Chicken memory capabilities & regressive behavior -UPDATE 12/19

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by texsuze, Dec 17, 2012.

  1. texsuze

    texsuze Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 17, 2012
    Long-time lurker, first post ever. I'll try to keep it short and sweet. Exactly one year ago this week (Dec 2011) we brought two Americana hens (presumably age 1 1/2) onto the property to add to existing flock of 3 Black Australorp hens (age 1 1/2). For the first 3 months, the A's were free-ranging with the BA girls during the day, but spending nights in a spacious, empty horse stall. One of the new A girls would fly to the top of the stall divider and roost there overnight; the other new girl would sleep in her nest box in the stall. We tried for weeks to see if the BA girls would let the A's spend nights in their big coop, but no go. We eventually built the A girls their own coop and enclosed run, located inside the barn itself. Everyone since then (early spring 2012) has been free-ranging together during the days, and routinely going into their respective coops at night. No problems, very workable solution for us and the chooks.

    Until 4 days ago.... The A hen who used to roost on top of the stall divider, suddenly, without warning or known provocation, is insisting on attempting to once again fly up and spend her nights on the stall divider. She goes into a near frenzy trying to repeat her routine, last done way back in the spring. Her A sister paces and tries to go into the BA girls' coop, presumably for flock safety, but, of course, those girls don't want her inside. The last 3 nights we've had to physically take the A girls and put them into their own run. Both girls pace, talk, fly on and off of their perches, and want desperately to get out and go back to the routine they knew from way back at the beginning of the year.

    Questions: could the time of year, sunlight hours, temps, etc. suddenly be triggering a response in these girls which makes them fiercely, instinctively want to revert to their old ways?

    What can be done to pacify them, since they cannot go back to spending nights in the horse stall? (New horse comes onto the property next month and will use that stall; also, critters can get into the barn at night so the girls must be secured in their run)

    Should we just grit our teeth and try to see this through? I hate to see the girls so stressed. I cannot imagine how/why they would remember and attempt to go back to the same routine when they have been happy and content to spend nights in their private coop setup. Has anyone experienced this type of behavior? Thanks in advance, sorry so lengthy.

    UPDATE: Saw a [email protected]__feral cat at the barn door last night! Thankfully I had closed the barn doors, but I suspect this critter is the one who's been in the barn terrorizing the chooks while doors are open during this warm spell. Plans in the works to deal with this predator ASAP. Poor girls are still stressed and refusing to want to enter their coop & run.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2012
  2. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician Premium Member

    May 3, 2009
    New Jersey
    Is there any possibility that a predator is trying to get into their coop at night? If so they may be trying to get back to a place where they once felt safe. Also check their coop for the possibility of a mite infestation. This too might cause them to want to go back to the 'old ways'.

    Last edited: Dec 17, 2012
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I can only relate observations of my birds. This time of year as molt is coming to a close and new breeding season is about to commence, the birds begin a short period of shuffling between social groups. The groups are identifiable by roost location and rooster they associate with. Some groups are more stable than others with older hens being less inclined to move to another group.

    A rooster would very likely cause four hens to effectively become on social group / harem. I assume you are unable to have a rooster?

    Having birds roost independently or moving around a lot also occurs when they are disturbed by a predator.

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