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
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.
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