Buk-buk-buk! What Do Those Chicken Noises Mean?

Learning Chicken Language to Meet the Needs of Your Flock

chicken-noises

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.

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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-song

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.

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Comments
  • Why do chickens make such a fuss when they lay an egg? It seems it would alert a potential predator. I would think she would like to be silent and protect her potential off-spring.

    Reply
  • Joanne T.

    I’m totally with you on this. My silkies make a purring sound when they’re out grazing on grass. They just sound happy. One of our d’uccles we call Chatty Cathy for a good reason goes on and on and on but it’s quite obvious when she wants to go in or out of the pen or if she’s just saying hello.

    Reply
  • My hens make a low growling sound whenever the coopers hawk is around. All the chickens stop what they are doing and wait for the growling hen’s instructions, then they either run for cover or continue on with whatever they were doing to begin with. My beloved roo (now deceased, killed by a bear) would call to hens whenever treats were about and then buk at them to show them what was available. He would also stamp his feet and do a little dance to point out the general direction of the offerings. Geeze, I miss him! My chicks also have a language unto themselves. If one gets left behind anywhere, he’ll sound out a high pitched whine with a question mark, asking ‘Where are you guys?’. Fascinating stuff! I love my chooks dearly and wouldnt want life to be without them. Yes I talk to them, all the time, and I do believe they talk back.

    Reply
  • I sometimes copy the cockerels noises back to him. It always means that the whole lot suddenly look up at me with their heads on one side! It’s highly amusing! I don’t know what they’re trying to communicate I just love the reaction from them all. I always greet them with the same words and tone as I keep them at my allotment. They know the sound of my car and I often see them jump up on their hen house to watch me pulling up.

    Reply
  • Look up a chicken laying het egg…you’d make lots of noise too. It’s like having a baby a day!!

    Reply
  • Debbie R.

    We’ve got an 18-week old Rhode Island Red hen with a distinctively raspy cluck. Eleanor’s very expressive and friendly and shows no signs of ill health. Could she just be channeling Lauren Bacall or is this a symptom? The other four chickens seem fine as well, though not as vocal. Thx.

    Reply
  • One of our hens, Hinie, screams for attention when the other, Fanny, is in the nest box laying. (We have a tiny, two-lady flock). It’s a high-pitched shriek, and almost sounds like she’s in pain. The first time we heard it was pretty alarming, but quickly we realized Hinie just doesn’t like being alone. She’ll be strutting around the yard alone, and if she spots us through the window she’ll look up and scream. Then she’ll continue strutting or scratching as if everything is fine. Sometimes we go into the yard and sit on a lawn chair, and Hinie jumps into our lap for a visit until Fanny is finished. It’s rather adorable, even if the scream is pretty intense.

    Reply
  • I took care of a flock of chickens as a kid and I can remember the disbelief in the eyes of the adults in the household when I told them the chickens had a language. Thanks for this article!

    Reply
  • I have three Silkies, before I get to them in the morning they hear me coming and as I start to give them their morning salutations they each answer back in their distinct voices…one growls a little at me, another gives out a high pitched PIP, and the other chatters aways aimlessly…I love hearing them answer me, the same goes for bedtime unless I have to lock them up a little earlier than their liking…at that point I get a cavalcade of complaints.

    Reply
  • Dawn F.

    Can chickens “learn” a command such as “no” or “back”. I say Back Back Back when I am entering the coop and wave my arms. But it seems like I have to wave and watch the door or they want to escape. I spend time with them in their coop everyday but only free range late afternoon and evening supervised because of predators and it’s hard to get them back in the coop before sun down

    Reply
  • Friend O.

    I vocalize chicken sounds and human conversation continuously with my flock. There is a definite increase in trust as compared to new birds.

    Reply
  • I love sitting out and listening to the different conversations. I have a mixed flock of different breeds – including both roosters and hens. My brahmas make very different sounds than all the rest – almost spooky sounding!

    Reply

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