Chickens are birds. Like all other birds, chickens love to be free. Left to their own devices, they will stay outside from dawn until dusk foraging, socializing, dust bathing, splashing in puddles, and perching on the low limbs of trees. They like to rest in the sun on winter mornings and nap in the shade on summer afternoons. Hens like to lay their eggs in a quiet spot, such as a hollow tree stump, and will make their own nests of grass hidden in the brush. Descended from South Asian jungle fowl, chickens love to roost in trees. The well-known “cockadoodle-doo” of the rooster evolved as a way for flock members to keep track of one another in the forest.
Both hens and roosters form stable friendships, tending to prefer their own sex for everyday companionship. Each bird is a unique individual, however, so there are exceptions to every rule. Some birds are loners; others spend every minute with their friends. Some are gregarious, others shy. Some are timid but, despite the stereotypes, many others are very brave.
Hens and roosters use many different vocalizations and behaviors to communicate with each other and their chicks. Roosters collectively protect the flock from predators, using two different alarm cries — one for aerial predators, the other for possible threats on the ground — to warn other birds of danger. When an alarm is raised, everybody responds, joining in the cry and taking appropriate evasive action. All remain watchful until the rooster who originally raised the alarm gives the all-clear signal.
In healthy flocks with sufficient space to spread out, roosters cooperate with one another and do not fight, instead using a complex set of sounds and movements to establish and maintain their social structure.
Most chickens don’t get to live their natural bird lives. Hens and roosters raised for meat typically are crowded into poorly ventilated sheds with tens of thousands of other birds of the same age and sex. They are trucked off to be killed at six or eight weeks of age, catching their first breath of fresh air only as they are on the way to a painful and terrifying death.
Hens in egg factories live longer but endure more torture. Confined in cages so small that they cannot open their wings or even lie down comfortably, they are driven mad by boredom, despair, periodic hunger, and chronic pain. After close to two years of such horror, they too are trucked off to slaughter.
Meanwhile, the water pollution and global warming caused by meat and egg production endanger the health and habitats of wild birds.
If you love birds, don’t eat them or their eggs. Do support efforts to halt human exploitation, expropriation, and despoliation of birds and their habitats. Follow the links below to learn more about the lives and deaths of chickens. Visit our “Go Vegan” page for tips on making the transition to a bird-friendly lifestyle.
- “Crossing the Avian-Mammalian Line” — Read about relationships with and among chickens
- “I Know Why the Caged Birds Scream” — Go behind the scenes at an egg factory
- “A Killing Floor Chronicle” — Meet a poultry factory worker who became a chicken advocate
- “My First Night on Back Dock” — Go behind the scenes at a poultry factory
Chicken Care Resources
- Chicken Care 101 — Here’s the 411 straight from the first farmed animal sanctuary
- Emergency Bird Care — Useful tips for caring for injured or sick birds of any kind
- Veterinary Manual — Merck Veterinary Manual (free full text of penultimate edition)
- Diagnosis — Online aid for diagnosing common diseases