Howdy, knowledgeable chicken folks! Lately, I’ve been seeing a behavior from Harry (the largest chick, a beautiful Buff Orpington, who is most interested in dominance.)
While she most often pecks at her cohorts’ backs or rumps to get a rise out of them, she will selectively gently peck at the sides of the beaks of some chicks. In canids, this would be considered submissive behavior, but I have no idea what to make of it with chickens.
The chick having her beak pecked doesn’t seem to mind, per se, but she also doesn’t seem to enjoy it – mostly, it elicits a stoic, tolerance reaction.
The thing which makes me question whether it’s submissive or not is this: She will often times start out pecking the beak, and then after a moment, peck that same chick’s back, neck, or rump to establish dominance.
Sometimes, she’ll only peck the beak and move to another bird. Other times, she’ll peck the beak, then the back/rump. Yet other times, she’ll peck the back/rump first, and then the beak. When she’s pecking any Not Beak Area, her main goal seems to be to get the chick to move. She doesn’t want her spot – she just wants the chick to respect her authority, it seems like. She will keep pecking until the chick moves away from her. I am not wild about this behavior; I like harmony.
I have a short video of her engaging in these behaviors below – do any of you chicken experts have some insight for me? Sorry for all the poop – these were their overnight towels, and they hadn’t been changed yet.
After this video, Harry started trying to pull out feathers, instead of just simple pecking. I recorded that, too, and then locked her into the crate because I felt she was just being mean. I know they need to establish a literal pecking order, but I’ve also read separating out an aggressive chicken for awhile can calm things down.
I put her into the “quarantine crate,” where she went without argument, and has been sitting quietly, preening and totally calm. Maybe she just wants some solitude. 😉 I was going to let her out after about 15 minutes, but she was sleeping soundly and I didn’t want to wake her.
Finally, after about a half hour, I decided I’d better let her out, even if she seemed content, in case she was thirsty, et cetera. When I let her out, she immediately resumed pecking, though with less force… although less than 15 minutes later, she’s back in the crate for being a little shit.
She seems to be utterly content in there. Anyone have advice as to whether I should just let this behavior play itself out, or if it can start making the other chicks more aggressive?
Aha! I finally managed to capture some odd vocalizations which began yesterday during the pecking. There’s one at about 16 seconds, at 35 seconds and at about 1:15. A few folks have said Harry is probably male, which makes me sad and angry – if I’d wanted males, I would not have said “it’s really important we have only females.” I know mistakes happen, but for crying out loud. >.<
In terms of development, Harry is growing faster than the others. Feather and comb/wattle development is on par with the rest, however. It had actually crossed my mind she might be male after only a few days – in fact, I named her “Harry” after one of my previous hens, “Henry,” whom I also thought to be male in the early days.
It also occurred to me the beak-pecking thing could be a kind of chicken pick-up line; “Hey baby, you know I love you, right?” <sigh>