Singing the egg song April 11, 2014

Lissa received this question about the egg song from a fellow Chickenista:

“My australorp started singing her egg song again after some time not laying, and she even disappears for a certain amount of time in the backyard.  I’ve looked everywhere for her egg, and especially hard near where she emerges right before she sings, but I’ve found no nest and no eggs.  What gives?” –Debra

First, thanks for mentioning the “egg song.” For those readers who don’t know exactly what this refers to, it’s one of the colloquial names for the specific cackle or squawk made by a hen when she lays an egg. “Egg song” is actually my favorite term for it, because—in my opinion—this is the name that most closely matches a hen’s intent: to SING!

To be fair, I've seen humans sing an egg song when I share a dozen beauties with them.

To be fair, I’ve seen humans sing an egg song when I share a dozen beauties with them.

As our letter writer Debra knows, a hen typically makes this sound just after she’s laid. It’s a cackle, a squawk, an announcement, a celebration… or a song! It doesn’t normally last very long, and is usually the loudest sound a hen makes, which is to say about the same volume as a conversation between two people. In fiction, a hen transformed into a human would surely be an opera singer! Or maybe she’d just have a deep and abiding love for Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Not every hen sings when she lays. Some go about their business very quietly, or with just a hum or purr. Some like to sing so much that they may join in with another hen’s solo, making a nice duet… or you can even see a choir, especially in the spring when laying can be at its peak.

Pet chicken choir

Sing it, ladies.

Hens may sing at other times, although it’s not especially common. In my flock—and I can understand basic chicken language from long years of exposure and observation ;-)—I’ve seen hens sing the egg song when there is competition for a favorite nest. One hen, higher in the pecking order, has precedence for laying in the favorite nest, while the other has to wait her turn. Lower ranking hens in my flock are required by courtesy to leave a nest when “asked” to by a higher ranking hen. (Read more detail about the pecking order in the My Pet Chicken Handbook.)

Table of contents - sing the egg song for the beautiful eggs in the photo!

You’ll find detailed information about flock dynamic and culture starting on page 47. It’s one of those things you want to take into consideration, if possible, even before you get your chickens!

Upon being asked, a lower ranking hen required to leave nest may simply head straight into another nest to lay. But the reason I mention this here is that, if the lower ranking hen is feeling picky and doesn’t want to lay in the alternate nest, she might… well, just hold it and wait her turn. When this happens, I can almost see the hen crossing her legs, waiting uncomfortably for the more dominant hen to be done with the preferred nest!

And when a hen decides to wait rather than lay, she often sings the song of her people, with healthy cackles! Possibly this is just a release of pent up energy. She may also be letting the rest of the flock know: “Don’t wander too far away, because this is going to take longer than I thought!”

The whole egg song thing? It’s actually kind of mystifying, when you consider what its purpose could be. After all, why would a hen want to draw attention to her nesting site by figuratively screaming “HOLY MOLY, EVERYONE! LOOK, I LAID AN EGG!” It just seems like that would draw predators, doesn’t it? But the behavior of hens in a confined space is not the same as it would be in nature. In a natural environment, generally speaking, a hen is usually quiet on the nest, and like Debra mentions, the hen sings only after she’s wandered away from the nesting site.  In the free range situation at my West Virginia farm, my hens usually wander some distance from the nest before making their musical announcement.

This could serve the dual function of drawing predators away from a nest site, while at the same time letting the rest of the flock know where she is, and giving them the opportunity to respond, letting her know where they’ve wandered off to. As we all know, chickens are flock animals. And they’re prey animals: almost everyone loves a chicken dinner!

So Debra, as to why your hen may be singing… honestly, I can’t be absolutely sure. I am sorry. But I can suggest a few possibilities. Perhaps she’s lower in the pecking order, and the egg song just releasing energy while she waits for the prime spot.

Perhaps there IS a nest of hidden eggs you haven’t been able to find, yet.Two years ago I had a hen with a nest hidden in a field of tall grass not far from the coop, and I just could not locate it. She only cackled when she had emerged from the grass. Lawsie, I must have looked RIGHT AT the nest a dozen times without seeing it. She had sneakily positioned it beneath a clump of overhanging blades of grass; it was as if she had her own little thatched roof hut.

Singing the egg song near a hidden nest

The hidden nest at my house was only about 20 feet away from the coop entrance–you can practically see it from here!

Perhaps she is egg bound, trying to lay an egg but unable to do so. (That’s probably not the case if you’re not seeing other symptoms of illness–read about egg binding on our website.)

Perhaps she is laying hers eggs… and then eating them. That sounds sort of horrific, but we really can’t blame them too much for loving to eat eggs. Backyard eggs are delicious! However, it’s a habit that should be broken, if possible. Read about egg eating on our website.

With those possibilities, hopefully you’ll be able to narrow things down and identify what’s really happening.

5 Comments

[…] did not make the Egg Song, ever. They were not very vocal at all. Now, they’re joining in with the egg song, and they […]

Kara February 4th, 2015

I love the egg song and listening to my chickens sing it! I made a video of it on youtube. Here’s the link if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3QIWiHhxmk

Jwebb July 14th, 2016

My dominant hen just started laying and she does her egg song right before she goes in to lay.

Sue March 5th, 2017

Mine lie. They sing the song of their people when they want a cuddle. They sing, I go out to check for eggs, they line up in a que for hugs and cuddles. After each girl has her cuddle they wander of to the food dish happily clucking.

The Chickensphere March 6th, 2017

I HATE the egg song! Half the time one of my roosters confuses it with the danger call and then he starts squawking and because nobody knows where the threat is, ALL of the chickens start squawking and they don’t stop because the invisible danger never leaves! It’s so annoying!
(Don’t get me wrong, I love my chickens to bits. But some of them will scream like a banshee when they lay an egg. One of them has literally crowed to get my attention after she laid an egg.)

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