on chickens proliferate.  I found this handy mite reference below.  Now go ahead and do this test for every chicken. While holding your bird, blow on the feathers to reveal the skin and count how many mites you see.  This will give you an idea of your infestation level. Here is a detailed post on how to check for mites and what they look like.

Photo Credit: See how tiny these Northern Fowl Mites are when on a chicken egg.

Mite Counts and What they Mean

5 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 100 to 300 mites
6 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 300 to 1,000 mites (considered light infestation)
7 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 1,000 to 3,000 mites – tiny clumps of mites seen on the skin and feathers (considered moderate infestation)
8 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 3,000 to 10,000 mites – very visible population seen on skin and feathers (considered moderate to heavy infestation)
9 mites counted = possible infestation per chicken 10,000 to 32,000 or greater quantity of mites – many large clumps present on skin and feathers accompanied with scabbing (considered heavy infestation)

Treating Mites on Chickens

Prevention is always key.

1.  Keep a clean coop. Do a deep cleaning of your entire coop.

2.  Utilize products such as food grade diatomaceous earth and nesting box blend in the coop and nesting boxes. Plant fresh pest repelling herbs around the coop and run or dry them for your boxes. Learn all about chicken safe and beneficial herbs here and how to dry them.

3.  Treat any affected birds.

4.  Promote your flock to take dust baths.

5.  Dust your roosting poles with food grade diatomaceous earth.

Some people use the food grade diatomaceous earth or wood ashes to treat mite infestations.  Poultry Protector is also another easy natural technique to treat the mites.

Products Treat Your Flock and Coop

Dust your flock, coop, and nesting boxes with food grade diatomaceous earth. This will require a few treatments over the course of weeks to completely eradicate the mites. Be sure to cover your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the dust products and also avoid the head of your chickens. You can purchase it here.

Permethrin Click here for use.( there is an egg/meat with drawl period with its use). One study did show that after application on poultry, Permethrin was still detected in the eggs at 21 days and at 42 days for meat, so do use caution and enforce an egg and meat withdrawal periods for you own safety. UPDATE 10/2014: Hi Yield Garden Pet and Livestock dust’s active ingredient is Permethrin. There is an egg withdrawl period with it’s use.

Pyrethrin Spray– can be applied directly to the chicken avoiding the face and eyes- repeating twice per week until the mites are gone.  This type of spray can also be used in the housing as well. Avoid food and waterers. Note- it is safe for chickens according to Texas A and M university, but highly toxic to aquatic life and bees.

Manna Pro’s Poultry Protectorcan be applied directly to chickens, no egg or meat withdrawal period

Carbaryl (Sevin Garden Dust)- Click here for directions. Do not use 10% on poultry. Should not be used in nesting boxes. UPDATE: As of spring 2013 its use on animals has been revoked as it is now considered a carcinogen. Avoid Sevin Dust. Older labels deemed it safe for pets and now that information has been removed from current labeling due to the fact that it has caused cancer and reproductive health issues in laboratory animals. As there are alternatives, I would try other methods prior to using Sevin dust.

Coumaphos- Click here for more information.

Malathion-avoid waterers, feed troughs, do not apply to birds. Click here for directions.

Rabon- Click here for more information

Boric Acid- NOT recommended.  Read why here.

What to Avoid

Avoid applying Frontline products or similar topical pest repellent products used on dogs and cats, because studies have shown that these chemicals are present in the eggs and dairy products when used on livestock. There are other options. I myself would not want to eat those eggs or feed them to my family. I’ve dedicated an entire post to this very subject. Read why you shouldn’t use Frontline (fipronil) here

Wondering how to clean your coop? I’ve shared detailed tips on cleaning your coop and using diatomaceous earth with your flock.

Now, go check your flock!

Learn more about backyard chicken pests in my other posts on poultry lice, fleas and chickens, ticks, and scaly leg mites.


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21 thoughts on “You Might Have Mites on Your Backyard Chickens”

  1. Thank you so much for this info.! I just got my 5 new babies on Monday, and am stocking up on everything I will need for them as they grow. I just ordered some Poultry Protector and Nesting Box Blend. I already had the DE. I am over the moon excited about my girls, and am so happy to have discovered your lovely blog. 🙂 **Helena

  2. You are so welcome Helena and welcome to the wonderful world of backyard chickens. I think you will be amazed at how FAST they grow! Sounds like you are going to be a terrific chicken mom! Please drop in again soon.

  3. We have used the seven-5 for dusting the hens and the diatomaceous earth for the coop. Would the Diatomaceous work better on the hens? We have done all of these things but we have not seen anything like the pictures you showed on the other post that you refereed us to. And we are getting up close when we do the dusting seems as though we would see something on at least one of them. We have had to shut them in the run since the fox attack and now the hen that had grown all her feathers back is missing some on her back again and a couple that were not missing any before are missing some. Think the vet is wrong that they are not doing it to themselves because of mites that they are just bored? I am so rattled about what to do.

  4. Hi Brenda. Seven-5 is fine as well as DE. DE is just another option that is made of organic matter. I do not think that the vet is wrong. You most likely had a pretty bad infestation of mites. He is the expert with the training.

    Now that the girls are secured in the run, is it large enough for your flock? They say 10 square feet per bird. Take the length and multiply it by the width. So, for example, a 10 foot x 10 foot run give the birds 100 square feet, which can accomodate 10 chickens.

    I believe you are right it could be boredom. That poor girly could also just be lowest on the pecking order too. Try some distractions like hanging a full cabbage from a string in the run.

    I would also do the following just to be sure:

    This weekend I would put all of the girls out in the run and thoroughly clean out the coop with warm water, a bit of Dawn detergent and a little bleach. Scour every nook and crannie. Once it dries, put the Seven-5 dust/or DE into a bag made from a panty hose and dust all the corners and sprinkle it on the floor.

    Then, sprinkle the Seven-5 into their dust bath bowls in the run and then dust each and everyone of your flock members under their wings and on their fluffy bottoms.

    I would be vigilent about giving everyone in your flock a weekly dusting.

    If things do not stablize or seem to get worse over the next week, then I think you may need to take a trip back to the vet.

    I am so sorry that all of this is happening to you. Good luck, I am thinking of all of you!


  5. My flock is just 3 weeks (25 days today) old. How young do you need to start worrying about mites? They've been out of the brooder for a week. We still have a heat lamp for those chilling nights in their new home. It's a 8 x 4 open cage in our garage we've constructed until their coop (and the chicks) are ready. Should I be checking them now for mites? Thanks for any info!

    • Hi Gina! I would not worry yourself too much about mites until the flock is outside. Once they are transitioned outside, I would suggest taking a few precautions like using the DE in the bedding and around the coop floor. Once a week I do grab a couple of the girls and do a "spot" check for mites/lice. If I do find any, I spring into action by dusting each girl, putting DE in their dust bathing area and cleaning out the coop. I think the key is in prevention and taking a couple of minutes once a week and checking for them. Thanks for a great question!

      • Hi, I was wondering if you could help with a question I have. we have a sick chicken we were keeping in our basement I went down to check on her today and lifted her up to look at her injured foot and when I put her back down I had a bunch of tiny little bugs crawling all over my hands which I’m assuming are mites. I have now moved her to an extra garage but I am worried about them now being in my basement and wondering about what to use for cleanup?

      • Oh dear, sounds like she has mites. I would treat her for the mites. Where do you live? As there are different mites in different areas. However my guess is that the majority of them stayed on the chicken or in her pen as sadly, she is their food source.

  6. I have fast moving light tan little bugs on my chickens but don’t know what they are. They are hard to kill with fingers but squish able with pressure. I have a video. Was thinking it might be something from the nearby compost pile, but wondering if anytime knows what these are? How can I post video?

  7. We just recently realized that our chickens have mites. We never encountered such a terrible thing for our chickens. We cleaned our coup as all of the websites have advised. Our concern is our home. We are concerned that we might have them in our home. What is the best method for treating our home. Please advise. All of your information has been so helpful. We are hoping that you have good answers to our concerns, too.

    • Oh dear, usually chicken mites do not affect people. However, if you are concerned, you might consider reaching out to a local company that addresses such issues.Good luck!

  8. I am struggling with chronic mite issues in one chicken since February. Felicia had lost all feathers around her neck from itching. On the fifth check with a magnifying glass I finally saw little black mites in her white feathers. Over a 30 day period I have cleaned the coop twice (every ten days – removed all litter and swept and dusted with garden and poultry dust.) and dusted her now three times with garden and poultry dust (permethrin). The third was last night when I came home from a quick vacay and saw all the new feathers finally growing back in we’re gone. Checked her at dusk and I saw some mites! How the heck do I get rid of these things on her?? She is miserable and I am so over it. I am close to using Frontline on her out of desperation because that is what the vet said to do but I read your post about why not to use it.

    I keep my five chickens very clean – clean the coop and run daily, wash the water daily, bring the food in at night. Any advice would be much appreciated!

    • Oh Dawn, I am so sorry you are dealing with this. Mites can be such a nuisance. Do you know what type of mite you are dealing with and may I ask your location as different types of mites live in various parts of the country. I have just added Pyrethrin spray to the article you have commented on above. You can try using this on your chickens and also in your coop.

    • I was wondering if Dawn figured out a decent treatment for the black mites. I have been trying to combat them for a couple months now. The garden and poulty dust with permerthrin worked great as a last resort for the other kind of mites (red/brown colored) and lice 2 years ago. I had tried garlic juice, woodash and DE dustbaths etc.. This time I am not having as much luck with the garden dust and they are all over my 2 broody girls with eggs. Frustrated!


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.