Monthly Archives: July 2015

Before your impulse purchase of cute fluffy baby chicks at the feed store, listen to the grownup hen

Hen greets the morning with a sweet warbling song. Not.

Technically, this sound is called cackling.

Translated from Chicken to English: “I laid an egg! I laid an egg!”

Sometimes this a lie. Or it is simply a repetition of what another hen said, passing along the boastful gossip. Sometimes there really is an egg, most often in an egg box in the coop. But this little Easter Egger hen lays her blue eggs here and there so we have to go on an Easter egg hunt to find them. One of the drawbacks to free ranging.

I like my hens, I like their eggs, but I do not really like this noise, especially on the earlier side of morning, especially when all four of them get going in chorus, and sometimes I go toss some corn or stale bread to distract and shut them up.

Root Simple: Do Hens Make Noise?

Being naive first time chicken owners, the first time we heard this sound caught us by surprise. We suspected that it’s the result of discomfort from squeezing out an egg, or some wonder of selective breeding, a way to announce to the poultry farmer, “Hey, time to collect an egg!” In fact, research presented by University of Sheffield animal scientists Tommaso Pizzari and Tim R. Birkhead, in an article entitled “For whom does the hen cackle? The function of postoviposition cackling,” posit that cacking is a way for hens to get the message out to nearby roosters that they ain’t in the mood. As Pizzari and Brikhead put it, “One function of postoviposition cackling may thus be to avoid the costs of sexual harassment by signalling to males a particularly unsuitable time for fertilization.” This contradicts earlier theories that cacking was, in fact, an invitation to boogie.

I have no rooster. I did once, by accident, but a rooster’s morning song is much, much more awful and so he went to live up the road where someone wanted him to supervise and inseminate her free ranging hens. You get eggs without a rooster. But the hens cackle no matter what.

Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.- Mark Twain

Northern Flicker finally photographed

northern flicker

Backyard bird #41 this morning: a Northern Flicker!

I was heading out on the morning dog walk through the woods to the back field when I scared it up from the ground and snapped a quick photo before it flew off.

Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with a gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage. On walks, don’t be surprised if you scare one up from the ground. It’s not where you’d expect to find a woodpecker, but flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill. When they fly you’ll see a flash of color in the wings – yellow if you’re in the East, red if you’re in the West – and a bright white flash on the rump.

You can see they are in the woodpecker family when comparing with another morning sighting…

red bellied woodpecker

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker feasts alone (on homemade suet dough) after scaring off the Blue Jay that was here first.

Female RBG on patrol

Rose-breasted Grosbeak female

Peekaboo, bird.

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak watches us from a maple tree near the back deck and bird feeders. My husband was cooking dinner on the grill – a delicious chicken and sausage paella on the new Kamado Joe, in fact.

Some birds were bold enough to come to the feeders when we were a few feet away…

2 downy woodpeckers

A couple of dauntless downies, males, on either side of a cake of suet.

grosbeak

The grosbeak repositioned to the top of the blackberry arbor, but wouldn’t come closer for her dinner until we went inside.

These chunky birds use their stout bills to eat seeds, fruit, and insects. They are also frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders, where they eat sunflower seeds with abandon.

There have been a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visiting for a few weeks this summer, probably nesting nearby. I notice the male at the feeder much more often, but maybe because his flashy red and white chest makes him much more noticeable.