There are many noises and sounds on this planet that are easily recognizable by most individuals—the barking of a dog, the meowing of a cat, and the crowing of a rooster. But the age-old question, next to why did the chicken cross the road, is why does a rooster crow?
Why do they seem to have this innate need to crow, and crow, and crow some more? Having been raised a city girl, I had always grown up with the belief that roosters crowed in the morning, to herald in the day, which may be true for some. However, since starting a flock of my own, I have found that my rooster, Screech, crows morning, noon, night, and pretty much all those times in between.
Although admittedly, chickens are one of the more widely known animals on the planet, it wasn’t until in the last century that scientists decided to try to figure out why roosters crow—and in the process, may have found some interesting answers in the process.
When They Crow
It is worth noting that in the case of most roosters, they do crow more often than just when the sun rises. They will crow at any time, and the crowing is more often than not usually triggered by a specific type of stimuli—such as the sound of a lawnmower or that of a stranger walking near their yard or their coop.
Roosters are not too picky about when or even why they crow, they just crow. As a result, they can be seen and heard crowing at any time of the day or night, most often at the slightest, most mundane of stimuli. The old wives tale of a rooster crowing right before, or at the crack, of dawn is a sound one. Most breeds of roosters will, in fact, prone to doing this.
The Science Of Crowing
Because of their propensity to crow over anything and everything, both scientists and ornithologists (bird nerds) were under the working thought that the crowing of a rooster at the break of day was just a response, wired into their DNA, to the changing levels of from dark to light.
Personally, I do not believe this is always true, as my Screech will start crowing as early as two hours before the break of daylight most mornings.
In Japan, scientists at Nagoya University decided to test out the anecdotal theories that have been passed down through the centuries—stories that expound that roosters have an innate ability of “knowing” when daybreak is about to occur.
A paper was published in 2013 by Takashi Yoshimura and Tsuyoshi Shimmura, where the scientists had set out to learn if this was just a thought in peoples head, or if, in fact, it is the rooster anticipating, or feeling the coming of daybreak, rather than an instinctive reaction to the sun rising.
Gathering The Data
Yoshimura and Shimmura performed several experiments, and data collected in an attempt to answer the question as to why a rooster crows and what might stimulate the action. For a couple of weeks, the research exposed the birds to several different situations and environments, as well as a variety of stimuli, which included that of being fed.
The long and the short of it all is that a rooster may crow for a specific reason, and then other times he may crow for no reason at—almost as if for the sheer fun of it or simply out of a sense of boredom. On the other hand, when he does crow, the crowing of a rooster can serve several essential functions, some of which we will look at now.
Why Do Roosters Crow?
Here are a few reasons why roosters crow:
Greeting The Sun
During Yoshimura and Shimmura’s research, a select flock of roosters was all exposed to a controlled environment in which there were twelve continuous hours of light, rotating with twelve continuous hours of dark. This exposure was repeated over the course of two weeks.
What the information showed was that the roosters did, in fact, anticipate the approaching daylight. They generally started crowing in pre-dawn fashion approximately two hours before the flipping on of the light each day.
The scientists surmised that roosters have an internal circadian rhythm clock of approximately 23.8 hours. This internal clock is what triggers roosters to crow at a preset, appointed time. They also surmised that this is the trigger that stimulates roosters to begin their crowing shortly before sunrise.
The data also showed that the lead, dominant rooster would begin to crow, and then his lesser subordinates would follow and chime in. One can imagine just how loud and noisy this can become if you have more than one rooster in your flock.
Many flock owners are not aware that the ancestry of our current chickens of today is based in those Far Eastern countries—such as Thailand, India, Myanmar, and China. Most often, these birds could be found residing in those dense areas containing massive vegetation, such as jungles. This, in turn, would give them great coverage and would make them difficult to see, even by other birds such as themselves.
It is believed that the crowing of a rooster in this situation was an announcement, akin to a warning, to his neighboring fowl brethren. He would be making it known to any other roosters around that he had not only taken up residence in the area but that he had also laid claim to the territory for himself and his hens.
These roosters are also thought to have used crowing as a means to call back and forth to one another so the other roosters and their flocks would now where they were.
Even today, you will hear several roosters crow back and forth. Chickens, as it turns out, have superb hearing, so the crowing to and from another rooster helps them in gauging just how far apart their flocks are, and if they are getting closer to one another or not.
By knowing where another flock, and thus its rooster, is can aid in lessening potential fights with rivals. Although a rooster will fight, it is not something they really like to do. There is too much of a potential of the rooster getting defeated, injured, or even killed.
When it comes to a flock, it all about the most dominant bird—and that is the rooster. When chickens live together in a group, referred to as a flock, the highest-rank, the most dominant rooster will always be the one to crow first. He will then be followed by those roosters beneath him, lower down in the “pecking order.”
Even though the lesser roosters may have their internal clocks telling them it is time to start crowing, they will wait for the head rooster to kick it all off. We have all heard of the term “pecking order,” and when it comes to a flock, its members will follow it to a tee.
The most dominant member of any flock will peck at the other members, and they take the punishment and accept it. Although nature has hardwired it into all roosters to acquiesce to their inner circadian rhythm, research has shown that they will wait and let the dominant rooster determine when the chorus will begin. I mean, seriously, who knew that chickens were that polite to one another?
Crowing At Night
Okay, now let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room—yes, roosters do and will crow at night. Why you might be asking, do they do that? Well, the short answer is that no one really knows for sure.
Many chicken “experts” believe that crowing at night may be a security measure. The rooster may think he hears something outside or around the coop, and then, in turn, will crow to alert the remaining flock of a possibility of there being danger nearby.
Then there is another working theory out there as to crowing at night. Some believe that the crowing may have been been triggered by a car headlight, or another such light, that disturbed them from their slumber. When this happens, again, the rooster may crow to alert the others in the coop.
Then, yet a third theory is that they may have heard a car or a machine of some such, and the crowing is the rooster issuing a stern warning to the potential rival or danger that he is present and to keep away from his territory and his ladies.
Impressing The Ladies
Now, I know this belief, when it comes to my Screech, is a sound assumption. Some roosters, in an effort to boast about their ability for satisfying their hens, will crow after they have mated. I mean, really? No one likes a braggart! But, in the chicken world, it seems that roosters are prone to being a tell-all kind of mate. Screech will throw his chest out, flap his wings, and let out a big, boisterous crow, almost as if saying, “I’m the greatest in the chicken yard!”
Some have even gone so far to offer the theory that the morning crowing, just before daybreak, in addition to being triggered by the rooster’s circadian rhythm, may also be produced by a sudden surge of testosterone in the bird’s system. Although just a theory, it is sounds just as probable and any of the others mentioned.
If you track when you hear your rooster crow the most often, you find occurs most often in the morning and the early evening. These times of day coincide with when he is believed to be the most sexually potent.
There are those roosters that, when one of his hens has laid her egg, he will crow. It is almost as if he is proclaiming, to any possible competition, that he is the man and not only are his hens well taken care of and fertile, but he is fertile as well.
Competition In the Chicken Yard
One of the more popular thoughts on why roosters are prone to crowing so much is based on competition that may, in their minds, exist in the chicken yard. Now, this thought may carry some merit. Let me explain. I have a cousin who has four roosters and twenty hens. He had one rooster that he keeps with the ladies, and the other three roosters share their own chicken version of a bachelor pad.
Seeing that the three roosters are housed off by themselves, they do not, by nature, recognize the one rooster with the hens as the top dog, as it were. However, when the rooster with the hens starts to crowing, the other three feel the need to chime in offering their own two cents worth.
When all is the hallabalu and done, and the crowing dies down, the lead rooster will always have the last crow. That same lead rooster, according to my cousin, will always make sure to travel around the perimeter of the pen of the bachelor roosters at least a few times a day. He says the rooster even tries to taunt the other roosters into fighting, knowing good and well that he is safe—talk about bravery!
Now it may actually be a fact that all this posturing and crowing may not be the nature of other roosters, and may be specific to his rooster, or may even the rooster’s breed. Either way, I am sure it is a sight to see and hear.
The Etiquette Of Crowing
Like most things in this life, when it comes to a flock of chickens, there is a certain etiquette that must be followed. And never even more so than when you have multiple roosters within earshot of each other.
Fowl etiquette seems to dictate that there is a set order in which each rooster, in the chicken yard, will crow. As is expected, the head rooster, the big cheese, will be the first to commence the crowing. After him, it flows downhill according to the set pecking order. This order dictates the rooster that will crow next, and then the rooster after that, and so on, until they have all sounded off as to their presence.
Each rooster knows its place in the chorus, and if by chance one tries to one-up another one, the head rooster will make sure to put the defiant bird in its place. The only time the disobedience is dealt with, is when the head rooster is old, weak, or sick. It is then that one of the younger roosters will step forward, issue a challenge, and fight the head rooster for his place at the top of the hierarchy.
Roosters in the wild, as it turns out, most often live in harmony. That is as long as all the members of the flock respect and observe the established pecking order. These groups of self-proclaimed bachelors will, over time, split off into their own flocks, with their own hens.
Those individuals who keep flocks with more than one rooster are able to differentiate the crow of one rooster from another. There is a subtle difference in each bird’s crow, so much so that the owners are able to put the crow with the bird that is belting it out.
The Loudness Of The Crow
Many people think that the crow of a rooster is loud—very loud. However, the crow isn’t really loud at all. In fact, when measured in decibels, a roosters crow measures in line with that of a barking dog—being around 90 decibels give or take.
Any rooster, no matter what breed, will be a crower—there is simply no such thing as a rooster that will not and does not crow. For that reason, it seems that they get a bad rap for being noisy, and in all fairness, this is not so.
For many, the source of their irritation with a crowing rooster is explicit. The rooster will crow in the mornings, and if the individual in question is not a morning person, then the crowing will not be met with delight, but with annoyance instead.
The Length Of The Crow
In actuality, the crow of a rooster, or his “cock-a-doodle-do,” can last for as long as he wants to repeat it. However, oftentimes once he has announced his presence and reminded all within crowing distance of his territory, he will usually settle down. That is until something else serves to get him riled up.
This is where it is advantageous to have a single, solitary rooster, as since he doesn’t feel he has any form of competition in the chicken yard, he is not as prone to “over-crowing.”
Then again, if you were to have a Kosovo Long Crower Rooster, you would have a rooster that crows for 15 seconds or longer. Or what about the Drenica—which crows for an unbelievable 30 seconds.
Do Quiet Roosters Exist?
In a simple word—NO!
Although some roosters will crow far less than others, all roosters at one point or another will and do crow. If you ever find yourself owning more that one rooster, you will learn this very fast. Once one starts, they all join in on the cacophony.
Even the smaller breeds, such as the Bantams, will crow. Although their crow is more akin to a high pitched piercing shrill that some say runs along their nerves. Their crow is in no manner similar to the deeper crow of your standard-sized rooster.
Keeping Your Rooster Quiet
In all honesty, there is no fool-proof manner in which to keep a rooster totally quiet—sorry to say. However, that is not to say that flock owners don’t have aren’t a few options floating around out there that may help take the noise down a notch or two.
You could try a no crow collar, which is designed to interfere when the rooster tries to expel air from its lungs. These are advantageous as in that they will help dimmish the crowing somewhat, without posing any problems with eating, drinking, or breathing—it just helps to diminish the volume of the crow.
Although there are many reasons that a rooster will crow, and there are several means of reducing this same crowing, in the end, they will still crow—it is what roosters are genetically wired by nature to do. It is how they communicate with their flock, with you, and with their immediate surroundings.
Yes, roosters are loud, but you have heard that old saying, a good rooster is hard to come by. If your rooster is one of the good ones, but also one of the loud ones, it is in you, and your roosters, best interest to find a way to tone down his vocalizations. It would not be only a shame but, in many cases, heart-breaking to have to rehome a good rooster because he is irritating a neighbor.
Now, this is something I wanted to toss out there for giggles. There have been cases where not only the rooster crowed, but one of his hens crowed as well. Experts are not sure why some hens have the capability of crowing, but it is what it is. That is just a little fun fact that you can ponder on.