I think most people don’t give much thought to the animal language around them. People are very busy creatures – always working, taking care of their families, taking care of their selves… Sometimes, it can seem like we humans are the only things that matter. But there is a world of wild and semi-wild creatures all around us that talk to each other. Have you ever wondered what crows are saying to each other? Frogs in the swamp at night? Why do birds sing? Why do chickens cluck?
In this article, I’m going to explore chicken language and other behavior to find out what our egg-laying friends are saying to each other and to us. By the way, chickens cluck calmly when they are content and when they want to just converse a little with their friends.
Cluck-Cluck-Cluck-Bucawk! What does it all mean? Chickens discuss multiple topics during the day. They communicate through a variety of clucks, boks, screeches, squawks, and yelps. Each vocalization is accompanied by an inflection to express the grammatical intent of the speaker. For instance, crowing displays a rooster’s opinion that this is his territory, and everyone needs to know it! Here are some others:
- Squawking and Screeching – These are the sounds associated with alarm, distress, danger, etc. If you’ve experienced your dog being overly playful with your chickens, then you’ve probably experienced some squawking. Screeching indicates that there is something endangering your chickens – possibly an aerial assault from a harrier or an eagle.
- Bok, bok, bok – But not in an alarming manner is usually associated with a chicken calling to its chicks, or expressing a little nervousness. This might be accompanied by a hyper-alert posture.
- Cackling – Is what a chicken does immediately after it lays an egg, or when it is really nervous because of possible or imminent danger. Why chickens want the whole world to know that it just laid an egg is a curiosity. Perhaps it is a matter of pride. Possibly it is a display of relief for having dispensed with the burden of its rather large cargo. Chickens cackle at each other. For instance, if a dominant hen wants her nesting box when a subordinate is in it. The cackling will diminish when the dominant hen gets her way.
- Growling – Growling indicates that a chicken is not happy. It is in defense mode and could be ready to peck you as you try to take an egg. It will also be directed at other chickens in various confrontational situations. Broody hens have a tendency to growl. The first time I experienced a broody, growling hen, I thought there was something wrong with her, and that she needed medical attention, but she was fine.
- Purring – Almost like a cat. This is another indication of contentment, and that the environment is calm.
- Chattering – Is similar to small talk. Chickens will chatter when you toss out some scratch, or when they are just walking around pecking and scratching.
- Wheezing, Sneezing, Raspy Voice – This means that your chickens could have a respiratory disease. This is nothing to mess around with, so you will want to diagnose and treat ASAP.
- Chirping – Baby chicks chirp a lot! They will chirp in a quiet consistent manner when they are mingling with other chicks. The chirping gets louder and more intense when they are hungry or thirsty. They will give a high-pitched chirp if they are cold or distressed in some way.
Other Common Chicken behaviors
It’s important that you really get to know your chickens behaviors. It will help you to monitor the overall health, well-being, and contentment of your chickens. Also, the more contact you have with your chickens, the less stressful their lives will be. You want your flock to trust that you are not the enemy, but a friend that they can rely on. If you do this, you can count on your hens to deliver the goods (eggs) in a consistent manner.
Dust Bathing is what chickens do to knock down mite and lice attacks. Dusting also cools the birds in the heat of the summer. And finally, dust bathing is a way for chickens to remove dirt and oils from feathers and skin.
Pecking helps chickens establish, you guessed it, a pecking order. A pecking order is a hierarchy within the flock. This is a natural practice and is going to happen no matter what you do. It’s just what chickens do. Obviously chickens peck for food. They will eat virtually anything that wiggles and many things that don’t, so they peck at everything. They don’t have hands, so they use their beaks instead. Pecking is also used for offensive and defensive forms of aggression.
One of the worst uses of pecking is harassing other chickens. If a chicken gets a wound, it is not uncommon for the other chickens to continually peck at the wound until the wounded bird dies. If you have a wounded bird, you’ll have to isolate her until she is 100% healthy again, at which point she can be reintroduced to the flock.
Pecking can be diminished by making sure that there is plenty of room for your chickens to spread out. Overcrowding causes stress which can lead to lashing out. Sound familiar? Chickens that free-range are not likely to have pecking issues. Making certain that there is always plenty of food and water available for your chickens will also reduce the amount of pecking in the flock.
Roosting is a self-defense mechanism that has served birds well from the beginning of bird time. It’s a given that chickens have a lot of enemies. They are on the menu of raccoon, weasels, mink, opossums, and many more ground dwelling carnivores and omnivores. In the light of day, chickens can see their adversaries coming, even adversaries from above. In the dark of night, chickens can’t see all that well. An absence of rod cells in their eyes is likely the reason.
You’ll notice that when you put your girls and boys to bed, they will assume their roosting spots. Those spots will be exactly the same in the morning, if you get up early enough to catch the lineup. That is because chickens can’t see what they are doing in the dark, especially in an unlit coop. So they don’t change positions during the night.
Add a heat lamp (they put out a lot of light), and watch your birds move about all night long.
People take a shower, then comb or brush their hair. Cats lick their fur. Birds preen themselves. But preening is more about good health than good looks. There is an oil gland at the base of a chicken’s tail. The chicken grabs a little of this oil and rubs it on its feathers to add water resistance to them.
Preening also helps to straiten feathers so they can perform the functions they’re supposed to perform like assisting in flying, and insulating a chicken’s body.
Chicken talk isn’t that hard to figure out if you spend enough time with your flock. It’s fun to experience how socially engaging these birds are with each other and with people. Their language makes sense and is vital to survival. Their various behaviors are all geared toward helping them get through the day with happiness and comfort. I guess they are a lot like people that way.
Hey! Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. If you have any questions, or just want to drop a line to say hello, by all means, leave a message below. See ya ’round!