Let’s Talk Egg Song
I was reading along up on one of my favorite threads, @Ali James Ali James’ Garden Chickens, [https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/ali-james-garden-chickens.1330040/] when the topic of the Egg Song and its purpose came up. I wrote up a little piece on it for everyone and @Shadrach suggested that it might make great article. I appreciated the push and so here we are.
If you think about it, it seems like a silly idea. What other “food sources” (In the great circle of life, chickens are here to be eaten by other animals) announce to the world as loud as they can, where their eggs can be found? It’s like the chuck wagon calling the cowhands in for dinner by ringing that huge triangle. Why would you tell everyone where to grab a quick lunch? Just silly.
Come and Get It!
Once I really started getting “involved” with the chickens, I decided that I should try and learn more about them. Therefore I took an Animal Behavioral Sciences course related to poultry from a university that offered the course online. I am too old to go back to a classroom setting and needed to take the course while I was traveling for work, hence, online.
At the time I had no rooster but of course they were covered in the material as well. I was fascinated when I learned the reason for the egg song. There was actually a reason for all that racket that makes sense,
Why does the Hen “Sing”?
Simply put, the egg song is to let the Rooster know they are done. In natural flocks of chickens (unrestricted in any way) the flock will roam a territory that belongs to them. They typically do not stand still for long as the rooster keeps them moving looking for food. Because of this, when a hen goes to lay an egg the flock will likely have moved from where it was when she went off to lay it. We have all seen hens take upwards of an hour sometimes to lay an egg. Therefore when she is finished she will call out to the rooster to come get her and bring her back to the rest of the flock. This call out is the egg song.
Choosing a Nesting Spot
Just as interesting as the egg song is how a “natural” hen will decide where to lay her eggs. If there is not an established nesting area, the hen will inform the rooster that it is time. The rooster will then take her off away from the flock and help her to find a safe spot in which to lay the egg. Once they are agreed, the hen will set down, start building the nest, and the rooster will return to the flock to keep them safe. This is how the rooster knows where she is when she signs the song for pickup and escort back. If this nest is near to the flock when another hen tells the rooster she needs to lay, he will lead her to that same “safe” location to lay hers. This is also one of the reasons that hens will sit on top of each other to utilize the same nesting box as that nest is considered “safe”.
My Flock and the Song of their People
At the time I took the course my flock consisted of 3 hens.
1. Daisy: White Leghorn, Alpha (the greatest hen ever)
2. Patsy: Maran, Beta
3. Lilly: Black Sex Link (I think), Omega
Daisy was my only hen when I added Patsy & Lilly who had been living under a porch in town. Patsy and Lilly seemed to have a very tight bond.
Daisy never in her life sang the egg song. She would lay her egg and off she would go. No big deal. In fact the backyard was pretty quiet the whole time we only had leghorns. Not a lot of singing or yelling.
The first time we ever heard egg song was when either Patsy or Lilly, I cannot remember which one, laid their first egg.
What a shock!
My wife thought someone was in trouble or dying. They were so loud. One would sing and the other would answer and they would join back up. Patsy and Lilly would actually do a version of the egg song anytime they ever got separated. With Patsy passing earlier this year the saddest thing was the final time Lilly called out to her and Patsy did not answer. I had to go and pick her up and take her to the rest of the flock, tears running down my face. Lilly has not called out since then.
Jabberwocky the Rooster
When Jabber (our only rooster) joined the flock, egg song was the rule of the day. Everyone sang it and he would go and get them. One interesting thing that I did note was that when they were confined to the coop and run, Jabber would just hang out in the coop while they were laying. I always pictured him as a worried husband as the wife gave birth. Pacing in the waiting room, smoking cigarette after cigarette until she was finished. Here he is hanging out in the coop waiting for Hattie to lay her egg.
Since Jabber left there has been little egg song. We did have crisis a while back when someone, I can’t remember who, was in Hattie’s nesting box and she threw a complete fit out on the porch but nothing really related to the egg song. Sometimes I miss it but mostly I think the neighbors are glad that the flock is quieter.
Singing the Song of Their People: The Egg Song, Why do hens sing?
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I am a true backyard chicken owner running a home for a few (2-4 depending on circumstances) chickens in my suburban backyard. I am a microbiologist by training and worked in hospital laboratories for years.
Find out more about my journey with chickens at https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/fluffy-butt-acres-stories-of-our-flock.1286630/