MOURNING AND LOSS
As a hen nears the end of her natural life, she often goes off and finds a quiet place away from the rest of the flock. During this time, the other members of the flock visit, one by one or a couple at a time. To me, they seem sad. They “chat” through verbalizations and body language. They hang their heads low to get on eye level with the dying chicken. Their coos are quiet, soft mutterings that you have to lean into to hear — chicken whispers. They move slowly and cautiously, considerate of disrupting their flock member. Some linger, while others potter around. Some sit with the dying chicken. Some keep returning. I watched some hens try to motivate Tilly by carefully scratching in the coop’s pine shavings right in front of her, as if to say “Get up, please.”
However, once they have made their peace, they leave and do not turn back. The dying chicken passes alone. The others have returned to doing what the flock does: foraging, scratching, dust bathing, and such. Life goes on.
Still, for days after a hen dies, it is not uncommon for those who were closest to her to mourn the loss of their friend. From the safety of the coop, they call out, using the same sound that means “Where are you?” when they are freeranging in the yard and can’t find a missing member of the flock. A grieving hen avoids interacting with the flock and sits in a corner with puffed-up feathers like a chicken that feels ill.
Some mourn only temporarily, but others never seem to recover from the loss of a flockmate. It is not uncommon for a hen that was close to the departed to suddenly pass unexpectedly, for reasons unknown. She seems to slowly lose her zest for life. Often, of course, she and the deceased hen were close in age and grew up together. I believe chickens can indeed die from broken hearts or, more specifically, from the stress and depression that follow a loss.
‘For days after a hen dies, it is not uncommon for those who were closest to her to mourn the loss of their friend’
Chickens actively seek out happiness and pleasure. Their lives revolve around feeling good.