A few years ago, I think I shocked, surprised and even led some people to deem me a bit of a crazy chicken lady, when I decided to share that I could indeed understand and speak “chicken”. When I first wrote about it in 2011, it caused quite a bit of interest. NPR came to visit and even recorded me speaking to my flock. Over the years, I have gone on to continue sharing my non-scientific findings from an uncontrolled environment on my blog and in my first book. I dedicated pages to the art of speaking chicken in an effort to teach kids that listening is just as important as speaking. I also offered translations into what might be their first attempts at understanding “chicken”. I have discovered how chickens say goodnight, interpreted sounds from the brooder, discovered greetings, warning calls and rooster vocalizations. I guess you could say that since 2010 I have been listening, but apparently not closely enough. A few weeks ago, before I left to Washington, D.C., I realized that my flock has given me a chicken name.
It is not uncommon in some animal groups to give members of their family or grouping “names”. These names are used to call them, find them and get their attention. Names have been discovered in use by mammals in the sea, on the land and especially in birds- parrots to be exact. I learned this from my new friend, Sy Montgomery. Sy has traveled the world seeking a deeper knowledge of the animal kingdom. We connected over chickens during my time in Washington, D.C. and I shared with her my chicken name discovery. It turns out that she keeps chickens too!
Once we returned home from our travels, we delved deeper into learning more about my chicken name. It turns out that I have had this chicken name since most likely 2011. It pops up in my NPR recording. I simply mistook it for another greeting. Unfortunately, I was misinterpreting it. Tilly, who has since passed on, was our most vocal hen and head hen. I’m pretty sure that she named me. Now that she is gone, my name is even more special. So how did I discover my name?
Early each morning, I typically toss some scratch out into the run. I fill the waterers and feeders and then let the girls out into the run so that I can tidy up the coop. Sometimes, despite the temptation of goodies in the run, I have visitors as I scoop up the tiny bits of chicken poo from the night before. Oyster Cracker usually comes inside the coop, especially in the winter. She likes to snuggle and warm up in my lap and I don’t blame her. Usually when she enters the coop she “speaks” and it is always the same phrase. The first three sounds are low and the last one is almost an octive higher. “bup, bup, bup, baaahhhh”. It always sounds as though she is making an announcement. Sometimes others come inside too, while repeating that exact same chicken phrase. Oyster Cracker, one of my original girls that I got with Tilly, even makes that sound lower–quieter as she sits in my lap content to be stroked and snuggled.
I decided to start paying more attention and lo and behold, that song is announced when the girls see me coming toward them. They call it out when they see me in the yard and want to free-range. As some chickens are more vocal than others, I have determined from what I can tell, that about 4 other hens use this call for me as well, especially when they are entering the coop by themselves to see find me and visit with me.
My chicken name is regal. I think it sounds like they are excited and happy.
I think sometimes, we spend our lives doing too much of the talking. Listening is just as important. Whether we are people or animals, we have a lot to communicate with one another. I think we should be trying to do more and showing more respect, especially when it comes to humans and animals. I think humans have let their egos get in the way and we have taught our children to do the same. Animals have a lot to say. You just need to learn their language and listen with your mind, eyes, and heart.
To learn more about the language and etiquette of backyard chickens, check out my book- How to Speak Chicken.
27 thoughts on “I Have a Chicken Name”
They do have a language… my first girls… especially – I am a crazy chicken lady too, I talk back to them –
I talk back to mine too ! I never consider they had a name for me though
You’ll have to investigate 😉
That is why I just adore you Nancy! Thanks for sharing.
My Lola definitely has a special vocal for me and we do talk back and forth to each other !!
That is so cute! I wish I could hear their name for you!
Melissa, if anyone could recognize her chicken-name, it would be you. You really do have an uncanny understanding of their vocalizations. I watched and heard you chatting with my own ladies, and was blown away by your comprehension. Today I’ll do a little more listening and a little less yammering with my gals! <3
Thanks Lauren! I knew you would understand me and this post. I just adore your flock and love to interact with them during our visit. Hopefully we can plan another one sometimes soon.
I love it. You cannot get accurate or even remotely “natural” behavioral evidence in a controlled environment. If you ain’t doing it like Jane Goodall – you ain’t going to get anything realistic as a result. You can’t stick a sentient animal in a sterile cage or “blank” environment and expect that animal to behave in a natural manner. Ridiculous. You must build a relationship with the animals BEFORE you even think about studying them. Science is catching up with people like ourselves – and the results are astounding. Visit Brian Hare’s dog site.
S O W O N D E R F U L ! 🙂
Just discovered your blog. It’s awesome! How many chickens do you have?
Thank you! So glad you are here. Right now I have 9 hens. But of course, that is always changing 😉 Something to do with chicken math!
Thank for the great article! I talk to my chickens and have recognized some of their common sayings too. I’ll have to listen to see if I have a name.
Oh do let me know! I’d love to find out yours too!
I studied chicken communication with the late Professor Chris Evans and spent a lot of time with one particular rooster called Arnie. I used to swear that Arnie had a sound for me but Chris was less than convinced. However, I came back to visit a few months after I graduated. Arnie came running up to greet me making that sound. Chris noted that he hadn’t heard Arnie make that sound since I left and that he was now convinced that it was indeed a call associated specifically with me.
This is wonderful Karen. Thank you for sharing this story with me. I am familiar with Dr. Evan’s work, but I did not know of his recent passing. I know he was ill. This comment made my day. Thank you for sharing it with me. Could you please email me? I have a question for you. My email is: email@example.com
How nice hens are! Whenever I go for a walk in the village where I live, I stop at a certain place to watch two or three hens who are kept in a garden. I wish I could stroke them but I cannot reach them. The last time which was about one month ago, I saw one who was very nice : she had white feathers spotted with black. She saw me but hesitated in coming to me. Yesterday I went away for a walk again, I stopped at the hens’ garden but the one with white feathers spotted with black was no longer there. I am afraid her owners have killed her to eat her, which breaks my heart. Instead of her there was a rooster with light brown feathers but those of his neck had been taken away I do not know why.
It is hard when we become attached to such sweet animals. I understand completely! Those neck feathers could be gone from being pecked at by other chickens. Sometimes that happens.
I have a Buff Orpington that looks exactly like Oyster Cracker! Her name is Z because she likes to sleep, even as an adult! Z likes to hop onto my lap when I sit down on our tire swing in the backyard. All 13 of our hens make a sound when only I come to them; 2 low clucks, 1 high cluck, and a trill. I figured out it is my chicken name!
How cool is that, that you figured out your name? I”m so excited for you. Aren’t Buff Orpingtons the best?
I am 12 years old. I spend so much time with my chickens. I keep listening to hear if I have a chicken name but I can’t tell the difference if it is just usual clicking and chicken noise. I sell eggs from our chickens to our neighbors. I had been keeping chickens for a year. As a gift one of my customers bought be the book how to speak chicken. I learned so much from it. Thank you. I am very grateful that I got it. Although it would have been useful to learn from it earlier. 🙂
Oh I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying your chickens. Keep listening and I do have a blog post where I go over some of the more common chicken sounds. With a keen ear, you might begin to recognize some of their language including your name. Good luck!
I talk to my chickens, I should listen to see if they have a name for me too.
I am 12 and I enjoy talking to my chickens. My grandparents live across the street from me, and they have 13 hens and 1 rooster. All the chickens will let me pick them up, even the rooster! I sell the eggs to the neighbors, and my other grandma.
That is awesome! I’m so happy you have chickens in your life.