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Brood Flocks With Mutiple Hens and Their Poults

This Turkey Tuesday is about broods – in this case, brood flocks that contain multiple hens and their poults. And check out the melanistic poults in this brood flock photographed by Cindy Elder! After hatching, hens will quickly take poults away from the nest site and not return there for several reasons. One, nest habitat is not brood habitat – hens hide at nest sites, but brood habitat is characterized by hens being able to see. Two, nest sites are dangerous, as hatching poults are noisy and the activity of eggs hatching and poults imprinting with the hen can attract attention. Once hens leave the nest to travel to brood habitat, they will often form brood flocks with other successful hens. This flock formation may take a few weeks, as shown in this series of figures from 2 broods in Louisiana. During the first week after hatching (2nd image), brood hens may overlap areas they use, but remain alone with their poults, which allows the group to develop close social bonds. Then, a brood will begin shifting space use to interact more with other broods (3rd image), eventually spending all of their time with other broods (4th image). I’ve even seen hens that didn’t hatch a clutch hang around with these brood flocks. Why do these flocks form? One, there is safety in numbers – if you watch these brood flocks at least one hen is always alert. Two, growing poults require abundant insects and plant structure that’s pretty specific – so it makes sense that birds all requiring the same resources spend time exploiting those resources. Third, young birds are socially subordinant to adult birds, so birds within brood flocks are able to sort out their social hierarchies without dealing with harassment from older birds that are not their mothers. The take home is, now is the time of year when you start seeing brood flocks in many areas – those flocks are the future adults we will chase and enjoy in years to come.




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