This Turkey Tuesday is about consistency – in this case an interesting behavior by hens. Research has shown that behaviors can be highly variable from bird to bird, I’ve posted about this several times in the past. Basically, the realization that birds seem to have strategies that are like personalities – some birds do more risky things than others. But ongoing work is showing that one behavior is very consistent across birds. When hens are incubating nests, they take daily breaks called recesses – during these recesses they spend an hour or so feeding, preening, and basically relaxing while dedicating some time to self-maintenance. As it turns out, when hens take recesses during incubation, most (~70%) of the sites they visit are the same sites they visited while egg laying was in progress – you can see the strong consistency across a group of hens in the 2nd image. In other words, it appears that hens identify these important sites where food is abundant and risk is relatively low during the 2 weeks before nesting starts. Also, we see almost zero mortality of hens during the laying sequence – they’re laying eggs in a clutch that they’ll soon incubate but they have extremely high survival during this 2 week period. This tells me that during egg laying, hens are balancing their own survival with identifying sites where they can be safe while taking recesses during incubation – all while trying to prevent that clutch they’re not guarding from being taken by a predator. And, the fact that all hens appear to consistently do this suggests it’s an important aspect of reproductive behaviors that is just being noted. The take home is, egg laying appears to not only be a time when eggs are produced, but also a time when sites important to hen survival and success during nesting are identified.

Picture of hen @ Tes Randle Jolly

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