Learn to Speak Chicken Like Part of the Flock

People who don’t have chickens tend to think the only sound they make is that of a rooster crowing. Nothing could be further from the truth! Chickens have a language all their own, which they use quite often. In Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics, author Pam Freeman decodes your chickens’ sounds, making it easier for you to understand their language and bond with your flock.

chicken flock language
Chickens have a language of their own. They are known to have at least 24 different calls. Photo: Chris Cone / Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics

Vocalizations

Chickens’ vocalizations start early. While still in the egg, a mother hen will talk with her chicks through clucking sounds. She will offer comfort and encouragement. Once they’re outside the egg, the chicks can recognize their mother hen and each other and start building their relationships.

Chicks will communicate among themselves and with their moms or their human caretakers. A brooder full of chicks is not a quiet place. If the chicks are content, they will happily scratch and peck and chirp to each other as they go about their business. If they get lost from their group, they will chirp loudly and with obvious distress. If they get cold, that chirping is just as loud and just as upset.

Mother hens talk with their babies quite a bit. When the chicks are in their eggs, mother hens will purr to their chicks. This helps the chicks recognize her when they hatch and tells them what’s happening. A mother hen will cluck to her chicks when she’s pointing out something good to eat. If there’s something that’s not good to eat, she’ll vocally point that out too. Broody hens and mother hens also growl when their nests or chicks are disturbed.

flock of chickens
Photo: Chris Cone / Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics

 

Flock members will do the same thing as chicks: They will chirp back and forth to each other as they’re grazing and going about their day. A hen will also sing an egg song after she finishes laying an egg. The level of singing can vary from breed to breed, but it will often provoke others to sing too. Some days an egg song can turn into an egg cacophony! No one is sure why hens sing an egg song. Some speculate they’re proud of their laying accomplishment, others say they want the rest of the flock to know where they are, and some say it’s a way of distracting predators from the nest as the hen is moving away from an egg she just laid.

If a rooster is in a flock, he will sound different alarm calls for different types of danger. The same is true of the lead hen of a flock with no rooster. Often the alarm call for an aerial predator is much more high and shrill than the alarm call for a predator on the ground.

Chickens also make growling types of sounds when they’re frustrated, such as if they need more food or they just can’t wait for a hen to leave the nest box they want. They will also make high-pitched sounds of encouragement, like when you bring treats to them and don’t give them out soon enough.

Listening to your flock’s different vocalizations is fun, and it’s a great way to get to know them and bond with them. Soon you’ll understand some of their language and be able to “talk” right along with them.

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A must-have for every backyard chicken keeper, Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics goes beyond introductory lessons and explores the realities of raising a flock for eggs — and entertainment, of course! From odd eggs and molting to feeding and preparing for the seasons, this book covers the subjects beginner books don’t adequately address and re-examines common knowledge that may not actually hold true. It’s a resource to turn to time and again for expert advice to make sure your birds are happy, healthy, and productive.

Author Pam Freeman, an editor and “Ask the Expert” columnist at Backyard Poultry magazine, draws on her years of experience fielding reader questions to identify and clearly explain many common – and some not-so-common – issues in chicken keeping. How do you add new chickens to your flock? What is the pecking order and how can you change or control it? Is it better to raise chicks by hand or with a broody hen? What do you do when you collect eggs and discover: lash eggs, calcium deposits, soft eggs, eggs within eggs, or wrinkled eggs? In Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics, readers will find not just answers, but a book full of “coop truth” that helps them continue on their journey. Because as every chicken owner knows: Chickens are individuals and real-life chicken keeping often takes you far from the beaten path.

Pam Freeman is the editor of Backyard Poultry magazine and Countryside magazine. After she received four Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks from the Easter Bunny, her flock quickly grew and Pam launched pamsbackyardchickens.com. In the years that followed, she hand-raised chicks, nursed chicks and chickens back to health, and experienced the entire lifecycle many times over. During that time, Pam also joined the Countryside Network, where she is now an editor managing a roster of her fellow chicken-keeping writers. Pam is a resident “Ask the Expert” columnist for Backyard Poultry magazine and continues to write regular posts about chicken keeping and homesteading for Backyard Poultry and other publications.