Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Personalities of the Chickens

Yes, chickens have personalities... and each of our hens has quite a distinct personality! It is funny how very different they are from each other... I mean, who knew? I assumed before we had them that they were all just of equal intelligence (or stupidity, depending on how you look at it), and that they all just kind of did the same things. Of course they have some things in common, but they each have their own little personality quirks, which makes chicken-keeping all the more interesting!

Here is one thing that they all pretty much have in common... and this is a relatively new thing. This is a bush on the edge of our neighbor's yard. It is very bare in the winter, but by mid-summer, the thing is huge. There is a fence just behind it. The chickens like to go scratch around under there and hang out in the shade (chickens pant when it is hot, did you know?). If they are near this bush when we are trying to round them up and herd them back into their chicken tractor, they all run under this bush and hide. If we go to one side of the bush, they go to the other side and almost come out from under it, but then they go back the other way when we go around to the other side.

Some of the chickens are easier to catch than others, but when they get near this bush, they are all excellent at avoiding being caught. I am not sure which one made the discovery of the "hiding bush" and told the others... Even the one that is typically the easiest to catch is great at evading us when she has the aid of the bush. Last week, in fact, I managed to get her out from under the bush, but she ran about ten feet and then made a sharp u-turn. I actually tore a hole in my shirt trying to cut her off by running past a tree with sticky-outie bark... oops. I was really mad at the chicken, and I yelled at it and made Cecilia start crying... another oops.

The chicken who I was chasing when I tore my shirt is named More (the new More, who replaced the original More that a dog killed). We more commonly refer to her as "Picked-on Chicken," or just "Picked" for short. None of these chickens get called by their given names very much, ha ha. So, the photo above is of Picked's favorite spot. It is some shrubbery near our pond. Since she gets (or got - we don't see it happening much anymore) picked on by the other hens a lot, I assume that is why she likes this spot. We first noticed one day when we couldn't find her... she was in these shrubs, just hanging out. She must hide there so she can be away from the others. A couple weeks ago, another chicken (Sally) was actually in Picked-on's spot, and she went ballistic. This is the meekest and wimpiest of the chickens, so I was so surprised to see her asserting her will the way she did. I heard a loud squawking - loud enough that I quickly scanned the yard to see if there was a dog or a cat passing through - and I found that the loud noise was coming out of this little hen who I have never heard get that loud before. She was outside the shrubs, and Sally was in there - so when she found out, she was MAD! It was pretty funny... You tell her, Picked-on!

Up until recently, I considered Picked-on to be the stupidest of the chickens, from a survival of the fittest kind of standpoint. She lacks herd mentality (flock mentality?) and often goes out on her own, away from the other birds. I suppose this is because she was picked on a lot and didn't fight back, so she just avoids the others some when we let them all roam around the yard. She'd be dead a long time ago if we weren't around to find her and bring her back to food and water again! If a chicken is missing, it's her. She is often found wandering alone into a neighbor's yard... or more recently, she has been hiding here:

She has been going into these very overgrown bushes/compost-type pile/vines and completely disappearing. I don't know where she goes, really... she gets in there somewhere and doesn't come out for long periods of time. So this is why I don't consider her to be completely stupid now... it is a pretty clever spot to hide, because nobody can find her. We just have to wait for her to wander back out again.

I have observed Picked around the other hens while they scratch for bugs, and she doesn't seem to really know what to do very much. She will scratch, but it looks a bit awkward and slow, like she doesn't really know what she is doing. She cowers when any of the other hens come really close to her, crouching down and lowering her head. She has been picked on by all of them - at first it was just the three older hens (Picked-on was one of the two younger hens who we got after the older three had been living in our yard for a couple months). Oddly, her same-aged sister also has picked on her and went through a stage where it was pretty constant and really mean. Picked-on has hardly any feathers on the back of her head as a result of all this... that is where the chickens will peck at each other to establish their "pecking order."

So here are some photos of More, aka Picked-on, aka Picked:

She is locked inside the chicken tractor here because I was tired of trying to find her after she hid in that overgrown area so much... when we want to go inside, it really stinks if we have to wait for her to come out first! We always put the chickens back in the tractor when we go inside... one time when she was "lost" in the overgrowth, we did go inside and just kept a close eye on the yard through the window so we'd see her when she emerged. The other four hens were back in the tractor, and they raised a ruckus!! Squawking and pacing like never before, all four of them! They were looking out through the wire and getting pretty agitated... they knew that somebody was missing! Even if they pick on her, they still get upset when she's missing... how touching. Or maybe they were just jealous that she was still out while they were locked up!

Here is Picked inside the tractor again, this time with Sally looking in at her: "Ha ha, you're locked up!" That is Sally's personality! ;)

In this photo you can see how much shorter Picked's comb is than Sally's... I think she is sort of stunted from being picked on, so her comb has never gotten as tall as the others. Her sister, who went through some roughness from the three older hens too (though nowhere near as bad), also has a shorter comb than the others, but it has grown a bit here and there lately and is definitely bigger than Picked-on's comb.

Here is Sally. Her only nicknames are Sal and Sallus. Not sure where Sallus came from. Caroline also calls her "loudmouth" because she does tend to squawk and cluck the most, for seemingly no reason - just to talk. We also used to call her "pointy-comb," but Molly's comb has grown to be relatively pointy as well. Sally is probably Caroline's favorite of the chickens. Aside from Picked-on, she is easiest to catch lately (and she is preferred, since sometimes Picked-on poops on people while they are holding her!). She is also really laid-back, so she isn't bothered much by the girls carrying her around. She doesn't really struggle once they catch her. Cecilia even catches her now - just walks up to her, wraps her arms around her, and she's got a chicken! Sally is the one who will taunt other chickens who are on the inside of the tractor while she's on the outside... she will actually peck at them through the wire! Caroline likes to hold Sally and swing at the same time... like I said, a laid-back hen! She also didn't seem to care or even notice when Picked-on was squawking at her to get out of the bush that day.

Sally likes to eat clover blossoms... none of the others seem to care for them much, but if we pick some and then stick them through the wire, Sally will always grab them with her beak. She will push ahead of other chickens who might be pecking out of curiosity. She will peck at anything you poke through the wire, really, but she eats the clover blossoms. She will even jump up to the roost if we hold something through the wire up high, and then she will jump back down when we hold it down low through the wire. She likes to be the center of attention, I guess. Sally is always one of the first hens to come out of the tractor when we open the door.

This is Chicken, aka Wobbly-Comb. She has never earned another nickname for herself, although we have been known to make the comment, "Chicken is such a character!" This is because she was the only one at first who would peck at us any time we stuck a finger through the wire of the chicken tractor. She was intensely curious about us and anything we would hold out to her. She also used to be the easiest to catch, although now she is slightly harder to catch than Sally. I love the wave in her comb - it flops and wobbles all over when she struts around!

Of all the hens, Chicken and Sally probably have the most in common personality-wise. They are both pretty laid-back. Although any time Caroline catches Chicken, I know without even looking, because Chicken has this distinct "bawkbawkbawk!!!" kind of cluck that she makes whenever she is caught. It's a kind of "letmego letmego letmego!!!" sound that i should try to record sometime because I can't adequately describe it. It is not horribly loud, but it is certainly an agitated kind of sound!

Chicken and Sally both like to eat things out of our hands, like blueberries, figs, bugs - whatever. But none of them seem to like veggies much, oddly enough. We have given them old salad greens and veggies that are rotting in the garden, and they don't eat them. They all love to eat the caps of strawberries and any wild strawberries we find for them.

Here is the only Australorp hen, Eat. Eat is never referred to by her given name, but always by 'Lorpie (and sometimes Lorpus, I guess to match Sallus). She is the only Australorp now, so the name works. Her sister is the one that was eaten by the dog, and perhaps she has some sort of PTSD from that, because she was also presumed eaten for nearly a week before we got a call from the neighbors saying that they had been keeping her safe under their porch! Read the whole story here. She is pretty dumb, sadly... she is such a big, beautiful hen, though. She is also somewhat of a leader of the hens, in an odd sort of way. She is biggest and of a different breed, so perhaps the others sort of look up to her.

'Lorpie is kind of high-strung. She is always on the alert, looking around with her head held tall, and she notices things like a cat at the edge of the yard sooner than the others. She makes nervous little clucking and purring sounds all the time, and if she gets separated from the flock, she tends to look around nervously and then runs to find the others. That is, unless she is dust-bathing. She loves to dust-bathe. She rolls in the dirt and pecks at it simultaneously.

The reason I said she was sort of dumb is because she tends to get confused easily. She often has trouble getting out of the tractor when the door is propped wide open... as soon as Sally and Chicken are out the door (as they are always the most eager and get out first), 'Lorpie notices them on the other side of the wire and gets confused and nervous that they are out and she is in. So she begins pacing back and forth by the wire rather than using any limited problem-solving skills that a chicken may possess. If the door is right up against a bush, requiring an immediate right-angle turn after stepping through the door, 'Lorpie won't be able to handle it. She will stand at the doorway and look, but she can't wrap her little chicken brain around what her next step should be. It is quite entertaining!

'Lorpie tends to hover over the two newer hens, in a nervous sort of way (can you tell she has a nervous personality?), like she is watching their every move and monitoring them. She used to peck at both of them quite a bit, but now she just towers over them and they freeze in place and lower their heads, which occasionally earns them a peck, but not very often now. I guess she is just reminding them who's boss. I really think she is a strange personality to be in charge... and Sally and Chicken kind of march to their own drummer and aren't bossed around by 'Lorpie, but they don't seem to care much about the others unless they get in their way. 'Lorpie will chase after More and Molly, investigating their every action.

Finally, we have Molly, aka Skittish (Skit for short). Skit got this nickname because she was very, very skittish around us for a long time - we could never, ever catch her. If we got close, she didn't just run and run until she finally got frazzled and crouched down so we could grab her - she would flap. We got our hands close to her, and FLAPFLAPFLAP! - she was hopping away with feathers flying! Once she got to laying age, she would crouch down more often, but she was still the hardest to catch by far. I think the crouching thing is some kind of instinctive protective measure, like they are squatting down to protect their eggs. Lately, Caroline is quite good at catching her. I am not! ;-P

Skit is a stealthy one... she likes to steal blueberries. She is addicted to them. All the hens love to eat berries off the bush or when we toss them on the ground nearby, but Skit is like a psychopath who cannot stop herself... she is constantly going straight for those bushes so she can hop up and eat the berries off the bush, ripe or not! No matter how many times we run at her screaming and waving our arms, it is never enough to keep her away for long. If Skit is missing, we always check the blueberry bushes first! Caroline won't feed her any blueberries that are dried out or otherwise inedible by humans, because she thinks it will only reinforce her stealing habit!

Here she is, making her move:
This is as close as I'd let her get before chasing her off. We love the blueberries, too!

Skit is also missing feathers on the back of her head like her sister, but not as many. She was picked on some, but her flapping routine would help her escape much of the damage, I guess. She is a pretty quiet chicken - she makes the least noise of all of them. She only gets vocal when she is trying to lay an egg... sometimes she will go in and out of the nest repeatedly, for an hour, before she finally lays an egg. Come out, circle the chicken tractor three times clucking, go back in, sit on the nest, come out, repeat, repeat, repeat. She is sometimes a loner, but nothing like Picked-on. Skit is usually found with the other hens, just ding her own thing alongside them.

So, that is all I can think of, although Caroline observes them and probably has many more insights into their personalities! I bet you never realized chickens had such complex personalities, huh?

1 comment:

Kris said...

My cousin has chickens also, and she commented on a post (when she was adding a new chicken to her flock) that you have to be really careful when you have an established flock about adding a new chicken or chickens to the group. They will always have the lowest spot in the order, and in some cases, the existing chickens will even attempt to kill the new chicken until they are used to her. That's probably why Picked is so picked-on.