Assume the Position!

Lisamairey

In the Brooder
5 Years
Jul 29, 2014
26
0
22
Sometimes when I move near one of my hens, she freezes in a squat and spreads her wings at the "elbow". I freeze too. Am I moving too quickly? Is this a fear response?

They do this also when they are separated from the rest of the flock and come to me for search and rescue. They will "assume the position" and I'll scoop them up and tote them around in my arms until we find the rest of the gang.

I don't understand the body language! Can anyone tell me what is going on?

Thank you!
 

Pinkaboo

Songster
5 Years
May 12, 2014
1,003
72
158
Cornwall in the UK
Aw sounds sweet like she wants you to pick her up
Maybe she's being submissive so you won't be frightened
Mine just laugh and run away
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azygous

Enabler
11 Years
Dec 11, 2009
22,829
32,309
1,102
Colorado Rockies
You're right in thinking it has something to do with a fear response. It's an automatic reflex action for a hen to go into a squat when she senses something about to swoop down on her from above and behind.

Hens do this when a rooster or aggressive hen rushes them from behind. They do it when a human rushes up from behind. They do it when a hawk swoops down on them and they haven't had warning to run for cover. It's kind of like our reflex to blink and duck when we see something coming at us.
 

Lisamairey

In the Brooder
5 Years
Jul 29, 2014
26
0
22
Hmmm. Makes sense. I have slowed my feet when walking around the flock and see less "freeze-frame" action. And yet, when they are separated from the rest, they do assume the position and wait, as if expecting me to "swoop" (which I do when I pick them up) to find the others.

Do they stick out their elbows and puff up to look bigger so that the hawk or owl won't mess with them?

Just trying to figure it all out!
 

evemfoster

Songster
5 Years
May 6, 2014
421
60
124
NE, Wa.
Hmmm. Makes sense. I have slowed my feet when walking around the flock and see less "freeze-frame" action. And yet, when they are separated from the rest, they do assume the position and wait, as if expecting me to "swoop" (which I do when I pick them up) to find the others.

Do they stick out their elbows and puff up to look bigger so that the hawk or owl won't mess with them?

Just trying to figure it all out!

The good news is that chickens only start doing this when they are almost ready to lay eggs. It's the position they assume when the rooster mounts them.
 

Lisamairey

In the Brooder
5 Years
Jul 29, 2014
26
0
22
Hmmm. Am I a rooster to them, then?

I'm definitely the boss (and there is no Y chromosome among them).

Have I assumed the rooster role midst the flock of females?
 

ChirpyChicks1

Songster
6 Years
Jul 22, 2013
1,900
330
236
Kansas
You're the boss and they know it, consider it a good thing. Just being submissive. I have one hen that squats as soon as she sees me, even if it's from afar. The rest only do it if I'm just next to them.
 

azygous

Enabler
11 Years
Dec 11, 2009
22,829
32,309
1,102
Colorado Rockies
"Do they stick out their elbows and puff up to look bigger so that the hawk or owl won't mess with them?"

Sadly, no. This reflex action does the chicken no good if a hawk is swooping down on them. It's kind of like "deer in the headlights" sort of reaction. Neither will end well.

I was out cutting wood with four of my hens nearby. Suddenly, a hawk flew right over us very low, and my hens were caught out in the open with no time to run for cover. I watched while the hen closest to me looked up, saw the hawk, and immediately went into the squat position. I've had other people tell me they've witnessed the same behavior when a hawk is attacking their chickens. The hen squats, and the hawk swoops down for the kill.

In the incident I witnessed, my close proximity to my hens saved their bacon. They were all very happy to be escorted back to the safety of their run after this close call.
 

Gryphon

Songster
May 7, 2012
528
80
196
Iowa
The one benefit to "freezing in place" is that if a hawk is flying too fast, they overshoot the chicken and give her time to beat feet. All of my girls at one time or another have done the "egg crouch" for me, except oddly enough, my most timid girl. Maybe because she's so used to everyone picking on her that she just wants to run away. All the rest of them at some point get nearly a lightswitch flip in their head and they flop to the ground, spread their wings, and even sometimes stomp their feet like a tiny sumo wrestler. ;D I usually take the opportunity to rub their feathers sideways back and forth, after I'm done they get up, floof up, and give a big shake. Pretty funny to watch.
 

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