Category Archives: Chicken Behavior

Three Myths About Roosters

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Roosters can live quite harmoniously with each other. There are four roosters in this photograph.

There are a total of four roosters shown in this photo… and yes, they are all friends! (can you spot them?).

Myth #1: If you put two roosters together they will fight to the death.

Historically cockfighting has helped to fuel this myth by creating a grossly artificial situation where birds are cruelly trained to become aggressive. Roosters are drugged to dull the pain of injury and forced to wear razors attached to their legs ensuring a bloody and violent death. Many animals including humans will naturally fight with each other if they do not have their basic needs met: food, water, shelter (or territory), and safety. If we live in an environment where we feel safe and comfortable then we are much more inclined to engage in friendly socialization. Just like humans, chickens need to have the proper amount of space to be emotionally healthy. Roosters may initially fight to prove hierarchy but will generally defer to the stronger bird before any serious injury results. Roosters who are raised together as chicks will determine hierarchy early so it is advantageous not to split them up. Often in situations where there are multiple males, roosters will pair off as buddies, being perfectly content to live the “hen-less” life. Contrary to popular belief it is quite possible to introduce adult roosters into an established flock by using certain socialization techniques (to be covered in a future post). It is our responsibility as caregivers to make sure that everyone in the flock is well cared for and also to monitor any aggressive behavior as soon as it materializes.

Myth #2:  The presence of a rooster is necessary for a hen to lay an egg.

A hen will lay her egg whether or not a rooster is around however, roosters help to maintain a natural and beneficial dynamic within a chicken community. A rooster is essential for the fertilization of an egg. Fertilization occurs within the body of the female. A rooster will display a mating dance for the hen and she will indicate receptivity by squatting down next to him. He will then mount and deposit his sperm into the opening beneath her tail.  If the hen chooses to nest and “set” on the fertilized egg a chick will form and hatch 21 days later. Though roosters are not necessary for the formation of eggs, they are an important asset for providing safety and protection of a flock. For instance when hens are out foraging a rooster will keep watch and give a distinct call to indicate danger. The type of sound will even indicate whether the predator is approaching on land or is airborne. Roosters are very courageous and have been known to fight off attackers many times larger than themselves. If a rooster finds food he will first call his family over to partake in the feast. It is well known that chicks will begin a dialog with their mothers while still inside the egg but recent studies have shown that they can also recognize vocalizations of the roosters and other members of their flock before hatching, which contributes to the bonding of the flock overall.

Myth #3: Roosters crow only at sunrise.

All animals have sophisticated methods of communication which humans have only barely begun to understand. A rooster’s crow is his way of communicating his presence territorially and also to announce his well-being. Throughout the day a rooster may crow in triumph after he has mated with a hen or after he has discovered food for his flock. If he hears noise in the middle of the night he may crow to warn that a predator might be near. A rooster’s song usually consists of four distinct notes or sections. Each individual rooster’s crow is unique and identifiable so it alerts the entire flock to who is located where (crowing is the GPS of the chicken world!). Keeping multiple roosters does not necessarily mean there will be a great increase in crowing. Roosters who are kept within a flock and not separated from each other tend to sing less often because they can visually locate the other males. Often the lower ranked males will not sing as often as the lead male. Roosters will also crow at sunrise, their eyesight being so sensitive to light that they can detect the faintest glow of dawn long before we humans can. If you wish to delay their singing in the morning you can do so by keeping them indoors in a dark quiet area until the desired rising time.

“A good rooster crows everywhere”- Sicilian Proverb

Roosters have very distinct personalities and are an asset to your flock.

Roosters have very distinct personalities and also can be quite affectionate.

-Singing Luna 6/28/2014

Seed for thought: What other myths about chickens should be debunked?

May 4th is Respect for Chickens Day!

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Watch as Lucy the hen chooses the Queen of Hearts card from an ever-growing choice of playing cards. She is even able to distinguish face cards of the queen of hearts from the king of spades!

Although humanity has lived with chickens for hundreds of years we, the so-called “smart ones”, know little of their intelligence. In watching the video one must keep in mind how different a chicken’s eyesight is from humans. Chickens can see by using either both eyes together (like binoculars) or by using each eye to view separate images with no visual information overlap (monocular vision). Their natural world is three-dimensional one, yet notice how quickly Lucy is able to distinguish subtle differences between the many two-dimensional objects even though they have visually flat graphic images. Human beings are also motivated by food (that’s why we trudge off to work at our jobs every day, right?) but I wonder if a two-year old human child could match Lucy’s ability even if multiple lollipops were given as a reward!

Consider these other chicken intelligence facts*:

  • Chickens can recognize up to 96 other individual chickens.
  • Chicks show an ability to add and subtract and can distinguish between large and small groups of objects.
  • Chickens have around 24 unique and complex vocalizations to communicate with others of their kind.
  • It takes eight months for a human baby to understand that objects moved behind a visual barrier are still there, chicks are able to do this at one week old.
  • Hens have shown an ability to sense time by being taught to peck a computer screen after a fixed time period.

Historically humans have degraded other humans and animals as a means of disconnecting from acts of cruelty and justifying oppression. We call chickens “dumb, bird-brained, stupid, feather-brained” and degrade them in images, popular culture and the media. In many cultures throughout history chickens have been honored in art and literature as positive symbols of courage, fertility, new beginnings, good fortune, beauty, and self-confidence.  Today they deserve our respect for the complex and interesting beings that they are!

*Fact source and for more in-depth information: “The Chicken, A Natural History” general editor Dr. Joseph Barber

Video source and credit from Addison Geary’s YouTube channel: Conditioning a chicken to distinguish the Queen of Hearts from other playing cards by employing both classical and operant conditioning. Thanks to Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS for “The Art & Science of Animal Behavior” & “Chicken Tricks: Chicken Pecks Queen of Hearts.” video.

Chick Training YouTube video by Lotti

This little chick can differentiate between three same size red and green and orange color chips even when the placements are changed:

 Seed for Thought: Does our own motivation to see chickens only as food keep us ignorant of  knowing their true potential?

 

Rooster Duties

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Roosters are valuable guardians of the flock and will courageously keep predators away. (Photo:©Jazelle)

Roosters are valuable guardians of the flock and will courageously keep predators away.

Chickens enjoy social interaction much like humans. Roosters contribute to an important natural social structure in the flock and perform certain “duties” which they take very seriously. Roosters will keep an instinctual eye out for predators and make a distinctive alarm call when danger is near. Contrary to the stereotype, they are also quite courageous in confronting creatures much larger and stronger than themselves to protect their flock. I have observed roosters escorting hens around the yard, finding food for them and partaking in communal dust baths. I have also noticed that a rooster will “attend” a hen when she goes into the nest to lay an egg. I am not exactly sure what transpires during this quiet interaction between the two, but he will stand attentively alongside the nest until the egg is laid. When the egg arrives he will jubilantly announce the event followed by the entire flock joining in the chorus.

Roosters have a certain call they give to tell the hens that they have found food.

Roosters have a certain call they give to tell hens that they have found food. Often they will stand aside and act as a look-out while the hen eats.

Roosters will keep a hen company while she is on the nest laying her egg. (Photo: "Zak & Zinnia", ©Skyfeather Studio)

Roosters will keep a hen company while she is laying her egg.

-Singing Luna 12/10/2013

Seed for Thought: What valuable rooster behaviors have you observed in your flock?