Chickens are loquacious creatures, and Kevin Mitchell would know. He oversees the care of about a million of them on Wilcox Farms properties in Washington State and Oregon.
Mitchell says the birds have “patterns of speech” that reveal a lot about their well-being. They are usually noisiest in the morning—a robust concert of clucks, chortles and caws. “When I hear that, I know they are pretty healthy and happy,” Mitchell says. In the evenings when they’re preparing to roost, the chickens are much more mellow, cooing softly. When a hen lays an egg she celebrates with a series of staccato clucks, like drumbeats, culminating in a loud “buck-caw!” If chickens detect an aerial predator—say, by spotting the shadow of a hawk or eagle—they produce a short, high-pitched shriek. And they have a distinct warning for terrestrial threats: The repetitive clucking most people associate with chickens is in fact a ground predator …
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