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Jakes Hanging with Hens

This Turkey Tuesday is about the jakes you are seeing hanging around with flocks of hens. It’s common for winter flocks of hens, which contain both adult and juvenile hens, to also include jakes. Earlier research showed that sometimes those jakes come and go, spending some days with the flock of hens and other days moving off on their own. But the relationships between these jakes and those other flock members is more complex than meets the eye. Ongoing research is showing that these jakes are most likely to be related to other birds in those winter flocks – both males (other jakes) and females (both adult and juveniles). But being related to a flock member can take many forms. Obviously, other jakes in the winter flock could be siblings, hatched from the same nest by the same mother – same goes for juvenile females in the flock, she could be a jake’s full sibling. But we also see instances where relatedness is more complex – for instance, multiple birds that were fathered by the same tom, or birds that have common distant ancestors. These relationships among birds are akin to what we as humans think of as cousins or sharing the same grandparents. And because hens will parasitize (lay eggs in) other hen’s clutches, you can have instances of the parasitic egg being fertilized by the same tom as the other eggs in the clutch. This makes sense given that dominant toms in a population do most of the breeding, so numerous hens could produce clutches from a single dominant tom. The take home is the jakes we see in winter flocks of hens are likely to be related to other birds in that flock, but that relatedness can take many forms.

Photo by Matt Addington.

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