Communication amongst chickens takes many forms. It is well known that chickens are gregarious. This means that they are friendly and sociable. So they have developed a wide range of sounds for communication.
Studies have classified twelve chick calls and as many as 22 calls by adults. These range from clucks, cackles, chirps, crows and cries to keep in contact with mates.
Calls heard most often and recognised by humans are food calls, predator alarms, pre- and post-laying calls and roosters crowing. Others are more specific which humans find hard to identify.
Hen to chick communication
There is some evidence of pre-hatching communication between hens and chicks. Embryos and hens begin to make sounds the day before hatching. This happens more and more often as hatching approaches. If an embryo begins to give a distress call, the hen vocalizes or moves on the nest and the embryo becomes silent or begins to emit pleasure calls. The clucking sound of the hen has also been shown to reduce distress calls.
Vocal communication is important in the hen-chick relationship. If a chick is hidden from its hen, it gives distress calls, and the hen typically goes in the direction of the sound
Another classification describes the sounds that chickens make that are related to fear and predators.
They make calls to do with brooding, feeding, contact and pleasure, but there are also signals expressing pain, frustration, fighting and crowing.
The rooster also uses his crow for different purposes.
Studies on communication amongst chickens have shown that roosters low in the pecking order of a small group won’t crow until the top ranked male first crows his morning cock-a-doodle-doo.
As any poultry owner soon learns, there’s a well-recognised daily pattern of crowing near dawn followed by feeding calls, egg-laying calls and finally roosting calls. Chicken distress calls immediately get the attention of their broody mother, and the regular “cluck -cluck” is a reassuring call from the mother to the chicks.
Large groups of hens can create very high noise levels. They are around 72-87dB at normal times, 73-100 dB at feeding and 75-85 dB during egg laying.