Do you ever wonder exactly what your chickens are trying to tell you? It never fails to surprise us, how noisy our hens can be and how many varieties of noises our birds make. 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?
Chicken chat starts when the chick is still inside the egg and enables a clutch of eggs to synchronize 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 are used to establish pecking order and helps 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.
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 that they make in each instance do not mimic the noise made by the predator, but the rest of the flock know which crow means that there is an ariel predator, and which means that a fox or badger is approaching.
A cockerel will 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. If the noises were recorded and played back without the cockerel (or indeed a mother hen who makes the same noises to her chicks) being present, the responding hens or chicks will approach the sound source and peck at the ground close by.
So, there you have it. Chickens don’t just cluck, they have their own complex system of communication.