How the boys im­press the girls

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Your Poultry - Source: www.ward­hen­ un­cooped/com­mu­nica­tive_a­bil­i­ties

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.”

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