Humans have lived alongside the humble chicken for over 5,000 years or so. Chickens originally descended from Red junglefowl, a shy bird that lives primarily in South-Eastern Asia, but they have been totally transformed by human domestication.
There are actually more chickens in the world than any other bird, so what is a group of chickens called?
The most common collective nouns for a group of chickens are a peep of chickens, a flock of chickens and a brood of chickens. A flock is a common noun for the group of most birds, whereas brood refers more to a family unit of chickens. A peep of chickens refers more to younger chickens that make a ‘peep’ sound, e.g. a quiet chirp - though it doesn’t seem that anyone knows for sure why a group of baby chickens have come to be known as a peep!
Humanity has come to take chickens for granted, but they have a long, complex and intriguing history that is still contested to this day. Domesticated chickens usually live in relatively large flocks much like their original predecessor, the Red junglefowl, and like the Red junglefowl and many other closely related birds, chickens maintain complex social systems and hierarchies.
Read on to learn more collective nouns for chickens and many other facts about this world-renowned bird!
Flock of chickens on a grassy meadow
Most of these names are self-explanatory. A run of chickens probably refers to chickens in a chicken run (an enclosure attached to the coop) rather than the famous animated film by the same name!
Chickens are sociable and gregarious birds and prefer to live in groups of some three or more hens, with one cockerel for every 5 to 15 or so hens if the owner wishes for them to reproduce.
When kept on their own or with just one other bird, chickens are known to grow anxious and depressed. Most breeds of domesticated chickens also breed communally, meaning that the hens will often sit on each other’s eggs and share the rearing duties of young chicks.
There are groups of feral chickens in the wild, chickens that have escaped from domestication and gone on to establish new lives. Feral chickens also gather in flocks of at least several birds.
Group of chickens
Unravelling the reasons why chickens behave the way they do - and why this often differs to the Red junglefowl they largely descended from - is a near-impossible task! Chickens have been shaped irrevocably by human breeding, and their flocking behaviours have likely evolved in tandem with the process of domestication.
What we do know is that much of the social and gregarious behaviour of chickens revolves around the process of reproduction. The male cockerels maintain the rate at which the females breed, the ultimate goal being the production of offspring. By flocking together in a system that has a strong reproductive hierarchy, chickens can maintain the high birth rates that are innate to them.
Flocking also helps chickens survive cold weather by huddling for warmth and provides safety in numbers in the presence of predators. Chickens flock together because it aids in survival but also because their social instincts drive them.
Cockerel with a group of hens
Chickens form strong social bonds with each other, but it is not a totally fair and equitable system. For example, a flock of hens without a rooster will establish a pecking order with a dominant hen at the top and several tiers of hens below her.
The hierarchy will govern which chickens get to feed first, choose nesting areas and access drinking facilities and dust baths. Hierarchies between hens rarely result in bullying or aggravation towards those deemed ‘lesser’ to the others, and they usually form strong friendship bonds.
Where a cockerel or rooster is present in the flock, some 10 to 15 hens will be subordinate to one male who will mate with all of them. If there are multiple males, they will likely pick and choose what hens they want to mate with, though the hens do have some say in this too.
If outsiders attempt to merge into the flock, they will often be bullied or attacked.
Junglefowl also maintain complex social hierarchies between both males and females, but monogamous pairing is often also reported.
A cockerel, or rooster, singing or crowing
There are many different scales of what could be considered chicken ‘flocks’. For example, could a commercial farm of many thousands of chickens be considered a flock? Probably not, as these chickens are never able to express their natural social and gregarious instincts.
In the case of small groups of chickens kept for recreational or semi-commercial purposes, chickens naturally create social flocks where there are enough birds to do so. In other words, when permitted by their natural environment, chickens instinctively form flocks. Feral chickens that have re-established themselves in the wild also form flocks with social hierarchies or ‘pecking orders’.
The minimum flock size for most breeds of domesticated chicken is no less than three birds. A typical small flock might number 6 to 10 birds. Industrial poultry farms can number many thousands of chickens, but this isn’t really considered a flock.
Three Red Hens foraging for worms on the ground
Small to medium-sized chicken broods or flocks generally form strong social bonds and stay together. At night, chickens roost together and share warmth if necessary. When rearing chickens, hens often share incubating, brooding and rearing duties.
So long as chickens are brought up and socialised together, the social hierarchy usually maintains itself with no harm or aggravation. The only exception is when two or more flocks or broods are introduced to each other - this is when things might become a little edgy!
Baby chickens often stay close to their mothers for 4 to 8 weeks. The chicks grow exceptionally quickly and tend to reach sexual maturity after just 4 to 6 months, at which point they will begin to breed and lay eggs.
Mother hen with her young chicks out on the grass
There is no specific name for a flock of roosters. Roosters are much more aggressive than hens and are liable to fight each other if there are not enough hens in the brood or flock to mate with.
Many poultry specialists recommend pairing one rooster with every 10 to 15 hens or so, which should keep them from competing with each other over mating rights. This varies between breeds - the roosters of some breeds are much more docile than others.
Roosters do hang about in each other’s company. In the case of Red junglefowl, roosters may often form their own small flocks away from the female hens.
There is no specific name for a pair of chickens. Chickens prefer to live in larger groups, ideally more than 5 per flock.
Chickens in smaller flocks are liable to get bored, anxious and depressed. Some more docile breeds fare better in smaller groups than others but will still crave contact with their owners and have been known to gel with family pets!
A pair of chickens stood together
A brood of baby chickens is by far the most common name for a group of baby chickens.
Another common name is a peep of chickens, which refers either to the way that baby chickens ‘peep’ out of their eggs or the quiet squeaking sounds they make as chicks.
A group of baby chickens, also just referred to as chicks
Chicken aggression varies hugely depending on the breed. Some breeds such as Silkies, Plymouth Rocks, Golden Buffs and Sussex are exceptionally calm, friendly and docile.
In other breeds, both the male and female chickens are capable of being highly aggressive, though the males are certainly responsible for the most brutal forms of aggression.
Competing males can quite easily fight to the death - some cockfighting breeds have been bred to do exactly that for thousands of years. Others will live peacefully together - it really depends on the breed and personality of the roosters.
By selecting for aggressive genetics and behaviours, humans have created some hyperaggressive breeds of chicken.
Chicken breeds renowned for their aggression include:
Many of these breeds were bred specifically for cockfighting, like the Sumatran, Cubalyan, Modern Game and Old English Game.
Close up of a Plymouth Rock Chicken (Barred Rock hen), which are a breed well known for being calm
Chickens have many terms that have come about through farming and domestication. Here are the most important chicken terms:
A pair of Sussex chickens in winter
Chickens are generally very social and gregarious, forming close-knit groups that look out for each other.
Hens often help each other make nests, incubate eggs and raise young, and it’s not unheard of for two hens to share the same nest, which sometimes results in an odd-looking situation where one hen sits on top of the other!
Some hens do prefer to nest on their own, though, and will remain more solitary whilst breeding. Roosters are usually more solitary than the hens and don’t tend to partake in the same activities at the same time as hens. The rooster will nearly always prioritise himself when feeding, signalling to the flock when it is their turn to eat.
Chickens are flock birds that generally require social immersion with other chickens. Without it, chickens can get bored, anxious, depressed and fractious, potentially resorting to destructive behaviours, including self-harm.
Roosters reportedly fare better on their own than hens, but only if they are brought up that way. Similarly, hens that are raised with other pets or small children may be perfectly content, provided they get enough time to socialise with their non-chicken friends.
A pair of Red Junglefowl found in the forest
Red junglefowl, the ancestors of present-day chickens, maintain similar social hierarchies to chickens that are kept in natural environments. One male may live with several other females but do sometimes live alone or with other males. Hens tend to be most social and gregarious.
Roosters maintain the hierarchy when present or otherwise, the hens may establish a dominant hen that leads the flock instead.
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