Crossing the Road
14 Years
Sep 19, 2009
Holts Summit, Missouri
I am watching a hen with six ~4-week-old chicks as they free-range forage during the day. They have three obvious methods of foraging. The first is centered on the scratching done by there mother where she gives frequent tidbit calls where the chicks crowd her as she scratches vigorously. The second is where contact calls predominate (hen clucking and chicks making high pitched cheeping sounds) as they group moves relatively rapidly while dispersed, often in a crescent shaped line, through areas where food is sparse. Most of the mowed yard represents this type of feeding habitat. The third is where abundant large prey items (grasshoppers or crickets usually) are abundant enough that a given bird has only a seconds between swallowing one and capturing another. The habitat typical for third option is typically deeper grasses / legumes (>6" deep) and always away from core of foraging range. The group moves into such an area like they do when foraging fast through sparse areas then as more chicks start capturing prey their chirps collectively become deeper and the group slows down. The sounds are very similar to those produced when they are consuming a nice pile of live mealworms or a swarm of ants. The deeper calls seem important when chicks can not see each but also slow the group down. The chicks in the third foraging mode seldom try to steal morsels from each other while in the first and second modes they frequently do. When they get into a heavy patch of good eating they seldom feed for more than about 20m minutes before they retreat to cover. The hen still clucks but she seems more intent on following chicks than the other way around when food availability is high.

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