how do momma hens "kick out" babies in the wild?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by emilysteng, Dec 7, 2010.

  1. emilysteng

    emilysteng Songster

    May 21, 2010
    I have posted a bit about this in raising chicks - -not sure if this question should be here or in Chicken Behaviors?

    I guess my question has become about how momma hens "kick" their chicks out or stop mothering them in the wild? My feral chicken - Casino - had two chicks about 10 weeks ago. General consensus is that they are both roos. She has been a great mom to them - showing them how to scratch - giving them food she finds, showing them how to sleep up in the trees and get away from predators. Then a few days on Friday the two babies had a big fight - I guess to determine dominance or something. She was clucking away while they had their fight, and when they were done and pooped out she stuck around and talked to them - looking at each of them. The next day they all came like normal to eat some feed. But the day after that it seems she was done with them. The two babies came to me to eat when I came, but when mom came up to get some she "attacked" one of them (pulled out a few feathers) and he went away. The other one went away after that and she ate by herself. (She used to always call them over to eat).

    Today seems the same - but the two babies seem to be sticking together now. Seems one has dominance over the other? They will stand head to head but one has his head over the other. Sometimes he will lightly peck the other's head. And it seems the dominant one sometimes chases the other away from the water or food pile. But otherwise they wander around together and they both get to eat if there is food. Whenever Casino is around and the babies are also around she constantly clucks and squawks. Not her old "come here and eat" cluck. More of a distressful sounding squawk/cluck. And when I fed her this afternoon and the babies came to get some also - she did that attack thing to the dominant one and pulled out a beak full of feathers. So they went away and she ate.

    Just wondering if this is the normal way of a momma hen telling the babies to go on their own? It just seems so harsh to me. I know these are wild chickens and they need to be taught the ways of the flock - but just wanted to know if anyone knew if this is the normal way of doing it? Would it be different if they were girls and not roos?

    Also - how should I treat the babies now? Since they are both roos I am not sure what will happen when they get to be adults. The dominant roo in the area changes constantly. Currently there is one who is patrolling the area and chasing the other roos away. He doesn't bother with my two babies yet, but what will happen when they get older?

    Guess I should clarify that these chickens live out on their own - completely free to wander wherever they please. I generally give them a little feed in the morning and a little in the afternoon. The rest of the time they wander around - eating weeds/grass/bugs/etc on their own. They follow us around if we are there because momma Casino taught them how to hunt for geckos/centipedes and we would help her find them. The other chickens around are completely wild - generally scared of humans. But Casino lives among these wild chickens. I think the current dominant roo is trying to mate with her again now. There are at least 5-6 wild adult hens in this current group.

    I would appreciate hearing about anyone's experience on this.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2010
  2. RainbowBirds_of_a_Feather

    RainbowBirds_of_a_Feather Songster

    Mar 19, 2010

    Wow! What a story! Where should I begin my experience of feral chicken behavior?

    I have witnessed a first time mother care for her young till she began to set on her new clutch of eggs. Also some mother hens will peck at the offspring to beat it when they think that they are old enough. I have also noticed that it is an environmental thing, when food is scarce. Some Chicks are not even fully feathered and they are kicked out to do it on their own. With young males, I have noticed that they will form bachelor groups with males of various ages. Where they practice their jousting skills and establish pecking orders and which flocks to avoid when they come on the scene. I think they will be just fine, it is part of the independence they need to do to see if they are fit males for future breeding and the natural world. I say be a bird watcher and you can tell us about any updates because I like what you have written so far. It is almost like reading a book the next chapter is suspenseful.
  3. nzpouter

    nzpouter Songster

    Jan 19, 2009
    new zealand
    they stop perching with the chicks and start to chase them away...
  4. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician Premium Member

    May 3, 2009
    New Jersey
    I think there may be several factors at work. Your hen will probably lay another clutch of eggs shortly. By forcing her present brood to disperse she can guarantee no competition for the next brood of chicks. She doesn't realize that you would wilingly supply enough food for all of them. This forced dispersal also cuts down on the possibility of inbreeding.
  5. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    My backyard, domesticated, non-feral hens stop nurturing their chicks when the kids are about six to eight weeks old. And by 10 weeks, Momma no longer cares if they are anywhere around her, or not. They're just more flock members.
  6. emilysteng

    emilysteng Songster

    May 21, 2010
    Thanks for all the replies! I'm glad my post wasn't too boring. I get kind of long winded when I type. The wild chickens here fascinate me.

    I guess it is time - and Casino may start laying soon. I hope we can find her new nest - I am not ready for another new batch of babies! It was wonderful and exciting this first time, but also very stressful worrying whether Monty the mongoose and his friends got to them. Casino has a habit of nesting in all kinds of strange places. Lots of different cardboard boxes, once in a big plant pot that had a little soil in it. Under shelves.

    It makes sense about dispersal to prevent inbreeding too. Didn't think of that.

    Today was like yesterday. The babies (Bronty and Beyonce) wandered around together and followed us around. I'm glad they are back to their more energetic and hungry selves. Sunday and Monday they seemed sad and tired. Casino hovered around too - squawking when they got too close. One time Beyonce got too close and Casino chased him/her away but didn't get close enough to actually peck. The head rooster (we call him Emilio) was lurking around Casino alot. This always happens before she starts laying too. Emilio is quite busy running around the area all the time with his many girls, cock a doodle dooing, and chasing the brown and white speckly rooster away.

    Casino seems more demanding with food lately too. I guess during her mothering we spoiled her and she is used to getting food twice a day. Before she'd sometimes get food and sometimes not. She didn't even like chicken feed. Just got some treats everyday like banana or papaya - and she was quite picky with those too. Now she is all about getting feed.

    I'm wondering though - if the babies had turned out to be little hens - would she still peck at them and shoo them away like this?
  7. Royd

    Royd Songster

    May 31, 2009
    Middleburg, Fl.
    I've only experienced one hatching, so far. A RIR hen hatched out four.....Once they lost the downy feathers on their heads, at about 8 weeks, she simply abandonned them...I lost one, the next day, to either a snake or cat, and about a week ago, lost another...The remaining two are getting large enough to get away from anything.

    So, don't count your chickens, until after the mother abandons them.
  8. GAchick

    GAchick Songster

    Apr 29, 2009
    Pembroke GA
    I don't think chickens worry about 'inbreeding' like humans would.... If one of her offspring were now the only rooster around, she would readily breed with him... One of my hens hatched out 4 chicks. Two roos, two pullets. We moved them to an open top dog kennel, until the babies got older. Momma hen started flying up to roost on the top bar of the kennel when they were about two weeks old, but would fly back in with them the next morning. That lasted less than a week. She then quit going in with them at night. Once they were large enough, I let them out of the pen. Meanwhile, original rooster (father of the 4 chicks) earned a trip to freezer camp, by continuously attacking my DS. We penned all three roosters up in the dog kennel to await freezer camp. Dispatched two of them on the appointed day... Second offspring escaped, earning himself a temporary stay of execution. He is now breeding with ALL the ladies, including the hen that hatched out/nurtured the chicks (they had various moms, all laid together, one hen hatched all). They don't care...
  9. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician Premium Member

    May 3, 2009
    New Jersey
    No, chickens don't care about inbreeding, and it is an effective tool for "setting" certain traits in any breed; However, dispersal behavior is common in many species both mammal and bird. It is generally believed that it is a natural mechanism for limiting inbreeding which may "set" detrimental as well as good traits. Heck, there are places where humans don't worry about inbreeding.[​IMG]

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