Do Poultry Actually Mourn Over The Loss Of A Flock Mate?

By TwoCrows, Jan 14, 2015 | Updated: Feb 22, 2015 | | |
  1. TwoCrows
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    Do Poultry Mourn?

    It has long been known that Elephants do indeed mourn their fallen comrades as do Giraffes and Apes. But do poultry and others in the avian species mourn? It has been very easy for human kind to think that animals or birds don’t have the capacity to think so deeply as to mourn and possibly are responding to the fear of being eaten themselves or maybe they don’t even recognize the loss at all. But I beg to differ here. I think maybe it is time to add birds to this list of creatures that mourn for the loss of a flock mate.

    Lovebirds in the Parrot family mate for life and are called Lovebirds because they are so inseparable. It is a known fact that when the mate of a Lovebird dies, the one left behind does not go looking for a mate, but chooses to pine away and die.

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    Ravens, Crows and Jays, all members of the Corvid family are known to rival Apes with their intelligence, some using tools to extricate bugs from logs, dropping nuts onto busy streets to break them open, can count and even problem solve.

    Researchers from the University of California did studies on Scrub Jays, placing dead bodies of these Jays in these birds territory. When the body was discovered, the Jays formed large congregations around the dead body, using alarm calls and other Jay calls to their fallen flock mate. These calls brought in more Jays to the scene which joined in on the calling. They were then observed abstaining from eating for the rest of that day, possibly in continuation of the mourning process.

    Crows can be seen doing the same thing, gathering in large flocks around the deceased flock member, walking in circles around the body for hours on end.

    Ravens, mate for life. There is a pair of wild Ravens that live in my territory that I feed. Many years ago the male lost his mate during the breeding season. And while the young were out of the nest, they were still unable to feed themselves and relied on the parent birds to feed them. When this male lost his mate, he brought these very young, fresh out of the nest birds to my front yard and refused to feed them. He sat on the electric post as he usually does and did not eat himself either. I of course, put out food for these young Ravens and after several days they managed to learn how to feed themselves. I never saw the male eat for a very long time. Each day he would bring his young to the yard and disappear for hours on end. He never did return to his duties of feeding these young birds. (Young Ravens are fed by both parents for several months after hatch.) 2 months later he turned up with another mate.


    Quail

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    My first Quail hatch produced 3 baby Bobwhite Quail, 2 males and 1 female. These birds became inseparable throughout their lives. As each took on a mate as Bobwhites do, these 3 never forgot each other, never showed aggression towards one another as other Bobwhites do and remained the best of buddies, breaking the Bobwhite mold of becoming aggressive as they age. Even with the addition of many more birds, these three never broke apart. I have always kept my Bobwhites in large aviaries with lots of brush piles and as close to a natural habitat as I possibly can. Each night, winter, summer, fall or spring, these 3 would call to each other about 30 mins after dark. Locator calls to one another. No matter if each was in the opposite corner snuggled up with their mates, every night they made sure to call and locate each other. They each had their own voice which I could recognize. They called to each other for approximately 1 to 2 minutes. I never heard any of my other Quail locate any of the other birds in the flocks.

    One night something must have come prowling and scared the entire flock. When I came out in the morning to start their day, birds were all over the place, perched up high in strange places, on branches, hiding in corners and I could tell something had happened. And there she was. This female from my first hatch laying dead on the floor. She had apparently flushed up into the 6+ foot ceiling and broke her neck. Of course I was not only stunned but heart broken. The two remaining males searched for her for weeks, looking into every crevice, every corner, behind every bucket, inside their enclosure. The males stopped mating with their mates. They called all day long and even into the night. Each night when these 3 should have been calling to each other, only the males called and for her. Their calls were no longer 1 to 2 minutes long but instead went on and on for an hour or more, only to start back up at midnight. They called for her for 2 months.


    Another incident within my Quail aviaries:

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    Last year one of the males lost his mate to old age. I did my best to keep her alive, but to no avail she passed on. I had been nursing her in their coop attached to the aviary and he knew she was in there as I would occasionally let him in there to see her. However she did pass away. This male was in sheer panic mode. One odd thing was that he refused to go into their coop for a couple of months afterwards and I think he was sure I had something to do with it. I made the mistake of showing her deceased body to him and I don’t think the bird every forgave me for that! He knew she was gone so there was no need to search for her. So he hid in the corner deep within the brush pile and refused to come out. A normally very active, hyper, loud rooster was reduced to hiding and sorrow. He stopped being vocal and was silent. He stopped eating. He stopped everything. He would hide so well I sometimes couldn't find him. He was not hiding out of fear, but rather depression. He didn't care anymore. This male had sat down to die. This behavior went on for 6 weeks. I had to work to get him to eat every day feeding him some of his favorite foods just to keep him alive. About 6 or 7 weeks later he emerged from the dark corners of the brush piles and began frantically calling for a mate, day and night.

    Chickens

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    How about your Chicken Flock? Years ago I raised my first flock of Black Australorps. There were 2 in the group that were absolutely inseparable, “Tillie” and “Miss Molly”. They did everything together! Ranged together, slept together, ate together, preened together. When one laid and egg, the other seemed to have to lay too. These two were always talking! I am not sure if they were talking to each other but there was never silence during the day with these two in the coop or run! One time Tilie had to be taken to the vet for a case of bumblefoot that I just could not get healed on her. (I later found out the flock had MS, but that is another article altogether!) Miss Molly watched me carry Tillie down the path to the car. She stood at that gate all day, pacing, screaming and not eating. When I brought Tillie home later that day, Miss Molly was there at that gate, anxious for me to put Tillie down. Of course Tillie had to lay an egg and ran as fast as she could back to the coop and into one of the boxes. Miss Molly stood at the bottom of the ramp waiting for Tillie to finish laying. It was only then Miss Molly went back to eating.

    Last summer Miss Molly turned up with the beginnings of heart failure. Miss Molly couldn't keep up with Tillie any more, but Tillie always made sure to check up on her best buddy, they still came together to snack, sleep and preen. Miss Molly declined and eventually she passed away. Tillie was a basket case. She started by looking everywhere! She would stand in the run and call and call and call. Even the flock leader went looking for Miss Molly. Each morning she would hop down off the roost bar and look into each nest box. At night, in the dark, she would go searching in the run, looking into every corner for her.

    After a few days of Miss Molly not returning, Tillie started to understand that Miss Molly was not coming back. When she finally was sure Molly was gone for good, Tillie became depressed. She went completely silent. Not a sound was uttered from her. She sat on the roost bar and refused to preen. She stopped eating and she stopped laying. At the two week mark Tillie refused to even go out to free range. If I took her outside with the others, she would stand there and stare blankly into space. The stress of losing her best friend threw Tillie into a heavy molt.

    One evening as the birds ate their evening seed snack before roosting, Tillie skipped her snack and stood in the dark run by herself as the others ate. She stood along the edge of the run, staring out into the darkness and let out this very quiet, very high, very long whine. She stood motionless and just let out this long mournful white without even taking a breath.

    I picked her up and placed her on the roost bar as the others jumped up into their usual spots. When I turned out the light, Tillie panicked. She flapped and kept falling off the roost bar. I turned on the light and got her back up. Each and every time I turned out the light she repeated this panic. After about an hour and her possibly becoming too tired to panic any more, she stopped and went to sleep. That next day I put a radio in the coop (along with the ticking clock that has always been in there) set to some quiet music. I didn't force her to go out with the others to free range and didn't pressure her to get off the roost bar anymore. 6 weeks later she began to utter a few sounds, but only when goodies are being served. She still has yet to go back to her endless talking and is not buddying up to any of the others in the flock.
    *Update: At the 8 week mark, Tillie returned to laying and she seemed to have returned to her old self. She talks up a storm continuously now and is back her old tricks of trying to sneak out the coop door for some free range time as the others look on in jealousy. Has she forgotten her old pal? Somehow I doubt that. The bond between these two was just too close.

    Closing Statements

    Are these stories going to be common occurrences in every flock? Maybe. Not every bird is attached to another or at least enough to miss them when they are gone. Not every flock has pairs of birds that are so close however many do. They do however recognize every bird in their flock and cannot be fooled when adding new birds. Was Tillie really mourning over the loss of Miss Molly? Were the two male Quail really calling for their sister? Was the male Quail that lost his mate really depressed enough to give up on life?? I can’t be 100% sure that this was actually their way of mourning. However something was definitely going on with these birds and they indeed did understand that one of their flock mates was gone for good and it didn’t sit well with the one left behind. Maybe they aren’t “bird brained” after all.
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    A big "Thank You" to the following members who contributed the these next stories:

    "Sourland" writes:
    Several years ago I was judging a field trial in Rhode Island. At the exit that I took from I 95 to go to the club a Canada goose had been hit. For four days the mate was either sitting or standing by the side of the dead goose. The morning of the fifth day the mate was no longer there. Mourning?


    "Goneinc" writes:
    Years ago I had a pair of Muscovy ducks. My husband ran over one when he left for work and did not even notice. I heard the duck making a great deal of noise. It was the male hovering over the body of his mate. He would not leave his dead mate all day. I finally could not take it any more and removed the dead female.

    At the time I had a few broody hens who had just hatched out some chicks. I think there were about ten chicks a week or so old.
    After I removed the female duck the male went in to the chicken coop and killed all the chicks. He had been very docile before that and the ducks and chickens had lived together peacefully. I gave him away after that.

    pennyshubby2906" writes:"
    We had a pair of Lavender Orpingtons. A roo and hen. About 2 months ago our roo was killed by a predator. We thought we had lost our hen as well, but we were able to find her and she was healthy. She had been faithfully laying an egg a day up till that point. After we lost the roo, she stopped laying for a month and a half. She just started laying again. Her attitude didn't really change other than becoming a little more withdrawn, but about the time she started laying again, she came back around stronger, I think she has separation anxiety as well. If we are outside she is right beside us and sticks as close as she can.

    "Chickenrpoetry" writes:
    I lost my Easter Egger, Marigold, to a raccoon. Her sister (more like mother in her eyes,) Henrietta wailed for around two weeks. After that she refused to eat- it broke my heart to watch her mourn.
    Her sister Dreamcatcher tried to soothe her by giving her bugs (which was strange because Dreamcatcher never shares,)

    Fortunately, Hen got over her grief a little while ago. But sometimes she stops and stares at the place where Marigold used to sit in the coop.


    Just thought I'd share- people generally don't believe that poultry mourn.

    "Suzie" writes:

    When Maman died last February...Papa ( her Husband ) would go to her coop every day and call for her...it was heartrending..he died some two months after the demise of Maman...

    One of my Ganders died and his mate has not come to terms with her loss...she still ventures to the river where I found his body...

    YES..without doubt they do mourn loss...

    Thanks for this post Layla...it is very thought provoking and may help people in the future to understand more about their charges...

    "socialdougal" writes:
    We had a pair of free-range, laying Isa Browns who could always be seen scratching around all over the place together.

    Then one of them was killed by a feral cat. The evidence was feathers, some of them bloodied, laying in the garden, and plenty of paw prints in the wet earth. The surviving hen was standing alone at the back of the house.

    Later that day, I saw the survivor picking up the feathers of the dead hen in the garden. Then she started to call out like she was calling the other hen. If I did not see and hear it myself, I would never have believed it. At the risk of sounding like a soft old git, that's one of the most surprisingly sad events I've personally witnessed.

    She is still giving eggs, but now spends most of her time sitting around. Her behaviour is markedly different.

    I already abstain from most animal products. If I did not, this would have inspired me to get started. As it happens, I now feel more motivated to abstain completely.

    As for our solo hen, she'll get some new company as soon as I make them a safe area to scratch around in.



    (If you would also like to contribute a story to this article you can either leave one in the comments below, or PM me to have it included in this article.)



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  1. lealea44
    Wonderful article.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  2. showmanshiptop
    Great article. Had a roo that seemed to be best friends with a hen we'd got from the same place we'd got him. He got sick and they'd go into a nest box early each night and cuddle together. One night they weren't together, the same night he died. She was very lonely for the following weeks.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  3. Thomas127
    I think that birds mourning has a lot of truth to it a great article. My bird who lost her buddy hasn't laid for a week not as upset as your hen as she will go free range and preen but for a while she wouldn't even touch grapes! Birds are more human than you would expect.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  4. marktoo
    Nice article!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  5. boskelli1571
    Very moving article. I think people who deny that birds/animals have feelings are really disconnected from the natural world. It only takes a few hours watching your flock interact to know they are 'chatting' to each other - they are smarter than we give credit for..
      TwoCrows likes this.
  6. Cluckies
    Wonderful article, I believe this to be true. Very touching.
  7. granny hatchet
    love it ! I know chickens are way smarter then some give them credit for. those are the people not looking. I had a dog come through and tore up my polish hen pretty bad. I isolated her and every morning her mate would come and stand over her until she was well and allowed to rejoin the flock. He had other hens but this was his girl. I also have right now a rooster that got beat up and I took him to the attached run for some sunshine yesterday and he was trembling and hung by me . he started shivering as soon as i took him out there . stopped as soon as i brought him back. He was afraid, no doubt in my mind.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  8. Bloveschickens
    Very nice article, that last story really touched me.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  9. crazyfeathers
    Loved it and didn't want it to end. Excellent job.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  10. TwoCrows
    Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments!! I think if we pay attention to our flock we will see these bonds and a whole range of emotions when these birds lose their best buddies. I thank you all for contributing your experiences and welcome others to do so here too!!!
  11. TwoCrows
    Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments! I think if we pay attention to our flock we will see these bonds and a whole range of emotions when these birds loss their best buddies. I thank all of you for contributing your experiences and welcome others to do so here too!! :)
  12. Bock Bock Lady
    I believe that you are right! Our feathered friends have emotions and personalities. Even though they cannot speak a language we understand, their actions speak for them.
    I lost three of my chickens to raccoons last month and one was injured. I took the injured girl (a golden lakenvelder) to my basement to recuperate. The remaining two girls would not eat much, didn't lay, and mostly stayed in the coop. My roo kept calling for the missing girls and was restless (I'm sure to the enjoyment of my neighbors).
    When I released the injured girl into the yard after two weeks of rest, the others were out free-ranging in the yard. For a while she stood there not knowing what to do, then my two RIR girls saw her and rushed over. They both circled around her, talked to her, and started to peck the ground around her, seemingly inviting her to join them for a snack. My rooster then saw her and yelled and ran over. He began to do the mating dance around her, peck the ground, and then danced more. He kept at this for about five minutes! It was funny and heart warming.
    If anyone says that birds don't have emotions or mourn a loss, they are crazy!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  13. Frindizzle
    Amazing article! I believe it's very very true!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  14. Yorkshire Coop
    Great article and something I beleive to be very true. When I lost Poppet his sisters knew he was gone. They were calling for him and acting not in the usual way. Also when the wry neck started again they knew. When he had an attack they would flock around him as if they knew he wasn't right. Clucking over him in encouragement I beleive to get him up.
    I hope Tillie continues to make progress even if it's only slow steady. Moving forward is always a good thing, slow and steady always wins the race [​IMG]
      TwoCrows likes this.
  15. TwoCrows
    mymilliefleur and taimon01, I am so sorry for your losses. It is never easy to lose our feather friends. *HUGS*
  16. taimon01
    I’ve always thought all animals mourn 1day - 20yrs no matter . my first three chicken i got when they where 2- 3 days old i loved them to bits i'd go out any weather but one day i can back from school and it was dark all ready i thought they'd be fine as they always go in by them self anyways i forgot completely about closing the door , something came in and killed two of them it didn't eat anyways them rather bit there head killed one and went to the other one we found out what had happened when we heard crying sounds my mum thought it was be fighting again she told me to go out and check i wept my heart out there was feathers everywhere i ran out and there they lay my little babies i couldn't find the third one we thought it took it with him/her .as i went to get a spade to dig a grave i hurt small scared crows coming from behind the bins there she was sitting scared i picked her up crying with happiness i put her in the garage and made it to her liking for the next few days i'd rush back from school and treat her to wat ever she wanted but she still had this horrible silence we thought of getting her some friends instead i gave her two a close friend that keeps chickens as a hobbie not for profit he bred her and made her a mother she now free ranges in fields.its almost as shes forgot this is after a yr . She’s living the life i wish i could of given her . i’ve never got anymore chickens since as i want to know everything in the book first then hopefully
      TwoCrows likes this.
  17. taimon01
    ive always thought all animals mourn 1day - 20yrs no matter . my first three chicken i got when they where 2- 3 days old i loved them to bits i'd go out any weather but oneday i can back from school and it was dark all ready i thought they'd be fine as they always go in by them self anyways i forgot compl;etly about closing the door , something came in and killed two of them it didn't eat anyov them rather bit there head killed one and went to the other one we found out what had happend when we heard crying sounds my mum thought it was be fighting again she told me to go out and check i wept my heart out there was feathers everywhere i ran out and there they lay my little babys i couldn't find the third one we thought it took it with him/her .as i went to get a spade to dig a grave i hurt smalll scared crows coming from behind the bins there she was sitting scared i picked her up crying with happiness i put her in the garage and made it to her liking for the next few days i'd rush back from school and treat her to wat ever she wantedbui she still had this horrible silence we thought of getting her some friends instead i gave herriend that keeps chickens as a hobbie not for profit he bred her and made her a mother she now free ranges in fields.shes living the life i wish i could of given her
  18. mymilliefleur
    Yes, I think you are right. I had 8 bantams in a chicken tractor, 6 of them got out in the early morning leaving my rooster and one of my d'Uccle hens in the coop. A mother fox and her kits attacked killing all 6 of the escapees. Speckles, the hen that survived, was never the same afterward, she has always been nervous and jumpy, and it's only been now, more than a year later, that she has started to get friendlier again.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  19. TwoCrows
    Thanks everybody!! It is truly amazing to watch the interactions of your flocks. They can be quite emotional and affectionate!!! :)
  20. Chickenchick11
    What a amazing article! I teared up reading about Tillie and Miss Molly. I have two RIR hens named Jackie and Jill who are best buddies. I will hate to what one of them does when the other passes away.
      TwoCrows likes this.
  21. familyfarm1
    This a great story/article! I almost started crying while reading about Tillie and Miss Molly! Sorry for your loses!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  22. Mountain Peeps
    What an amazing and true article!! Made me tear up! I will hate to see what my flock does when their partners are gone.

    Great job!!! And love the pics!
      TwoCrows likes this.
  23. Mountain Peeps
    What an amazing and true article!! Made me tear up! I will hate to see what my flock does when their partners are gone.

    Great job!!!

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