What’s all the squawk­ing about?

COM­ING UP IN YOUR POUL­TRY THIS MONTH SQUAWK TALK IN THE HEN HOUSE WHAT YOUR CHICK­ENS ARE TELLING YOU

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Growing - Words Sue Clarke & Nadene Hall

You might hear ‘book book book’ but your flock has a lot to say, and they can be pretty so­phis­ti­cated gos­sips.

POUL­TRY MAKE a va­ri­ety of sounds to com­mu­ni­cate with each other, some­where from 24-30 depend­ing on the sci­en­tist. Once you can iden­tify the noises and their mean­ings, you’ll be bet­ter able to iden­tify what is nor­mal and what might mean trou­ble in your flock.

Birds aren’t lim­ited to sound though. They also com­mu­ni­cate us­ing pos­ture - head up, head down, tail up, tail down, feath­ers spread, wings flap­ping - but what they’re ‘say­ing’ can mean dif­fer­ent things depend­ing on con­text.

1 SNIFF­ING, SNEEZ­ING, COUGH­ING AND GUR­GLING These are pretty sim­i­lar noises to those hu­mans make and can all mean a bird is un­well. There may be a va­ri­ety of causes, from some­thing mi­nor like a bit of dust in their nasal cav­i­ties, to a par­a­sitic in­fec­tion with gape worm in the throat, to a full-blown vi­ral in­fec­tion of the lungs and air sacs.

2 CLUCK­ING OR ‘SINGING’

This is the usual talk­a­tive sound you’ll hear when a re­laxed bird is want­ing food, or look­ing for a nest to lay an egg.

3 THE CACKLE

This is the soft alarm sound when a dan­ger is per­ceived. It can be­come more stri­dent when the dan­ger re­cedes, as if they’re say­ing “phew, we es­caped that one, stand down.” You’ll also of­ten hear it when a hen has fin­ished lay­ing and is leav­ing the nest. In the wild this would be an alert to call the res­i­dent rooster so he could es­cort the hen safely back to the flock.

4 A CRY OR SCREECH OF FEAR

You’ll of­ten hear this when you pick up a bird which is un­ac­cus­tomed to be­ing caught, and it may con­tinue un­til you put her down again. A cry of pain is sim­i­lar to the alarm call but is usu­ally only a sin­gle squawk. It is most com­monly heard when a bird is picked up or when a feather is pulled out.

KEEP AWAY CALLS

These may take the form of a low growl, of­ten from a broody that doesn’t want to be dis­turbed; when a bird ob­jects to be­ing shuf­fled along the roost­ing perch; or if another bird in­trudes on their dust bathing rou­tine.

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COCK-A-DOO­DLE-DO

A roost­ers’ crow is un­mis­take­able, but it can mean sev­eral things: “I’m gor­geous and you need to know it” or “I’m go­ing to kill you” or “Wake up, it’s 3am.” Roost­ers de­feated in bat­tle may even crow as a part­ing shot, as if to say, “I’m still here!”

Some­times a hen will start crow­ing. This can hap­pen when a hen ap­pears to change sex, de­vel­op­ing the feath­er­ing and ‘voice’ of a rooster. It’s a phe­nom­e­non prob­a­bly caused by the over-pro­duc­tion of testos­terone, which in­flu­ences the de­vel­op­ment of sec­ondary sex­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics of male feath­er­ing and be­hav­iour.

Hens have two ovaries but only one works. If she suf­fers re­gres­sion of her good ovary, ei­ther due to a tu­mour or just a ces­sa­tion of lay­ing and re­duc­tion of the fe­male hor­mone oe­stro­gen, it can cause her to be more rooster-like. This may re­verse in time, and she may even re­sume lay­ing. How­ever, if the cause is per­ma­nent fail­ure of her ovary, she will of­ten stay in her ‘rooster’ state.

Hens cackle as they leave a nest... in the wild it would be to alert ‘their’ rooster that they re­quire an es­cort back to the flock

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