The chickens’ original purpose is for cockfighting, later, people saw that they were a great source of meat and eggs. With that mindset, people assume that chickens are dumb animals that blindly eat and produce eggs and meat.
But, as time goes on, people start to realize that chickens can be just as smart and expressive as many pets. They also see that chickens can show certain behavior with their flock. So are chickens social animals?
Are chickens social animals?
Chickens are social animals. They show many behaviors within their respective flock. Chickens need other chickens to live their normal lives, and they can feel stress when they are alone.
Here are some social behavior of the chickens within their flocks:
The chickens’ natural habitats are the open forest, so they have developed many types of sound for communication. The chicks can have 12 calls and 22 calls for adult chickens. The sounds can be cackles, chirps, clucks, and cries.
The most heard and often easiest to be recognized by humans are calls for food, warning about predators, from before and after laying, and from the rooster (crowing). The other calls are hard to notice by humans.
There are also calls that are related to predators, fear, brooding, contact, feeding, and pleasure. Chickens show signals for frustration, fighting, crowing, and pain as well.
In the chicks-hens relationships, calls showing chicks’ distress will get the attention of their mother hen, and it often responds with the “cluck – cluck” sounds for reassuring.
Further reading: Do chickens groom each other?
The hens can perform body postures like moving the head vertically, moving the tail vertically, or spreading the feathers. Chickens have a “wing-down alert” pose where they stand upright with the tails and the wings forming a diamond shape and point downward.
Body posture is often taken advantage of a lot by the dominant roosters to communicate with their hens and possibly rival chickens.
Chickens can recognize humans’ faces as well as other chickens by identifying the comb, head, and wattle. The comb is the easiest for the hens to recognize.
Chickens can also see the color change of the plumage, and pale colors are often harder to notice than intense ones. If there is a big change with a chicken, it will be treated as a stranger chicken.
Pecking is more often seen on hens in their flocks. The hens peck to break the eggshell, drink, gain space, make other chickens recognize them, mate, and many other actions.
The hen can tilt their heads at an angle and orient their bodies to keep a distance from each other and maintain individuals’ spaces. If the hens’ posture is a head-to-head stance, they are ready to peck.
Pecking for food
When chickens peck for consuming food, they perform it very precisely using their heads and necks. They start by picking up the food and make another movement of the head to swallow it.
When performing the pecking, the chickens’ binocular vision is very crucial to make sure they don’t jar their necks. Their vision can judge the distance to peck and they close their eye membrane when their beaks make contact with the food.
Pecking for fighting
A chicken can peck to show threats by first lifting its head above its target, then attacking the other’s comb, head, nape or neck, wattles, then chasing the target away.
In a fight, chickens utilize many ways like pecking, kicking with their feet, slashing using their spurs. When one chicken crouches or runs away, it is considered “lost” and it shows submission.
The pecking order only happens often in farms where hens take up almost all of the chickens. When there is a rooster, pecking is reduced greatly since the pecking order is established more clearly.
How to stabilize the pecking order
Pecking order can mess up the egg production since the hens are constantly fighting each other. Here‘s how to control the flock pecking order:
- Mix then hens to create a new group before they lay eggs
- Provide the chickens enough food, water, space, and comfort so that they are less aggressive toward each other.
- Familiarity is the key, so don’t bring a chicken to another chicken group, and don’t put the rooster in without the hens getting used to it first.
- Put a rooster into the flock
Hens love dust bathing. It might be an innate behavior that appears not just on chickens since some birds with no feather are seen doing this as well.
The dust bathing behavior is thought of as a way for the chickens to control parasites and align feathers.
The behavior involves pecking into the dry dust or dirt, squatting the dust, turning and raising it into the feathers, and finishing by shaking the dust out of their bodies.
The preening behavior involves raising the feathers and stroking and nibbling the feathers using their beaks
Preening, together with scratching with the feet, dust bathing, and oiling, are a group of actions called grooming to maintain the body surface. Hens often spend more time preening than rooster, and they are better at it too.
Roosting involves chickens using their feet to grab onto branches while resting. They often pick a high spot for roosting to avoid predators, and different chickens can roost at different levels
However, it also brings some risks, especially when the chickens are injured, so modern chicken husbandry wants to make this behavior go away.
So, are chickens social animals? Chickens are definitely social animals. There are many behaviors found in chickens that make them social animals.
The behaviors include multiple ways of communication; pecking for man purposes, including establishing pecking order; dust bathing with other chickens; making body posture for communication; recognizing other chickens; roosting; and more.