Fowl behavior

Not only do our free range layers provide us with a daily surplus of eggs, they are also an endless source of education and entertainment. Recently we have had the added pleasure of being able to watch one of Joanna’s Speckled Sussex hens hatch a clutch of eggs. The little ones will be three weeks old on Monday (there are actually eight in the group, three were uncooperative at picture time) and have been running about the yard, under the always watchful attentions of Mother, for nearly a week. As a mammal, viviparity seems a correct and reasonable way to produce offspring. As such, oviparity is simply astounding. To deposit a seemingly inanimate object into a nest and incubate it at just the right temperature, to have a fully-formed and precocious little thing emerge in just twenty-one days seems like fantasy. Although I cannot tell you which comes first, I can assure you that chickens do indeed come from eggs. Furthermore, once the peeps arrive, the maternal instinct of the bird who hatched the group is a marvel in itself. Did you know that a hen will set a clutch when the number of eggs under her gets to be about a dozen or so? The interesting thing is that it really doesn’t matter whether all the eggs are hers or not. If you don’t want to raise peeps, simply see to it that the eggs are removed from the layer house at the end of the day. If, however, you do want to raise additional layers (and cockerels for the pot) simply leave an egg behind. The next day your hens will take the hint and lay their next eggs alongside the one you’ve left for encouragement. In no time you’ll have a clutch, all with the same sire (we run a single Rooster here at the farm) but with potentially as many mothers are there are eggs (if, that is, you run that many hens in your flock). A brooding hen will set for the duration, leaving her nest briefly each day or two for a quick drink and something to eat. And hens are dedicated and protective mothers. We have eight outdoor cats patrolling the barns and outbuildings. Even though we provide an ample supply of dry cat food for these hard-working felines all of them will avail themselves of the opportunity of a snack, if one should present itself. Imagine how delightful a morsel one of these defenseless little birds must appear to these predatory felines. But you know, NONE of them will give a second look at these little birds, for if they should hazard to do so, they seem to know that the hen will make them wish they hadn’t! If one of the cats, or dogs, or even I should come too close, a hen will put her head down, tail up, open her wings, begin to scream and CHARGE, full tilt. If you don’t back off immediately, the threat turns into an attack and you’ll be treated to a brutal, nail-first, wing lashing. It is surely true that There’s no greater love than a Mother for her Children. Whether this care is a true show of emotional love and devotion or simply a hard-wired behavior is unimportant, suffice it to say that this bird is clearly ready to do battle. To end this post I’ve included a nice portrait of two of Joanna’s Silver Laced Wyandottes. These two girls struck a pose yesterday afternoon that simply cried out to be presented here.



19 thoughts on “Fowl behavior

  1. I can’t see the other comments on my phone, so maybe this has already been asked, but if you have several hens laying eggs, which one will become the broody hen when there are enough eggs for a clutch? So interesting … the photographs are gorgeous. The second one reminds me of a portrait of a Victorian couple with ruffle collars. Lovely!

    • Broodiness is a character that varies quite a bit from hen-to-hen … the one that raised this clutch was particularly broody and wanted to set in the worst way. She would get on top of any pair of eggs that were in sight … we would have to pry them out from under her. Once Joanna decided that we needed some replacements she (the hen) was delighted. So, to answer your question … the one most highly motivated will undertake the responsibility. Glad you enjoyed this post. D

  2. The little ones are surprisingly beautiful 😉 I often feel that little birds more resemble their dinosaur ancestors and look a bit eerie 🙂 (Owls in particular…)

    Now I have a question for the expert: If you move all the eggs (in the moment the hen would not protect it) – how far can you move it that she will recognize it as hers?

    I am asking because we once did this – with a nest of redstarts who had decided they need to build it right in the middle of our attic at the time that was a big construction site (… next to guys working with noisy chainsaws and electric screwdrivers!! It seems their instincts to build a nest and hatch are quite strong). We moved it by about 2 meters to a makeshift wooden construction just built for them, and fortunately the bird found it again – and we could watch the little birds trying to fly for the first time!

    • Good question. I think that, as long as the hen had easy access to it, you could move it some distance from where it had been originally situated. Having said that, if the developmental sequence is already underway … she can’t be off the nest very long, for if the temperature of the eggs drops very much below 34.5 – 35.5C (94.1-95.9) for very long the developmental sequence will stop … and cannot be restarted. Temperature and also humidity levels are critical and must stay within very narrow limits. So, if you move the nest … she’s got to be able to relocate it very quickly. I noted in my post that the hen will leave the nest for brief periods to eat and drink … during the summer she’ll take her time … but during the winter months she’s off and back on within a minute or two, and only every other day or so! Remarkable! D

      • Yes – remarkable indeed! I had once seen this award-winning documentary about penguins in Antarctica – where the females carefully hand over their eggs to the males who stand then in a tightly packed crowd for weeks to hatch these eggs at these mind-bogglingly low temperatures … but thinking about it … the behavior of chicken is no less fascinating!

  3. Three things:
    1. So, I’m curious. How long did it take to get these images? Did you hold the camera or use a tripod and what lens were you using?
    2. Proving that you can, indeed, find anything on the Internet, here you go:
    3. Yesterday morning when I commented on the previous post it was mild, foggy and rainy. Before long, though, it cleared off and became a mostly sunny day with hardly any wind and temperatures in the low twenties C. I spent most of the morning with youngest daughter–her finals are coming up so, together, we did some units tests for practice. At noon I decided to do something about the dandelions that have pretty much taken over my small (35′ by 35′) front lawn. Out I went with the dandelion plucker and a fish pan (yes, a container for holding fish. It is plastic with holes in the bottom for drainage and measures around 3’x2’x1.5′; I prefer it to the wheebarrow). It holds around 60 lb of fish, crab or, in this case dandelions. I spent the afternoon out there and filled the thing 5 times, then dumped it just outside the fence in a compost heap. Just before sitting down to rad this morning (another foggy, mild one), I looked out the window at my nice weed-free lawn only to discover that they must have all left the compost heap and re-planted themselves right where they were 🙂 It’s almost like I did not do a thing!

    • 1. I was using the 70-200 mm set to DX mode which gave a crop factor of 1.5X so, effectively, I was working at 300 mm. The shots were hand-held. I set the camera to manual focus and settled on a spot which I knew was in the flight path of the incoming birds. I looked through the viewfinder and simply hit the shutter release when I knew a bird was about to fly through the sweet-spot. I think I took nearly 200 shots in about 10 minutes … of which 10 or so had a bird nicely in focus.
      2. I promise to read a sampling to Joanna as soon as I hit ‘reply.’
      3. My sympathies go out to you with regard to the dandelions … you are correct in observing that they seem to rise from the dead somehow. I take great solace however when I realize that when I mow them in seed that that’s the last I’ll see of them until next year. My dandelion season is now over … and my lawn is back to uniform green … you’re time will come too … hand in there.
      4. I’ve told Joanna to anticipate whale photos … she’s excited!


    • Joanna says that they are her favorite animals (not including the cats that is!). One wouldn’t think chickens have personality … but after all this time of observing them I think I’ll have to agree with Joanna that they do! D

  4. Happy to see the return of your animal portraits! The girls remind me a little of turkeys with their red ruffles! They have beautiful coloring too. Your words and pictures really do educate and illustrate life on the farm!

    • I’m glad you can still appreciate a good-looking-bird! Thanks for checking in … haven’t heard from you in quite some time … although J shows me FB images of you from time-to-time. I like your hair short! D

    • I’ve always said, Leanne, that your comments of approbation mean much to me. Thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to pass this one along. I have been meaning to tell you that I like the new look of your blog … I am always amazed at just how busy you are … I don’t know how you find time to do it all. In many ways you have been the model upon which I have, from the beginning, based my own efforts in this genre we call photo blogging. Thanks for doing what you do and for today’s comment. D

      • Thank you, I do try and see as many blogs as I can, but commenting can become difficult, but sometimes you see something and you just have to say something. I am obsessed with photography and I do nothing else, haha, that is how. I try and make it work in everything I do. It is good that I am starting to make a living from it too now, and I can keep doing it. Slowly but surely. I just loved the chooks, the colours are great.

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