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How to speak chicken – what are they trying to tell us?

If you’ve ever wondered how to speak chicken, you’re certainly not alone! Sometimes it really feels like they’re trying to talk to us, doesn’t it? 

We all know the joy of listening to the contented purring noises hens make as they roost and nod off to sleep and the somewhat raucous “Look at me aren’t I clever?” noises that accompany an egg being laid, but what about some of the other noises?  

Here we explore how chickens communicate with each other, and how we as humans can understand their chatter. 

How do chickens communicate with each other? 

Chicken chat starts when the chick is still inside the egg and enables a clutch of eggs to synchronise hatching. Around three days before hatching, when the mother hen stops rotating her eggs in the nest, chicks will communicate by peeping at each other. It is thought that this allows slow-developing embryos to speed up growth and results in their hatching within 24 hours of each other. 

Once the hatched chicks are active, they rely on their mother to call to them to guide them to food sources so that they can have first access to them. Should she spot a predator she will use a different call to alert her brood to the danger and to encourage them to run back to her for protection. 

The normal low level conversational “bok bok” noises we so often hear are used to establish the pecking order and help hens to identify friendly birds within their flock; it often accompanies affectionate face pecking and grooming behaviour. 

Broody hens will engage in aggressive calling if disturbed. These hormonal hens can be calmed down by being reassured and stroked but don’t let them sit too long without taking them to food and water. 

Can cockerels talk too? 

Cockerels use their crowing as both communication and self-advertisement. To his female flock he is saying, “Look at me, I am strong and powerful and would make an ideal mate”; however, to any neighbouring cockerels, the crow means, “Back off, you are on my territory!” 

In addition, cockerels use arbitrary communication to warn of predators. The noises they make in each instance do not mimic the noise made by the predator, but the rest of the flock know which crow means there is an aerial predator nearby, and which means a fox or badger is approaching. 

A cockerel will also call to his flock to indicate a tasty morsel, spilt grain, or a juicy earthworm. This noise is completely arbitrary as it neither resembles the sound made by the worm or beetle nor the sound of food being consumed. However, the responding hens or chicks will approach the sound source and peck at the ground close by. 

How to speak chicken 

So, we’ve explored how chickens chat to each other, but what about humans? Are we able to understand how our hens are feeling through their clucks? Simple answer: yes, it would seem. 

Scientists believe chickens have a complex range of emotions and can express these when going about their everyday lives. 

Researchers from the University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science found our hens can tell us if they’re happy or sad through a series of distinct noises. 

By conducting a series of tests, they determined that hens would make a barrage of fast clucks in excitement or anticipation when they are expecting food. 

On the flipside, if they were denied a treat they responded with a low, wavering call labelled a ‘gakel’. 

They also discovered that if they become frustrated chickens can become anxious and make a series of distress calls and, in some instances, become depressed and give up on calling at all. 

Two scientists at the University of California were able to break chicken sounds down into 24 distinct calls ranging from ‘singing’ and ‘quacking’ in contentment to a whining moan when they are feeling disturbed. 

Speaking chicken – is it possible?

In our humble opinion, while all this scientific research is interesting, it all boils down to getting to know your hens to understand what they’re trying to tell you. We know our pets on a deeper level than anyone else and will quickly pick up on their happy and sad cues. 

As we always say, pay close attention to your hens and understand what is normal for them and you’ll easily be able to tell if it’s food, cuddles or something else they need. 

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