Chicken Talk

Roosters crow. Even if you’ve never seen a rooster in real life you know what he sounds like because we grow up with storybooks about roosters, sing songs about them in elementary school, and have watched cartoons with pompous rooster characters. In English, we write the noise as cock-a-doodle-do! Other languages have different words, but they are always loud and brash, and instantly, universally recognizable as rooster talk.

Hens, when their voices are written about at all, are usually relegated the boring cluck. This is a shame, because listening to the hens talk is one of the pleasures of the backyard chicken keeper. Just like human voices vary, so too, do chickens have voices unique to themselves. Some chickens don’t say much at all. In the five years that I’ve had Twinkydink and Blackie, I don’t think I’ve heard either of these Australorps say more than chirrup once or twice. The Bantam White Leghorns beep. Little voices for little hens. During school visits, Coco will, once in awhile, look at a child say beep-beep. It’a chatty and sweet. The whole classroom hushes when they hear her.

Buffy has recently been quite loud, which is very unusual for my placid Buff Orpington. Two years ago, she almost died from a mysterious paralysis. She couldn’t stand up for weeks, and it took months  for her to start acting like a healthy bird. She hasn’t laid an egg since, but lately, she’s been sitting in a nesting box each day, and  then loudly gets down. Chud-bup! But-but-BUT! Maybe there will be an egg soon?

On the far end of the talkative scale is Marge. She’s now six years old, and every day of her life she’s been vociferous. She announces her entrance into the coop, and then let’s everyone know when she’s leaving. When she sees me she complains that I haven’t fed her lately. She says buk-BUK-BUKBUK-BUK! I’m glad she’s not a rooster, or she’d be unbearable. Her sister New Hampshire Red, Petunia, listens in, but rarely says a thing.

Lulu, being a scatter-brained hen, talks on and off during the day. I’m not sure what she’s saying. Sort of like a crazy person who talks to herself. Chuck-chuckle. The punk rock hens, Tina and Siouxsie don’t say much. Nor do the Golden Comets. How much and how loud a hen talks is linked to breed. Then again, that doesn’t explain Marge.


  1. I wonder what people who don’t keep chickens make of this, Terry?

    You describe all the varied hen-chit-chat so well. The thing is roosters say more than just ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. And even that is individual. I’m getting to know our cockerel’s extensive vocabulary. He joins in the ‘laid an egg’ chorus, but in a loud male way. He chuck-chuck’s to show his girls some dainty morsels (and bits of stick -duh!). He bubbles and chatters. He tut-tuts and huffs. He squeaks and gives a siren like warning sound when he senses danger. And get out of his way if he hisses like a snake – he’s about to strike!


  2. A delightful passage of hen vocals. I have a very wonderfully chatty black Sex Link – Winkie. She came to us with one weak eye and so I named her after a black cat I had in my childhood, also with a weak eye. She is now the most robust, talkative and respectful of the four. A delightful written passage – with thanks.

  3. Terry, I loved this entry! It reminded me of a passage from my very favorite David Sedaris essay, “Six to Eight Black Men.” David writes, ‘…when I’m traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. “What do your roosters say?” is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark “vow vow” and both the frog and the duck say “quack,” the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty “kik-a-ricki.” Greek roosters crow “kiri-a- kee,” and in France they scream “coco-rico,” which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo,” my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.’

    • “Burble” is a good word! Amy, I love that quote. Does anyone remember the children’s book that had animal words from different languages? I’m thinking that I should do one for chickens. To my international readers – what do you call your chickens, and what do they say? I know that chickens are called “chooks” in Australia. Do they say something other than cluck?

  4. What a delightful description of Hen Talk! You are very sensitive to the nuances of their vocalizations. I just about died laughing the day my fellow school teacher friend (who kept hens), said that hens sound like junior high teachers monitoring the hallways. When the kids would change classrooms, the teachers would admonish them to “Walk, waaalk!”

    P.S. Your photo must be of Petunia; her beak is shut!

    • Oh dear, now the “walk-walk” is what I’ll hear. Marge reminds me of my great-Aunt May, who would complain about her ailments, and when she got together with my other Aunt May, the two of them would compete for having the most troubles. “My Knee!” “My liver!”

  5. my rooster Jean Claude (Americauna) is extremely talkative. When he wandered into our lives, we thought he was a Claudia, and were shocked when he eventually started crowing. Now, one of my favorite things is to spend time with him and have a conversation.

    He gets very excited whenever he sees me come into the yard, and if we’re working the garden together, he’ll let me know with an excited ‘ooooooooOOOOH’ whenever he finds a tasty spider (his favorite).

    What wonderful creatures these birds are. I never knew.

    • Is he your only chicken? Sometimes solo roosters make very good pets. IMO, any animal that gets rid of spiders is a good thing to have around!

      • Yeah, Terry. He’s a bachelor for now. We plan on getting him a couple of lasses soon though.

        Look for him on Facebook – search for Fans of Jean Claude the Rooster

  6. Love this blog entry and all the comments! I hope we get to hear from the international readers and what their hens say. That is so interesting and fun. My girls mostly still just peep, which is such an over used descriptive word for chick talk. I do love it when they do a little trill sound. This entry has made me realize that I need to spend more time with my girls in the dining room learning to describe their sounds and when/why they use them! The laundry can just stay in a pile on the living room floor, – – it’s too quiet anyway. ;)

  7. The chattiest hen in my current group is named “Aunt Bee”. I think the only time she is silent is when she is sleeping…One of my favorite hen sounds is the low growl of pleasure when they are dust bathing- you can tell they are in spa heaven!

  8. My hen, Quail, purrs to me in the mornings in the dark when I say hello in the process of opening their run door. My hens also ‘burble’ when they are walking about in the grass looking for worms and bugs. I love observing my chickens and their behaviors. Each one does have her own unique personality.

  9. every day i check out the hen blog. I do this from work. It the best part of my day. I really love the blog and the comments. I have never had a hen and probably never will but i find this very facinating. I do remember when i was a child, going over to grandma’s house and gathering the eggs with my brother. I was afraid the chickens would peck my hands so i made my brother shoo them off the nesting boxes so i could pick them up. …lol
    keep up the great blog

  10. I love (and miss) the sound of happy chickens, to the extent that I have bookmarked your interview with Paul Falcone for last year, just so I can tune in once and awhile and listen to Buffy, and Lulu sing! That lovely sound, along with the chirp of the “Spring Peepers,” are the sounds I miss most living in the middle of a busy city.

  11. Magic Cochin I know that hissing sound all too well. Mouch my Delaware rooster made that noise several times. I finally got tired of defending myself on my own property. I gave him to a lady at work, the outcome probably wasn’t pretty, I didn’t ask. He got me twice as I was leaving the coop and the third time was when I went into the run to change waterers he flew at my face and had I not been quick enough and knocked him down he would have flogged my face. That was the last straw for me.
    I work in a department with 22 women and only 3 men and when the women all get to talking at the same time I always say, “well someone laid an egg it’s got the all the hens squwaking with celebration?” I got a few dirty looks the first time I said it, now they just fire back and call me an old grumpy rooster or something to that effect.

    • Ken, I had two roosters. They made great soup! One attacked my poor girls, and the other one attacked me two days later. Not fun!

  12. Terry, I just checked the goat cam and it needs a little TLC. It’s got goat slobber all over it. ;-)