Calling Chicken Whisperers

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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>


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7 responses to Calling Chicken Whisperers

  1. I’m not exactly an expert per se, more of a crazy chicken lady. 😉 So these things might not be true, but are from my observations of my own chicks.

    The odd vocalisations sound like the ‘hey I’ve found some interesting food, come eat’. It’s often displayed by mother hens with chicks and adult roosters [the dominant rooster of the flock if multiple roosters]. It does sometime occur with chicks, I had one do it sometimes from one of my two hatches. But I don’t think it means the chick is always rooster.

    Now the aggressive behaviour I think it’s mainly sorting out the pecking order. I had one last year who would constantly peck the toes of the other chicks…to the point he’d grab their toe and pull them off balance! I was worried I might need to get rid of him because of the behaviour. Luckily he grew out of it somewhat and the other chicks learnt to dodge him. He did turn out to be a rooster [but you do have some hope yet!], but a very friendly one [still with a fascination for toes…human toes!].

    It appears your buffs have good tail feather development, in some breeds [I’m not so familiar with Orphingtons], slow tail feather [and chest feather] development can be a good indication of a rooster.

    The feather pecking I saw quite often, and at the stage your’s are now. I found most of the time they are actually pecking the fluff off the ends of the newly grown feathers. Feathers are an awesome source of protein for birds and they will often eat them. If however they start actually tearing out each other’s feathers or drawing blood a lot-that’s when you really have an aggression issue.

    The pecking on the face/beak means something…I can’t remember what. I saw a documentary on chickens which talked about chicken’s body language and behaviour. I will try to find it, it’s quite old and daggy but very interesting information-wise.

  2. Erin D.

    Hey, I’ll listen to a crazy chicken lady ANYDAY! Course, being one myself, I might be biased. 😉

    The vocalizations aren’t something I’ve heard from my 5 previous hens, but this means little, of course. S/he’s been segregated from the others all afternoon now, and has been absolutely silent during confinement. I’ll probably try letting her out soonish, to see how it goes.

    The pecking might bother me more than it bothers the other chicks, I have no idea – they squeak and shriek, but they may be exaggerating.

    Nut Butter’s tailfeathers (and feathers on the whole, really) are behind in development, which is partly why I’m worried about her gender – Harry’s were among the first to develop, so maybe she’s just a very bossy female. Hm.

    Sometimes, I think she is indeed pecking the fluff off, or the white spots on the BA’s pinion feathers. Other times, she’s just being a bitch, walking from chick to chick and causing shenanigans.

    If you do happen across that documentary, I’d *so* love to see it! Not just for this issue, but in general – especially after watching that turkey docu last night. 🙂 I have a basic grip of the common sounds, but the more advanced stuff eludes me.

    I can read canid/felid/ursid/camelid body language pretty stinking well, but the subtle nuances of chickens occasionally elude me.

    Thanks for the help!

    • Do you have any photos of Nut Butter? I saw the ones of him/her with the feather, but couldn’t see the tail very well.

      I found the documentary, well I think it’s the right one! Its a BBC one, Pets in the Wild: 1 of 5: Beasts of the Field

      • Erin D.

        Yup, I surely do!

        S/he’s leggier than the rest, and is about a week behind in feather development. Also the sweetest of the bunch!

        Thanks for finding the documentary! I’m looking for it now. 🙂

        • You’re most welcome. 🙂 Let me know if you have trouble finding it.

          It’s a bit hard to tell still but I think Nut Butter might be a rooster. The males I find are always the friendliest! I swear they do it so you don’t want to get rid of them!

          • Erin D.

            I found it here:

            Woohoo! Watching now.

            I think Nut Butter probably is a rooster, too. As s/he was all cuddled up in my lap last night, practically purring, I was thinking about what to do if she ends up being a roo.

            I always worry about our neighbors, but realized last night they don’t make any accommodations for us – why the heck should I worry too much about them? The folks to the east are obsessive lawn people, who spray herbicide for everything under the sun, and want us to synchronize mowing schedules.

            The folks to the west are really nice, mostly keep to themselves, but occasionally burn piles of lawn detritus that have our house stinking for hours and/or days.

            I’m keeping Nut Butter, regardless of gender, as I’m fairly sure our zoning does not prohibit roosters. 🙂 Gotta double-check that, though.

      • Erin D.

        That was a great show, thanks! 🙂

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