What’s Going On Here?

Take a look at this photo.

Sweet, huh? There’s one of the Rhode Island Reds, cuddling up with her friends.

Don’t jump to conclusions.

I fully believe that animals have emotions and are thinking beings. However, I am careful not to interpret their behavior based on my skewed perspective as a human. We all look for that “aw, how cute” moment. YouTube is rife with videos that are supposedly of adorable happy dogs, but they are actually fearful, grimacing pets. A smile is not always a smile.

And this is not a hug.

Ruby is on the top of the pecking order. She doesn’t have a motherly, coddling bone in her body.

The prime sleeping position is on the highest rung of the ladder. Ruby was late to get to her rightful place. She was busy laying an egg. By the time she hopped up, the perch was full. She tried to shove everyone out of the way. Roosting birds are hard to move. Ruby almost fit. She squeezed in all but her wings. And so Ruby ended up in this rather ignominious position. After a bit more jostling, wings were tucked in and all went to sleep.

Knowing that it’s an awkward position and not a hug does nothing to diminish the pleasure I get from this moment or these animals. On the contrary, I appreciate the pure chicken-ness of them. Who they truly are is endlessly fascinating. I don’t need my hens to hug each other. I’ve seen plenty of examples of friendships amongst my flock. There’s always something going on – the challenge is in understanding it.


  1. What an interesting pic! I have been amused at my own chickens going to sleep in the same places every night – except the ones at the bottom of the pecking order, who fit where they can!

    I’m surprised there isn’t a daily bundle to be the first in the bed but they always go in so sedately and sure of themselves! :)

  2. That’s a great photo. My hens spend about 5-10 minutes jostling every evening, pushing and shoving, knocking others off the roost, trying to crawl under another while on the roost to get to the other side. Sometimes Toby gets so tired of all the women, he starts scolding them to shut up so he can go to sleep. I used to feel bad about all the hens being shoved or pecked on the head, but I have to remember that it’s their pecking order and not mine:-)

  3. I was laughing when I saw that! Mine prefer the upper right corner too, and there has been a lot of drama around the spot since they first moved in. What a great picture!

  4. The joy chickens bring to our household is priceless, even though my initial start up costs were rather steep. For several days one of my hens had poop on her back in the morning. I quickly figured out that she was sleeping in the nest box apparently under another hen! Guess she was warm those few cold nights.

  5. Ah yes, roosting time!!! It’s always “seems” to be a “free for all”. All the jostling, pecking, jumping here and then jumping there.
    I have a couple hens that just can’t stand to have the lower hens on the rung below them. They jump on that rung and drive them down to the next one and then take their place on the top rung again.
    I understand a lot of chickens behavior but I must admit that behaviour has me stumped.

  6. terry,how old is candy?i am getting my bunny wensday.i am so happy:) :)

  7. You are so right about projecting human emotions on our pets. But how does one ignore years of growing up with Walt Disney’s adorable talking animals? I do believe animals have emotions, but above all, they need our respect. Only then can we fully appreciate their amazing characteristics.

    • Don’t get me started on cartoon animals! (Or animated movies in general, in which almost all of the active characters are male.) There was a truly horrible movie a couple of years back in which on of the characters was a Holstein cow – black and white, full udders. Classic dairy cow. And yet it was voiced by a man. Didn’t the animators know that teats are only on the girls??? Ack!

      • Excellent point. The gender aspect is really pervasive. Even WALL.E is male – as are Nemo, RatatouIlle, the characters in Up). I guess in order to be a female lead, you must be a princess. Yuck!

        • There are some good lead females, but the funny, active side-kicks are always men. Think about the scenes in the pubs in Shrek.

      • This reminded me of ONE of my grandmothers favorite country/farm sayings. “useless as teats on a boar” although for years I thought she was saying board. ;-)

  8. Cute pictures, but your right it’s always going to be about dominance and who gets to be the boss. The highest perch will always be the safest to them. Acourse though I won’t want to sleep under the others and get pooped on. But then again chickens might not mind it.
    Wanted to let you know I did get the clicker today to try and clicker train my cat Jesse. Right know he won’t come near, seems afraid of the noise even with the treat in my hand. Oh well that’s a cat for you, afraid and cautious of anything new. Morgan the dog on the other hand was right in middle of everything and even interest in hearing the clicker noise. But I had no treats to give him !!!
    Hopefully I can overcome Jesse’s fear of the clicker noise, but I hope he won’t turn out to be a cat who isn’t food driven. I already had one those, Higgins won’t touch or take anything from anyone’s hand, or even eat treats or chicken or even tuna. Just cat food, he was the strangest cat I ever had !!!

      • Huh, didn’t think of that. Thank you Terry. Well, that was a waste of $3.50 for the clicker. Oh well I can maybe slip into one of the gift bags I make every year for people as one of the goodies.

        • PS Terry I just noticed something and maybe you already know this but as I was looking at Ruby’s tail feathers I see she has black on them. Doesn’t this mean she is a RIR and is instead a Production Red ? Because aren’t pure/show RIR not suppose to have any Black or green on their tail feathers at all acourse. I know on backyardchickens.com alot of people ask alot of questions about the difference between a RIR and Production Red. I know she is from a hatchery and then tend to breed towards egg production not looks that are suppose to be the breed’s standard. Acourse I am probably talking to a person who knows a heck of a lot more about chickens and breeds then I do.

            • Sorry, didn’t mean to offend, it’s just that I alot of people have been complatining and warning on backyardchickens forums that when they order RIR chicks, even when specifing that breed they are instead sent Production Reds. So just wanted to warn you in that you might not have received the specific breed you orginially ordered.

  9. Hey Terry! This Saturday we had dinner company. The meal of choice? Your apple cider chicken stew! Second time we’ve done this one, and I think it was even better! A big hit with the company. We were left with clean plates (after some second helpings!). Just wanted to share our success with another of your dishes! :)

    • Sean, how nice of you to tell me. AND I have apple cider and chicken in the fridge…hmmm… haven’t made that recipe for ages!

  10. Terry, I have a bird that will hop on the back of another one and stand there, pulling at her feathers (around the neck). Is this the same sort of “pecking order” thing? I am sure she is a hen … just thought it seemed strange.

  11. Hi Terry,
    This is my second visit to hen cam and since my wife and I have 5 chickens, it’s nice to see how much interest there is on the subject. I put you on my blog favorites list here at Tropical Texana since I have both a garden and chicken blog combined. I must say the hens have added a new dimension to my life in the garden since getting them back in April. And yes, they are endlessly fascinating, aren’t they?
    I think the biggest surprise to me was how many different sounds they make. They are constantly ‘talking’ to each other and sometimes to me. I love the ‘hunting for stuff in dirt’ sound the most. It’s a soft quiet sound almost like a guinea pig’s chortle.
    Take care,
    David/ :-) Houston, Texas

    • I think the favorite sound that my flock makes is what I call the “chicken lullaby.” They do a gentle, happy, go-to-bed chorus on their roosts.

      • Mine also have an assortment of calls when getting up on the roost. Most are not quite a lullaby (especially if one falls off!), but some of them are very happy with their roosting position and so they tell the world with a song. They also make this tiny little trill sometimes and I have no idea what it means. They are awake when they do it so I know it’s not ‘snoring’. LOL
        David/ :-)

  12. I was reassured to read the various comments about regular bedtime/roost-time shuffling. I recently added 2 new pullets to my small flock of 5 one-year-old hens, and after 2 months, they are still squawkings, flyings, thumpings and flufflings every night. The weather has taken a turn for freezing just lately, and things still seem to be shifting. I was worried my girls were acting unusually disrupted, but apparently there is somewhat constant jockeying for position?

    This brings me to a related question, which perhaps you have previously addressed on this blog? And that is the question of how best to keep a small flock laying. My first hens are going into their second winter, and have definitely slowed down their laying since this summer. Yes, some of them are molting, but still, they slowed way down before that started. I bought 2 new started pullets and integrated them in late summer, and they are laying well.

    But it seemed way more stressful to everyone, to be adding a few new birds than I expected –which had been my plan from the beginning. After I observed the disruption and brutal pecking, I started rereading some of my ‘raising chickens for newbies’ books, and read that most keepers of small flocks use the ‘all in/all out’ system of keeping production up, rather than adding a few new birds every year idea I had originally heard of.

    I don’t have room for a second coop, so I have to either add a couple of new birds every year as the old ones slow down and/or expire, or face wielding the axe for my old (beloved) girls who are entering their less-productive years.

    Any thoughts or advice?
    Kathy in Oregon

    • You’ve asked an actually quite complicated question(s). Let me tease it apart-
      1. If you have hens purely for production, then it’s best to go with a hybrid that lays almost everyday, has a short molt, lays through the first winter and lays almost as many eggs the second year. At 18 months the hens are harvested for meat/soup. Then you start again. Most of us don’t do that. Our hens are not just for food, they become an integral part of the backyard community, and we keep them around into retirement. Still, if having lots of eggs are important, then go with the high production breeds and forget the ones that go broody, and the heritage breeds that lay only 3 eggs/week.
      2. Adding a hen or two to an established small flock is difficult and stressful. I have more about that on a FAQ. I also don’t know if your coop can accommodate additional birds. I’ve been reading recommendations for coop size far too small for hens!!!
      3. It can take 3 months for a hen to recover from a molt – even if she looks fully feathered to you, her body is depleted. Feed extra protein. I like the “poultry manna” from the feed store. Sunflower seeds are good.
      4. Hens need 14 hours of light to lay, so you can put a 40 watt bulb on a timer to turn on early in the morning to give the flock additional light. Also, production goes down when it’s cold, but I don’t think that heaters are a good idea. Personally, I let my hens rest after the molt. They usually begin laying again by February.
      Lots for you to think about!

  13. I have to add my favorite chicken noise, which I call their ‘piggy’ noises, when I give them something especially delicious, like meat scraps, yogurt-soaked oatmeal, etc. They sound to me like chickens trying to oink. Tee hee.

    • Hi Kathy,
      I would love to hear that sound on a soundclip! I wish we had a way to do this. Of course, as soon as you start to do something like record sound and hold up a mike, they think it’s food. LOL We’d hear a lot of pecking sounds. They’ve pecked my camera before! Thanks for some food for thought. David/ :-)

  14. Your posts are interesting and informative. I got a real kick out of these photos of your chickens. Let chickens be chickens…

  15. I’m glad you commented on the misinterpretation of animal behaviors on youtube videos. I once saw a video of a very large dog “playing” with a baby and feared for that baby’s life. As a dog trainer I saw the predatory behavior in this dog’s “playing”. Not so cute…to me.
    We do our animals a great disservice when we try to pin human emotions on them.
    Cute photo though but thanks for explaining the real meaning behind it.

    • I never know what to do when I get those videos on my FB feed! After screaming, I sometimes post a, hopefully, gentle, “that is not a happy animal” comment. Sometimes I ignore it, but then feel frustrated all day. I can only hope that my small blog has small ripples going out into the world making a small difference. My school visits help, too. I just did a program with 4th to 6th graders and talked about being careful, thoughtful observers of the world around us, and how to think about behavior in the context of science. I know that you have the same good impact on the children you work with!

  16. Terry, I had to let you know how much I enjoyed viewing the photo of Ruby and her friends. Feeling rather low, I began reading your post and a smile crept over my face. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Julie.

    • Julie – and that’s why I do what I do. I’m sure that’s why you blog and share your animals with others. Besides, the process of thinking about the charming things to blog makes me focus on the good and cheers me up, too!