Chick Talk: Do Chickens Have A Language?

September 27 2013

By: Amelia Cornish, Donor Services Associate

We all know that roosters crow – but did you know that chickens actually have a far more sophisticated communication system than traditionally thought? They have their own language with around 30 different calls that have their own specific meanings, and these calls start when the chick is still inside the egg. If you ask me they really are a far cry from bird brains!

There are up to 30 different chicken calls that we can distinguish (and perhaps more that we have not yet discovered…). These different calls are used to communicate a whole range of important messages to one another, such as “Come quick there is food here”,“Hooray I’ve laid an egg”, calls to warn each other that a potential predator is nearby, or calls to let their fellow flock members know just how they are feeling and if they are distressed or scared.

Chickens are social animals and they establish social hierarchies, hence the term "pecking order". An integral part of their social system involves communicating with one another.  Unlike caged chickens who spend their entire lives cruelly confined in tiny cages, when given the choice,  cage-free chickens spend their days together, either sunning themselves, scratching about for food, or taking dust baths - an activity which helps to clean their feathers.

“ Hey Guys come see what I’ve found…”

All chickens call excitedly when they find food. When a rooster finds tasty treats to share with the hens in his flock he calls out with a low tone and he also performs “tidbitting” displays, where he continually picks up and drops the food and offers it directly to a hen. But chickens do not just have one call for food, they have variety of different calls depending on the type of food on offer. They also produce the calls at a higher rate if the food is extremely tasty. So when tasty food like corn is available you will hear a much different call than when their regular feed is put out.
 

Warning fellow flock members of dangers

As mentioned earlier, chickens are highly social animals and they take good care of one another, giving off warning cries to let their fellow flock members know a potential danger may be looming. What is extra impressive is that chickens have different calls for a predator that is coming on the ground, like a snake, compared to a predator that is coming from above, such as a hawk. Chickens will immediately respond to the warning calls and can be seen standing up alert, crouching down low or taking cover in nearby trees or in their coop – depending on the type of threat call emitted.The complex communication system of our feather-friends shows how smart and social these beings really are and why it is unthinkable to keep these animals confined to tiny cages. Here’s how you can help – be sure to check out our egg buying guide where we’ve tried to explain the complicated labels on egg cartons. And if you haven’t already done so, please sign our Change For Chickens petition today!

Chickens are social animals and they establish social hierarchies

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