Can you imagine if chickens could speak English, Japanese, German, or Swahili? Even if they spoke in a language we didn’t understand, we’d be shocked by the remarkable event.
If you’ve ever been around them much, you’d know they talk about everything, using their own innate language. Of all farm creatures, they tend to be most vocal, expressing a wide range of emotions.
A loud squawk is a sign one is being attacked, threatened, or deeply displeased. Chickens are not bashful about putting another in its place. You’ve heard the term “pecking order” in regard to members of a flock. Some might think this is a euphemism for a sound or signal given an underling. It can be accomplished with a stern look, but only after uppity birds have performed a lot of actual pecking, which can become quite vicious and noisy, especially when everyone goes to roost. Those highest in the pecking order get the best spots, and the lowest may end up on the ground.
Anyone who’s watched a mother hen with chicks will hear the soft cluck, cluck, cluck of her calling to her chicks, keeping them close and located as the babies cheep or trill back. Peeps can voice anything from an “all is well” chirp to a sharp peep of alarm or the unmistakable loud cry of utter misery.
The crow from a rooster can be a loud statement that he’s the boss, but he actually uses it in other ways as well. Some may think a rooster is only good for bragging about himself and coupling with hens. Not so, and he has a varied language for many important tasks he does. A good rooster will lead his flock to food with a “tuck, tuck, tuck” sound, then point his beak down at it as he makes a low guttural “woo-ah-ah-ah” over and over, as he tells them there are choice bits he sees. He will encourage the hens to eat first while he stands guard. A good rooster will court a hen with a soft croon as he circles her while lowering his wingtips to the ground, waiting for her response. Hens love a rooster who actually asks for permission to mate. If she accepts, she will squat low. Roosters free ranging with a flock will stand guard, looking for predators. His alerts range from a caution call to an “air raid” warning, which will send chickens scampering for cover.
Hens have a lot more to talk about than a rooster does. Hens talk about every move they make. They have a nesting call, a cackle after laying an egg, and a broody hiss while on the nest, telling you to leave them alone. If you reach your hand toward a lady on the nest, you may get nailed on the hand with a sharp beak. There’s also a conversation call, a low-pitched repetitive sound telling each other, “We are together and happy,” a sort of “I’m over here” that keeps the flock in communication while they scratch across open ground. The funniest sound they make happens when they take a dust bath in cool, soft soil. They actually make a purring noise of ecstasy, then lie there, looking dead and limp for all the world. A chicken’s version of a bubble bath, I guess.
There are yet more expressions they use throughout the day. Who says chickens can’t talk? You just need to understand what they’re saying, in their own little language, rooted somewhere deep in that tiny bird brain.