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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

BIRDS OF A Feather

Your primer on flock hierarchy and how to understand bird behavior.

For most backyard keepers, the second six months of their flock’s life is a lot of fun. You continue to watch the intricate dynamics and enjoy their endless antics. The purpose of this article is for you to learn about how and why chickens behave and communicate the way they do, deepening your understanding of your charges and making you a better steward.

A family of chickens, called a flock, is organized by a social structure commonly called a pecking order. Every member of the flock falls somewhere on this spectrum of dominance and submission — no one is left out. The more dominant birds are higher in the pecking order, and the more submissive birds are lower in the order. A flock’s hierarchy can be fluid and changes as birds mature or when new birds are added or others removed.


In a flock of exclusively hens, there will be one alpha female, and every other individual will be submissive to her in varying degrees. The hen ranked second in the hierarchy will be submissive only to the alpha, the hen ranked third will be submissive only to the second, and so on. In a flock of mixed genders — that is, with roosters, hens, cockerels and pullets — the males will nearly always be dominant over the females. As pullets mature, they move their way up the pecking order within the population of females. As cockerels mature, they move their way up the pecking order within the population of males, often sparking vicious battles among the mature cocks for the ultimate alpha spot. Old roosters will be challenged more frequently by younger roosters aiming to dethrone them. Fights between cocks can escalate when there are females around. On average, one rooster can adequately watch over, care for and mate with a flock of about 10 to 15 hens. In very large flocks of mixed genders (30 or more), roosters will naturally create their own small flocks and, for the most part, leave other males alone.

As with any ranked animal social structure, being a top bird has its perks. Those ranked higher in the pecking order have first dibs on food, water sources, the best treats, nesting boxes, dust-bathing spots and perches, to name a few. Dominant chickens routinely remind the more submissive birds where they rank in the hierarchy by giving warning growls, harsh glares and the occasional peck.

Maintaining the pecking order can sometimes appear cruel and unforgiving. Some chicken keepers feel compelled to remove or coddle the most submissive birds, but it’s important to remember that a balanced pecking order is actually quite harmonious.

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Chickens 101, The Essential Guide to Raising Chicks, 15 best breeds for Beginners, Nutrition for all Life Stages, And More......