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.