Secret of the Rooster's Crow

This rural resident's morning ritual has little to do with time.
Jennifer Nemec, associate editor
January/February 2008

iStockPhoto.com/Dirk Freder


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He is an icon of the morning. In most every rural scene he crows to greet the dawn. He crosses cultural and geographical boundaries as the harbinger of daylight. He says “Cock-a-doodle-do” in English, “Kikeriki” in German, “Kuklooku” in Urdu, and “Ko-ke-kok-ko-o” in Japanese. Biblical scenes center around his call, and he takes top billing in the folklore of countless cultures.

In Southeast Asia, the Hmong tell this tale: A long time ago, when the world was new, the sky held nine suns. The land was hot, the river dried up, and crops began to die. The people decided to ask their best archer to shoot the suns out of the sky. The next day, one by one, he shot the suns. Frightened, the last remaining sun hid behind a mountain where the archer could not reach her. Soon the people realized their mistake. The world grew cold, and the crops did not grow. The people spoke gently to the hiding sun to coax her back. They also asked animals and songbirds to try, but none could convince her to return. Finally, someone suggested the rooster, because he was fearless and would not give up. Agreeing to help, the rooster crowed three times, and the sun, believing she was safe, rose from behind the mountain. To show gratitude to the rooster, the sun placed a bit of the morning sky on top of his head.

But why is it that the rooster gets so excited about dawn’s rosy fingers? Does he take his job as the farm’s alarm clock too seriously? Does he just have something important to say?

Turns out the answer is simpler than you might think. First, roosters crow all the time. The connection with the sun coming up is a misconception. “They might, on occasion, crow right at dawn. But it’s just a coincidence,” Pete Alcorn (TransitionsAbroad.com) says. “Roosters crow whenever they feel like it: morning, noon and night, not to mention afternoon, evening and the parts of the day that don’t have names.”

Roosters crow because they hear other roosters crowing, to show that a certain place in the barnyard is their turf, to try and assert their authority over another rooster, or even to gloat when a hen cackles after laying an egg. Joe Faust, the Accidental Farmer (JoeCliffordFaust.com/chickens), says, “I think the general rule for this is that a rooster crows any time it wants to – or feels the need. For all I know, mine may crow on and off all night, but I just hear them in the morning.”

As a diurnal animal (one that is active during the day), the rooster starts his daily doings when the sun comes up. If you think about early morning, it’s almost always associated with bird song. Most birds seem to spend time shouting their messages to the world in the morning, and chickens are no different.

David Feldman addresses this question in When Do Fish Sleep? He quotes Janet Hinshaw of the Wilson Ornithological Society who says, “Most of the crowing takes place in the morning, as does most singing, because that is when the birds are most active, and most of the territorial advertising takes place then. Many of the other vocalizations heard throughout the day are for other types of communication, including flocking calls, which serve to keep members of a flock together and in touch if they are out of sight from one another.”

The reason that we associate a rooster’s crow with the dawn is most likely because that’s when it’s most noticeable to our sleepy selves. When the relative quiet of night is disturbed by the local rooster, we sit up, take notice, and maybe grumble a little on the way to the barn.


Despite childhood close encounters of a negative kind, Associate Editor Jenn Nemec is slowly learning to love poultry.


Have a country question you always wondered about? Email it to QuizGrit@Grit.com, and we may answer it here.


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Post a comment below.

 

Carolyn Tardy
10/31/2011 6:33:38 PM
I have a rooster that crows at different times during the day. I have two hens. I have witnessed the rooster skirting around the hens with one wing down and dragging on the ground but he has never been seen actually performing his male duties. Could there be something wrong with him? I don't believe he knows what to do. I do want to have some chicks, but with his lack of interest, I don't see that happening. Any suggestions?

Michelle Hernandez
12/2/2010 10:17:30 PM
Very fun article to read! I didn't know the tales. Why do roosters crow...as already stated, b/c they want to! I agree that in the evening/nighttime, chickens go into a trancelike state...unless disturbed - by light, noise, etc. The key to a restful night's sleep is to prevent such disturbances. Having night boxes that attenuate noise and block light are very helpful. Some studies indicate chickens see infrared light. As such, their perception of first light is earlier than ours. I've done my informal "studies" on my flocks with roo that sleeps with his hens in a night box compared to those that sleep in a more open roost in a secure coop. My open coop roo will crow much more frequently and easily during the night for any movement or noise a good way away (for instance, if I got out in the evening to a shed a good way away from the coop.) In contrast, I can almost go up to the coop with the night box and not have the roo crow. Could be luck, but it seems different behavior based on the enclosed roosting area. I can't say this is 100% formula, but it's worth a try for nighttime peace and good relations with your neighbors.

Andrew
10/1/2010 6:05:36 AM
I very much agree with the article. Different breeds crow differenty. I have 2 roosters right now. One is a black and white batam like the other comment. The other is a golden Rhode Island Red breed. The black and white rooster only crows in the morning and a few times during the day. On the other hand my Rhode Island Red crows at all time of the day and night. When he does crow he will go for 20 mins at a time. No matter if it is 4am in the middle of the winter or 4pm. The neighboors have a spot light they keep on all night. I wonder if that is causing the Rhode Island Red to crow at night. Or it might be the foxes we have in the area causing him to sound the alarm.

michele' preston
4/25/2010 1:12:28 AM
I have to agree that a rooster or roosters crow cause they can! My 2, when in separate areas had awful crowing wars that made me want to pull out all my hair, now that I have them in runs right next to each other they have quieted down so much I forget they are there & have to go check on them. Any light, even a flashlight will cause 1 of mine to crow while the other seems to not mind a little light. its funny how one breed crows more than the other, my orpington will crow but the welsummer at times will not shut up & when I had a silkie, he crowed if he heard the others but was very quiet.

Uliana
4/21/2010 5:11:05 PM
I enjoyed the article and the story. But I can't agree on the statement that roosters crow all the time. I have a Black/White Japanese Bantam rooster and he only crows at about 6:15 am and then again around 7 am. Thats it. I never hear another crow out of him. When I was at the state fair, I noticed that all the other roosters crowed almost constantly. The bantams? Nothing. Quiet. The farm I got the rooster from had lots of these bantams. All were quiet. Perhaps for those who want a rooster in their flock but have a noise ordinance, try one of the Japanese bantams.

Hmong Girl_2
3/10/2010 11:23:23 PM
Yep, my parents are always reminding me of the story that the rooster got it's "comb" because the Lady Sun gave it to him. Anyhow, I was wondering if anyone has a trick on how to get them to not crow a lot - I tried the dog whisperer move on my rooster (the touch with a "ch") but all my rooster does is turn his back to me and let's it rip!

D.C. Hall
8/26/2009 3:57:29 PM
I really enjoyed that little "tail" about roosters! I own several roosters my own self, and I love the little twerps! They are all Bantams and they love crowing at all times of the day. I can even get them to crow by crowing myself! We enjoy showing off for each other! They do not crow at night...chickens kind of go into a trance-like state at night, and hardly move unless bothered by a predator or something. I guess if they were in a brightly lit place at night, they might crow. One of my little hens tried to crow the other day! I don't know why hens sometimes do that. Going through "the change" I guess!

jeanne
7/10/2009 8:51:55 AM
A natural de-wormer I use for all our fowl folk is naturally soured milk mixed with a little diatomatious earth. Organic, natural and saves money.

Jennifer Nemec
1/14/2009 9:03:48 AM
Hi Alice, Thanks for your comment! I love the image of a bunch of chicks on the edge of the tub. This story was fun to write because there are so many chicken tales!

Alice Jordan
1/11/2009 5:02:44 PM
I really enjoyed the "chicken tales"!! I have one...many years ago I ordered chickens through the mail. That was one of the very few cold springs in the deep south. So, my chicks were installed in my 2nd bath...the only one with a tub. As long as the chicks were small and stayed in their box it was fine. I soaked and watched the personalities emerge. But, soon the chicks were flying out of the box and perching on the edge of the tub and watching me bathe!! I mean "watching"! That is when I began to realize the many benefits of showering...in a chicken-free bath!!








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