Every morning in our childhood, we were woken up by our Rooster’s crowing. The rooster crows to announce his supremacy in the territory and in the brood. During the day, one often heard the hens crying loud “bak bak ba kO” after laying an egg. This is often referred to as the hen’s ‘egg song’.
Our house had a barn about 50 meters away from the main building. It housed the cows and had a room to store hay, the main fodder for the cows. The hens utilised the hay area to beat the afternoon heat or to save themselves from the heavy monsoon downpours. The brooding hens stayed there most of the day, hardly ever going out. Most of the hens laid their eggs too over the hay stacks. Some would find their way into the house and lay their eggs in the store room where Amma stored the grains and other yields from the farm. They would also use the area where old newspapers and magazines were stored to lay their eggs.
Hens often resort to ritual singing after she has laid an egg. The hen’s song generally lasts for a minute or two and at times extend up to five minutes. Many a times, it turns very irritable to one’s ears and one would wish they would stop their endless singing at the earliest. It appears that the hens want to broadcast to the world that they have achieved something great. It is surely a great event in the hen’s day to have laid an egg. But why do they do it? Why does a hen feel the need to broadcast to the world that she has laid an egg? Would it not be sensible for them to be silent so as to protect their egg from predators and humans?
One possible explanation is that the hen is feeling proud of the achievement for laying an egg. So, in fact she must be ‘crowing with pride’ about her accomplishment. It may also be that she is feeling relieved to have it plop out. Another possibility is that having gone off to lay her egg in private somewhere, she is calling to the rest of the flock to rejoin them. It could also be that she is protecting her egg by moving away from it and distracting predators from the nest itself and focusing their attention to her instead to keep her egg safe.
The song could also be an invitation to the rooster for mating. At the end of the song, the rooster would often approach the hen with a dipped wing, waving his colourful tail feathers and dance around her in a circular pattern. It often culminates with a successful mating. One mating can leave enough sperm to fertilize each egg for up to a week, hence it may not be a daily ritual.
The hens are not only vocal when they lay their eggs, they also make sounds of purring, growling, predator warnings, squawking and calling chicks to food. Certain breeds are more talkative than others and some chicken are louder or quieter depending on their breed and genetic constitution.
We also had a few ducks. The ducks would quack all through the day and one could never fathom the reason for the ruckus they created. There was hardly any pattern to it. They normally laid their eggs at night and would remain quite after their accomplishment. Sometimes they laid their eggs early in the morning while being taken to the water filled paddy fields. Mostly these eggs were often lost. Once the water was drained out from the fields to sow rice, one could often collect many eggs from there.
The duck’s egg is surely much bigger than hen’s. Some claim that the duck eggs have twice the nutritional value of a hen’s egg and stay fresh for a longer period as compared a hens egg due to their thicker shell. Duck eggs are rich with Albumen, making cakes and pastries fluffier and richer, as compared to hen’s eggs. Duck eggs have more Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 apparently prevents irregular heartbeat, reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease inflammation. That may the reason why the Chinese preserve duck eggs by soaking in brine, or packing each egg in damp, salted charcoal. It is said to be a delicacy and have been known to be edible for years.
The hens announce their accomplishment of laying an egg to the entire world around, but the duck, even though does a better job, keeps quiet after the accomplishment. We as kids used to get into the hay stacks to look for an egg before the crows snatch it away on hearing the hen’s song. A few times it turned out to be hoax, as some hens may sing without laying an egg.
The ducks do not brood and do not sit idle in one place, hence poor hatchers. At our home, a brooding hen hatched the duck eggs. The hen would take care of the ducklings like her chicks. After a week or two, the ducklings would jump into the water in the paddy fields and would start swimming. The poor mother-hen would run around crying, unable to get into water and swim and unable to get near her ‘chicks’ and protect them. This event marks the end of the mother-chick relationship and the ducklings now go their way in a flock.
Perhaps, there is a human parallel to this comparison. A few people execute difficult tasks and accomplish great deeds, but keep quite after all their hard work. They do not announce it to the world and often their works are recognised many years after their death. Galileo Galilei – a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer; Vincent van Gogh – Dutch Post-Impressionist painter; Johann Sebastian Bach – as a composer; Gregor Johann Mendel – who discovered the basic principles of Genetics; and the list is endless.
Some people do announce to the world all their accomplishments and many make much noise about small feats. Some would fake it too; no job but only noise.
May be it’s better to be a hen than a duck in the present days of social media dominated world, where even the silliest activity is broadcast as a great accomplishment. So, are you a ‘duck type’ or a ‘hen type’?