Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky
Chickens make different sounds for different reasons. To better understand the birds in your small flock, become familiar with the meanings of their various calls.
A rooster crows to assert its dominance over other chickens and to warn the flock of possible danger. In fact, male chickens have two alarm calls—one to warn of threats from the air and the other to warn of threats from the ground. Female chickens rarely give alarm calls unless they have a brood of chicks.
Male chickens usually produce a characteristic food call when they discover edible items. Food call rates and numbers increase with an increase in food quality. A male chicken is less likely to make food calls in the presence of another male chicken and more likely to make them when a female chicken is present, especially one the male chicken does not know. Typically, females are allowed first choice of food items found. Similarly, a hen has special vocalizations to lead chicks to food and waits until they are present before eating the food.
Female chickens make a pre-lay call before they enter a nest to lay an egg. In feral chickens, these calls have been shown to attract the males, which then escort the hen to a suitable nest. There appears to be no such effect on domesticated male chickens. A hen's post-laying cackle is a repetition of brief sounds followed by a final more extended one. It was originally believed that the hen was inviting the rooster to mate to have fresh sperm for the next egg. This was found not to be the case, however. In fact, the post-laying cackle actually results in less attention from males, and studies have shown that the period immediately after a hen lays an egg is a poor time for fertilization. It has been hypothesized that hens use the post-lay cackle to discourage sexual harassment from the males.