A Guide To Understanding The Chicken Pecking Order
What Is The Pecking Order And Why Is It Important?
Being lower in the pecking order than the black chest rooster,
the lighter rooster left the hens as soon as the rooster higher in the pecking order arrived.
The chicken is a social bird that enjoys the company of its flock. Many social animals work out a hierarchy, and the chicken is no exception. The hierarchy created is a means of attaining and keeping order. When referring to this ordered social structure in chickens, and sometimes other bird species, it is called the Pecking Order.
The pecking order is a natural process that chickens have to work out among themselves. This order of social dynamics determines the status of individual birds of a flock and their roles. The pecking order has an influence on many chicken activities such as feeding, drinking, egg laying, roosting, crowing, mating and even dust bathing. Stronger members of a flock are ranked at the top of the pecking order, while more submissive or physically weaker birds are placed lower in the order. Alpha roosters who are healthy will crow to signal their dominance to the other chickens and often take on the job as head of the flock. Roosters who are the flock leader will look out for the hens by watching for predators, find them treats, mating and chasing other roosters away from the hens. Roosters and cockerels lower in the pecking order do not crow or breed with hens when the rooster higher than they are is around. Hens high in the pecking order are known to chase other hens out of nest boxes that they favor. The higher ranking chickens get to eat more while the lower ranking members usually wait or move out of the way until the higher placed chickens have had their fill. Chickens with higher status in the pecking order get to choose where they will roost, leaving the other chickens to take whatever roosts are left.
The pecking order is established early in a chicken’s life when raised in a flock. Young chicks peck each other and bully one another when they are around food. The stronger chicks get to eat first, or eat the best foods and treats. Pullets and cockerels that grow up together will run and bump into each other, with the stronger one often chasing the other.
How The Pecking Order Works
Chickens use the rooster dance to dominate other members of their flock.
Pecking order positions are established when one or more flock members are confronted by another member. If one of the chickens turns out to be stronger or more intimidating than the other(s) being challenged, the individual that is weaker will back down and is now lower in the order than the stronger member. If neither chicken is willing to back down or they are equally matched, a quarrel may occur. According to how determined each bird is to become the higher ranking, the dispute can be minor and no longer than a few seconds with minimal injuries such as loosing a few feathers, to minutes with a possible risk of serious injuries like eye loss or even death. I personally suggest that you should try not to interfere with chickens establishing their pecking order unless blood is shed, in which case you should separate the injured bird from the aggressor to prevent further injuries.
One of my roosters that ranks at the top of the pecking order in his flock.
He is flapping his wings together to make a loud clapping sound, announcing
that he is at the top of the pecking order.
Usually the pecking order is established with a peck or two from a dominant chicken to a less dominate bird though it sometimes requires chasing and the use of other body language as well. Flaring hackle feathers with the head usually lowered is used as an intimidation technique. Both roosters/cockerels and hens/pullets can fluff and flare out their hackle feathers. Loud wing flapping with the head held high and chest puffed out is a way to show dominance, while flapping with a lowered head and a slight run in the opposite direction of the opposing chicken is a way for one chicken to show submission without ever touching each other, preventing possible damage to itself. Another common non violent way for one bird to show they are high in the pecking order is the wing dance(or chicken/rooster dance). The dominant bird will come up sideways to the other bird, lower their outer wing and ‘dance’ in a half circle around the other chicken. If the other chicken runs or walks away, the dominant chicken is now higher than that bird in the pecking order.
New Chickens And The Pecking Order
To avoid possibly serious injuries to newly acquired chickens that you want to introduce to an existing flock, separate the new chickens from your current flock with a cage or large dog crate. If possible, you can also section off a portion of your current coop/run for the new birds that you can later remove if you wish. Keeping them separated but visible to the existing chickens will allow your current chickens to get acquainted with the new chickens. This way they can start the pecking order while getting to know each other through interaction without actually coming into contact with one another and it will also give you an idea of how they may act once they are together. I keep new birds separated about one to two weeks, depending on how well they behave with each other while in the temporary cage, before I let them out into the actual flock. To make the pecking order process even less stressful to new chickens, provide plenty of hiding places for them, multiple feed and water areas, and plenty of roosts in the coop.
The rooster with his wings open is being chased away from the hens by the more dominate rooster.
Being lower in the pecking order means he does not get to mate with the hens.
The larger red rooster is chicken dancing around the other rooster to show
he is higher ranking in the pecking order.