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What Sounds Does a Chicken Make and What Do They Mean?

When you own chickens, you become accustomed to the wide variety of clucking, buk-buking, and squawking that goes on throughout the day. Yet, did you ever wonder if those sounds meant anything? Chickens can communicate to others using these sounds. So, learning what sounds a chicken makes and what those sounds mean can be beneficial to you, the owner. You could pick up on when your chickens are feeling threatened, scared, hungry, or content. Here is everything you need to know about the common sounds chickens make and when you will most likely hear them.

red chickens in the coop

All About The Sounds Chickens Make

Did you know that there is an actual chicken language? Sorry, it’s anything that you can learn to imitate, though you can train your ears to comprehend it better. During the 1980s, Nicholas E. Collias started to research the language of chickens and the sounds that they make. His research began the foundation of a growing body of research that has enabled humans to understand to some extent.

Since the time of Collias’ research, there have been more than 24 sounds identified. Interestingly, ongoing research at Macquarie University in Australia has aided in the discovery of more than just chicken language. The researchers there have learned that chickens have extensive cognitive abilities, as well.

Today, you will be introduced to 10 of the most frequently heard sounds chickens make.

1. Clucking

The typical chicken sound. Clucking is a soft, repetitive sound that chickens make when they are content. It can also be a sign of curiosity or a warning to other chickens to be cautious.

rhode island red hen clucking

You may notice these different clucks throughout the day. 

Another form of clucking is known as the mother cluck, which happens as soon as a broody hen realizes that her babies will be born soon. You will hear the momma hen cooing and murmuring to the unhatched chicks with gusto. This is the beginning of a special bond between mother and chicks.

Once the chicks are born, the mother hen graduates to clucks that sound like, “tuk, tuk, tuk,” which is designed to tell the chicks, “This food is safe to eat. Give it a try.” Later on, as the chicks grow and become slightly more confident, the hen will use a low pitched cluck that warns the chicks to not go astray.

2. Crowing

Crowing is represented as a distinct “cock-a-doodle-do.” Scientists have found that many roosters have an internal circadian rhythm that cycles every 23.8 hours. Once that internal clock’s alarm goes off, the rooster begins to crow, usually right before the sun is about to rise.

Roosters also crow to announce their presence and establish their territory. It can also be a sign of aggression or excitement. As such, while crowing is most common in the early morning hours, it is not uncommon for a rooster to crow throughout the day, especially when other male chickens are wandering around.

3. Squawking

Chickens make loud, sharp squawks when they are frightened or in distress. It can also be a warning call to other chickens of potential danger. Because of this, you can often tell one kind of squawk apart from another.

The first squawk of alarm will vary but it often gets louder the more concerned a chicken or rooster gets over the safety of the flock. You can separate these squawks as “ground level threat” and “air raid siren.” The ground level threat is when a chicken spots a four-legged danger, although it could also mean surprise when the friendly cat is slinking through the grass. Sometimes, the ground level threat squawk sounds like fast-paced cackling.

As for the air raid siren, it sounds very close to its namesake. You will notice your rooster or head hen staring up at the sky, usually at a winged predator, like an eagle or hawk. Out of nowhere, the rooster will emit a squawk that is closer to a long, loud shriek.

Here is a video so you can have a listen:

4. Chirping

Chirping is not a sound that you hear often among adults, but chicks certainly have a wide variety of chirps. Baby chicks chirp to communicate with their mother hen or other chicks. It can also be a sign of hunger or thirst.

You will know the babies are content when they let out a soft peep. A higher pitched “eep” that continues on and on, however, means that these babies are displeased. It could mean they are cold or hungry.

Chicks also have a panic chirp, which is laced with distress. Usually, a mother hen will race off the instant she hears this panicked sound and rescue her baby.

5. Gurgling

This is a low, guttural sound that chickens make when they are eating or drinking. It can also be a sign of satisfaction or pleasure. A hen might gurgle after eating something particularly satisfying or when perched on your lap and receiving pats.

Chickens may also make this sound when they are feeling content or when they are trying to establish their dominance over other chickens. It is also possible that chickens make gurgling sounds when they are feeling stressed or afraid.

Another time you may hear a gurgle is when your chicken is not feeling well. This will be a more downtrodden gurgle, one that is reminiscent of when your chest is filled with mucus from an upper respiratory infection. If you hear this kind of gurgling, do not wait. Get your chicken to a veterinarian as soon as you can.

6. Hissing

Yes, you read that right: chickens can hiss like geese. Some chickens may hiss when they are threatened or angry. It’s a warning to back off and can also be accompanied by other aggressive behaviors like fluffing feathers and lowering their head. Roosters will tighten up their body posture while hissing when facing down another rooster or an enemy, like a snake.  This is a clear sign that your chicken is ready to fight beak and talon to defend itself and its flock.

However, this does not always mean aggression or danger. If your chickens are doing this around you, it could just mean that they were startled and thought you were a predator. Wait for a little while before approaching with caution.

7. Purring or Trilling

white chickens drinking on the farm

Hens make a soft, vibrating purr when they are content and comfortable. No, these purrs are not done in the same fashion as cats. Instead, it’s more like a soft trill that rolls from the chicken’s chest. It’s a soothing sound.

Purring or trilling is usually heard as chickens settle in for the night or when they have found themselves a patch of sunlight.

If you hear trilling, you have a reason to smile. Your flock is happy and feels safe.

8. The Egg Song

If you have a number of hens around, then you have most likely heard what has been dubbed the “egg song.” It sounds a little like, “buk, buk, buk, ba-GAWK,” with a certain emphasis at the end. In other words, it is a series of short, rapid clucks and is thought to be a way for the hen to communicate with other hens in the flock, letting them know that she has laid an egg and where it is located. The egg song can also serve as a signal to predators that the hen has already laid her egg and is no longer vulnerable while she is in the nesting box. Each hen may have a slightly different egg song, and some hens may not vocalize at all after laying an egg.

9. The Rooster’s Food Call

Roosters have an important job in flocks: they find the food. When allowed to free range, the rooster will prowl around, looking to the sky, the ground, and to his flock, making sure everyone is free and clear of danger. As he goes, he may spot something that looks delicious. Instead of feeding on it himself, he emits a “tuk, tuk” that sounds like a more brawnier version of the mother hen “tuk.”

The hens know this means to run to where the rooster is standing and to start pecking. When the ladies are done consuming the tasty meal, the rooster may take something for himself.

10. Broody Hen Growls

beautiful chicken in nesting box eggs

Mother hens are very protective of their young. Have you ever noticed that when you stick your hand too close to a broody hen, she puffs up and lets out a growl/squawk? These distinct grumbles of discontent are often accompanied with a sharp peck to the back of your hand.

This kind of vocalization means, “Stay away, human, and let me hatch my babies.”

Final Thoughts on Chicken Noises

There you have it — 10 common sounds chickens make. Now that you know what these sounds mean, be sure to keep an ear out for them. By listening to your flock closely, you will be able to discern exactly how your chicks and chickens are feeling. It may come in handy one day!