Chicken behaviours are frequently misunderstood by those new to owning poultry.
Once you know that they really are not out to kill you but are showing you love in their language...everything changes for the better!
Squatting is a sign of submission. The chicken is acknowledging that you are at the top of the pecking order. That position is usually reserved for the rooster, so feel very honoured. After giving her a stroking pat she is very likely to give a little feather shake. The reason is, if you were a rooster, it would give the semen a shake down into her reproductive tract to aid fertilisation of her eggs.
Hens may also squat for another hen because they are bowing in submission to acknowledge that hen is now above her; in a plea to her not to attack.
Squatting also indicates that the chicken is at an egg laying age.
Take squatting as a sign of friendliness, not a plea for a rooster.
Pecking is often mistaken for aggression, when in actual fact it’s grooming.
Hens often groom their best friend amongst the other hens as well as any roosters they adore.
But there is another reason why they particularly like to peck at humans and that is because of a phosphorus in our clothing. Birds can see light emitted from certain chemicals that we cannot see in our eyes light spectrum. Many bugs give off a chemical illumination which encourages birds to locate and eat them. Black and blue clothing seem to attract chickens the most as this makes the phosphorus stand out the most.
Pecking at you while on the nest is for a different reason, and that is merely only to protect her eggs. The peck is usually not as violent as we imagine. It’s more of a shock than anything. Always place your hand under a hen with confidence and don’t linger. She will submit to the eggs being taken from under her.
Dust and Sun Bathing are natural and healthy behavioural characteristics in poultry. It is not a neurological disturbance.
Dust bathing helps to get rid of pests from between their feathers and can provide a cooling effect in summer, especially to their belly and legs. That is why their dust bathing areas are often quite deep.
Sun bathing allows light onto the belly and under the wings to promote more intact of vitamin D which helps with calcium absorption in their diet and keeps their bones strong and healthy. They never stay too long in the sun.
Both of these behaviours are instinctual and are observed within a week or two from hatching. This is not taught behaviour. Chicks are likely to dust bath in their wood shavings in the brooder even though they have not grown feathers as yet.
When a hen refuses to leave her nesting box, growls and squats down low, this is what is known as being broody. Certain breeds and personalities are more likely to go broody than others. Some will be regular broodies. Usually it is set off by hot days. The first sign will be a large broody poo, two to three days before it starts.
Being broody does not mean she has to have fertile eggs under her to hatch, nor is it a plea for a rooster.
It is just a matter of course for many hens which needs to broken quickly for the sake of her health. Leaving her stay broody will cause her to lose body weight which can cause her immune system to become weakened and is more likely to become infested with lice and mites. Broodiness is especially dangerous during severe hot weather, where dehydration and coop heat can cause her to die on the nest.
Lock her out of the nesting box area. Placing her in a fenced off area with shade and cool grass with only food and water for the day will be sufficient. Return her to the coop at night to roost. In the morning, return her to her grassy area until her broodiness has ceased. By cooling her, it lowers her body temperature which will stop her broodiness.
Throwing straw onto their back
Some hens may sitting in a nesting box or walking around picking up a piece of straw and placing it on her back.
This crazy behaviour is known as nesting.
It’s another indicator that a hen is thinking of going broody.
Cheerleading chickens are the hens who love to encourage the other in hens in their nesting boxes to lay their eggs. She is not interested in laying her own egg. She is only acting as encouragement. Placing her into a nesting box will only result in her jumping straight back out. The more hens you have, the more noticeable this behaviour will become at egg laying time.
Feather Pulling is when a chicken pulls out her own feathers, and there are two main reasons.
Moulting season is the most common reason. It even sounds like the hen is unscrewing her feathers (click-click-click sound). She is helping some of her feathers to come out. Many fall out by themselves, but during daily preening they are able to identify those feathers that need a little more help to come out, to let the new feather quills come through.
Nesting to hatch chicks is the other reason. Mother hen really does feather the nest. These feathers are soft and downy and come from underneath her, from her belly and lower chest. Many broody hens also lack feathers underneath as their body heat encourages the feathers to come loose.
There are some rare occasions when hens will attempt to crow like a rooster.
This is because of either assuming the position of flock protector or due to a hormonal imbalance. Once crowing starts, she is unlikely to lay. It would be worthwhile to have her checked out by a vet. Sometimes hormonal imbalances can be caused by a tumour in the reproductive tract. More common amongst ISA Brown (New Hampshire X) hens.