How the boys impress the girls
Dr Carolynn ‘K-lynn’ Smith is an ethologist (someone who studies animal behaviour) with Macquarie University in Australia. She has studied the communications of chickens and says they are quite sophisticated in how they ‘speak’ to each other.
“Let’s take the example of what happens when a male finds a high-quality food item in the presence of a female. He starts by giving a series of staccato calls and bobbing his head up and down, using his beak to point towards the food. He’ll often pick it up and drop it repeatedly, suppressing the urge to eat the tasty morsel.
“The female usually responds by approaching and taking the food from him. Why should a male give up food for the female? The reason is that females prefer to mate with the male that provides the most food.
“As an aside, females eavesdrop on the male’s interactions with other females and remember which ones are the best providers overall for the whole group, not just for her.
“Subordinate roosters often just do the visual display without making a sound. The hen sees the display, recognises that the subordinate has food, and takes the food from him. This sneaky behaviour allows the subordinate to feed a hen while avoiding punishment from the dominant male.
“Some males will call and display when they haven’t found food, ‘hoping’ that the female will still approach him. He can then court her (using a display called waltzing) or even attempt to force copulate with her (not everything in the chicken world is nice). So females also remember which males call without food and stop responding to them. This shows that females track the male’s reputation for honesty.”