Feather pecking (FP) in laying hens remains an important economic and welfare issue. This paper reviews the literature on causes of FP in laying hens. With the ban on conventional cages in the EU from 2012 and the expected future ban on beak trimming in many European countries, addressing this welfare issue has become more pressing than ever. The aim of this review paper is to provide a detailed overview of underlying principles of FP. FP is affected by many different factors and any approach to prevent or reduce FP in commercial flocks should acknowledge that fact and use a multifactorial approach to address this issue. Two forms of FP can be distinguished: gentle FP and severe FP. Severe FP causes the most welfare issues in commercial flocks. Severe FP is clearly related to feeding and foraging behaviour and its development seems to be enhanced in conditions where birds have difficulty in coping with environmental stressors. Stimulating feeding and foraging behaviour by providing high-fibre diets and suitable litter from an early age onwards, and controlling fear and stress levels through genetic selection, reducing maternal stress and improving the stockmanship skills of the farmer, together offer the best prospect for preventing or controlling FP.