Chickens are fascinating communicators … at least with each other. Of all the chicken noises out there, there are 30 recognized calls that chickens make and probably countless more chicken noises that humans have not identified and therefore fail to understand. While this post is not intended to describe all 30 known chicken calls, let’s take a look at a few of the most common chicken noises that your birds are making to each other, and possibly to you!
Chicks in the shell begin to communicate long before they hatch. Eventually, peeping can be heard through the closed shells and the mother hen will softly cluck to reply to her babies. Mothers continue to cluck and coo to their chicks after they hatch as a human mother would speak softly and coo to her newborn child. A remarkable trait that many sentient animals possess. The hen also communicates to her chicks which things are good to eat and which things are to be avoided. She can be heard excitedly and softly clucking to her chicks in between “tidbitting,” a behavior where she picks up and sets down a bit of food. She also has a vocalization to call her chicks to her. Research studies have shown that chicks can identify their mother’s call among a group of hens, thus always finding their way back to their own mother.
In typical rooster behavior, roosters have a complex system of calls, clucks, ticks and crows with which they communicate. My own rooster, Cluck Norris, was warning our little flock of possible danger at an early age and the others seemed to know the same call when they saw possible danger, as they made the same sound. Cluck loudly emits three, staccato almost barking tones when he thinks he sees potential threat. As he’s gotten older, he’s added additional sounds to what we called “The Danger Sound!” From our observation, it appears that the sounds indicate a level of threat by different chicken predators: thus a cat may be Chicken DEFCON 5 and a hawk may trigger the sound meaning Chicken DEFCON 1! After doing some online research, I learned that it is, most likely, what it means! In fact, the calls are complex enough that the rooster can communicate what route the predator is taking to approach the flock.
Opal was frozen in this stance as she called out what I assume was an alarm to the rest of the flock.
My second rooster, Vinnie, is a bit of a chicken goofball. He’s communicated how he’s feeling since he was quite young. His greeting to me is always a series of low whistles and chuckles that seem to end with a question mark. It’s the same sound every time I approach the chicken run. I think it translates to, “Do you have any snacks?”, although I’m sure poultry scientists could discern something much more meaningful.
My backyard chickens seem to use tone and inflection in many of their chicken noises. It is very clear when clucking is irritable or companionable! This morning, Cluck thought he’d make some romantic advances to Opal, an unwilling pullet, and the SQWACK! she communicated QUITE clearly that she was having none of it! During a recent watermelon party in the run, the girls to first get to the melon clucked excitedly and loudly and soon they were joined by the whole flock. Another evening this week, suddenly Opal began to loudly exclaim “BUK-BUK-BUK-BUK-BUK-GAWWWWK!” She was standing up very tall, her face was very red and the tone of her sound was urgent. She repeated this call over and over. The rest of the flock froze in place for the duration of her calling. It was absolutely fascinating to watch. She continued to do this for quite a long time and suddenly there was a noise in the branches of the tree above us. After that noise, the chickens all got much calmer and Opal stopped making her chicken noises. A friend suggested that perhaps there was an owl in the tree, and a reader on my blog listened to the video posted there and commented that the call sounded very much like what many call the Egg Song, but with a different tone.
If you’ve never taken notice of what’s going on when your flock is vocalizing or making chicken noises, I really encourage you to pull up a lawn chair some evening and just sit and listen to them. You’ll quickly pick up what some of their chicken “words” mean. Some people have become successful at imitating poultry noises and feel as though they are able to communicate to their flock via those imitated noises.
I haven’t tried talking to my chickens yet. How about you? Perhaps your Dr. Doolittle skills are an undiscovered talent!
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.