Don’t call them “birdbrains”! Chickens have emotions, intelligence, and a language all their own, and you can learn to speak it by watching your flock.
When I first got chickens, I was instantly drawn to them. I wanted to learn everything I could about my new, tiny balls of fluff. As I saw it, I was planning on having these chickens around for a long time, so connecting with them as I would a new puppy seemed only natural. I was there for their first peeps. I witnessed them learning to roost, I watched them try new foods, I supported them through their awkward teenage years, and I celebrated with them as they laid their first eggs.
At that time, there were very few books or websites dedicated to chickens that could help me gain insight into the inner lives of my flock. As is true for me with any animals I meet, I wished I could know what my chickens were thinking. Perhaps that desire came from wanting to make sure they felt good and were happy in their day-to-day lives. But it certainly stemmed from my interest in knowing all I could about what it is like to be a chicken, to connect with them on a deeper level and to truly understand how their minds, bodies, and emotions worked.
I had no idea when I started out, that chickens would be so amazing. Observing them came hand in hand with all the time I was spending with them, and it has provided me with a wealth of chicken wisdom. I encourage you to take the time to watch your flock, too. Watch and listen to your chickens chattering as they go about their days. Listen to the sounds they make as you open the coop, and to what they say when you throw out scratch. Follow them around the yard as they explore. Repeat what you hear back to them and watch their response. Before you know it, you too will be fluent in chicken speak.
Here are 10 simple tips that have served me well that will help you get the most out of your flock-watching time.
- Wear plain clothing. A word of caution — chickens love to peck at bling and dangling objects. (They’ll investigate freshly manicured toes, too!)
- Be quiet and stay still. Your voice and movements will distract them from behaving naturally.
- Be patient. At first the chickens focus on you, but given time they’ll go about their business.
- Spend plenty of time. It takes many hours of observation for the flock to treat you as an honorary member.
- Mornings are a good time to watch the flock as they go about their daily rituals of eating, drinking, and exploring. When it comes to taming or training individual birds, wait until the afternoon when they are less distracted.
- Watch how they behave with and without treats present.
- Observe your birds in a location where they feel safe. Do no try to observe them when they are in a new place or situation. Keep potential perceived predators away, such as dogs or strangers.
- Be aware of the weather. You may notice different behaviors in different conditions and seasons.
- Keep a journal with your observations and photos or sketches. Who knows, you might end up discovering something new!
- Record what they are saying with your smartphone so you can play it back to refresh your memory later. This will help you interpret chicken speak!