This Turkey Tuesday is about cranky hens and relationship breakups. With breeding season in full swing across the South, and right around the corner elsewhere, hens start distancing themselves from other hens. What goes on as hens start to change their stance towards other hens is critical to the remainder of the nesting season. First, research has shown that hens within the smaller social groups we see as spring approaches are not related to each other. We believe this contributes to gene flow and improves genetic diversity across the landscape – in short, stay away from relatives. Second, hens within those groups start to isolate themselves as they near the time that laying begins. Isolation allows them to stay away from other hens, so they can focus on their nest while avoiding predation. Third, recent work by Nick Bakner has shown that hens prospect areas during the 2-week period when they’re laying that they ultimately revisit when they’re incubating nests – during incubation, hens take breaks each day to forage in resource-rich spots where they’re safe. Well, Nick’s work shows that most of those spots they use during breaks in incubation were places they visited during that 2 week laying period. They’re prospecting for places while they’re laying a clutch that they can use while incubating to increase their own survival and improve nest success. The take home is, the egg laying period is a critical time when hens are trying to figure out how to be successful during incubation by identifying areas where she can find abundant food while being safe – when her life is tethered to a nest site. Here’s hoping the prospecting goes well ladies!
Picture of hens © Tes Randle Jolly