Most experienced chicken owners have had this experience – or at least one similar. You’re sitting in your living room, enjoying a cup of coffee while you listen to your hens cackle and chirp in the backyard coop. Then all of a sudden, a crow breaks through the morning area.
A crow? Why is my hen crowing?
Relax. You probably didn’t mistakenly receive a rooster in your chick order (although you may want to double check, since this does occasionally happen!). Chances are, your hen is crowing for another reason.
Here are some of the most common reasons why hens crow – it’s really nothing to worry about.
Common Reasons Why Your Hen Might Crow
The Pecking Order
You are likely already familiar with the pecking order in chickens, but if not, now is a good time to brush up on it! The pecking order is an established order of dominance that makes itself clear very early on in a group of chickens’ lives. Whenever new chickens are introduced to the flock, the pecking order must be reestablished.
Often, hens will crow to establish their places in the pecking order. They do this to assert their dominance and establish a territory – just like roosters will. If your hens are crowing, chances are, they’re on some sort of power trip.
Keep in mind, the crow won’t sound exactly like a rooster’s, but if you’re new to raising chickens you might have a hard time differentiating between the two. The crowing might sound a bit strangled and terse, in fact.
You’ll know that the crowing behavior is related to a pecking order issue if there are some other behaviors that are going on in the flock. For example, there might be some aggression among your chickens or even some bullying behaviors (like feather picking) going on.
In most cases, this will sort itself out in a matter of a few days. If it doesn’t, though, you may need to remove the more dominant hen and isolate her until she calms down a bit. A new pecking order will be established in her absence, and things will likely be more mellow upon her return.
Lack of a Rooster
If you once had a rooster but no longer do, occasionally, a hen will decide to take his place and start crowing. This is usually also related to the pecking order or flock hierarchy, and more often than not occurs as your hen imitates the behavior of roosters.
Presence of Male Sex Hormones
Wait, a hen can turn into a rooster? Well, sort of.
It is entirely possible for a hen to develop a few male sex hormones, either from birth or sporadically. As a result, you might notice your hen adopting more masculine features, such as the production of spurs, a slowing in egg production, the development of pronounced wattles and plumage, and – you guessed it – a crow.
A hen is born with two ovaries, just like a human. The left ovary grows and develops, producing all the estrogen a hen needs to regulate the production of ova (or oocytes in chickens). They release into the oviduct tract.
The right ovary, on the other hand, does not develop as the hen grows, instead remaining dormant, tiny, and mostly undeveloped.
Spontaneous sex reversal can occur if the left ovary is damaged or stops producing the required amounts of estrogen for some reason. Since the left ovary is the only one producing any estrogen, without it, her levels of estrogen will drop and her testosterone will rise. She will start to transform to take on male characteristics and behaviors.
But is she now a rooster? Well…kind of. Technically, she is still a hen. Interestingly, though, once the left ovary totally fails and the right one turns on, it will develop into a male sex organ, known as an ovotestis, which can actually produce sperm and cause your hen to try to mate with other hens in the flock!
Usually, these kinds of changes aren’t at all noticeable unless there is some kind of hormonal issue in your hens. This cause of crowing isn’t as common as others, but it can still happen – and is something to be aware of.
What Are Normal Noises for Hens to Make?
If you think your hen might be crowing, listen carefully – it might not be a crow but instead some other kind of noise that your hen is making. Here are some of the most common.
Cluck of Contentment
When you spend a lot of time listening to your hens as they free range around the pen, this is a call that you will likely hear your chickens making quite frequently. It sounds like a calm, peaceful, and low murmuring. They make this sound to indicate to each other that they are all in earshot and are doing well.
This is perhaps the second most common chicken noise you will hear – but it’s not necessarily one you want to hear. If your chickens start the alarm call, which sounds like a fast, loud, and persistent repetitive clucking, you need to check to see what’s going on. Left unaddressed, that call will turn into a sharper, more piercing shriek or scream – it means something is coming after them.
The egg song is most often heard by coops with multiple hens, where they’re all vying to get into the nest boxes at the same time. It sounds loud and persistent and will continue until the noise-making hen gets her way and is finally able to wiggle into a nesting box.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a broody hen, you are probably familiar with the broody growl. When a hen does not want to leave her nest, she will puff her chest up, growl, and even hiss when challenged.
Later, the broody growls should shift – if a broody hen is allowed to hatch her own eggs, she will start to murmur and coo to her unhatched chicks. This often starts before the eggs hatch, when the mother hen is starting to talk to her chicks inside the eggs.
You can sometimes hear the chicks talking back!
Last but not least is the food call. Although this is usually the rooster’s job, if you don’t have any roosters in your backyard flock, you might find that one of your hens takes this job upon herself instead, as the dominant leader.
When she finds good food, she will announce it with a sort of “tuk tuk” call to draw in the rest of the flock. It’s similar to the call used by a mother hen when she talks to her young.
Hens Can Crow – And It’s Usually Nothing to Worry About
Believe it or not, it is possible for a hen to crow! Fortunately, it is usually nothing you need to worry about. It’s usually a sign that one hen, in particular, has established dominance over the other hens in the flock. The crowing behavior may go away on its own over time, but if it doesn’t, there’s no reason to panic. It is totally harmless.
In rare conditions, it is possible for a hen to develop male characteristics, but this is not common. As long as your hen is acting normally besides the crowing, carry on! It’s just a bit of backyard noise.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.