Why Do Baby Chicks Follow Their Mother?

Nowadays, the hen is primarily regarded as an “egg machine”. Nonetheless, in years past, the animal was considered the embodiment of good motherhood. A Roman historian named Plutarch cited the many ways that mother hens cherished and protected their chicks with their drooping of wings to affectionately protect chicks from predators.

Ulisse Aldrovandi, a renaissance writer, also described how a mother hen would gather its chicks at the sign of a predator. Undoubtedly, human beings can learn a lot about motherhood from the relationships between mother hens and chicks.

You will notice that chicks will always follow their mothers though they are born as largely independent animals. Chicks will instinctively know what they need when hatched, including where to get water and food. As such, they self-sufficiently meet all their needs faster than mammals. They also mature more quickly than other animals and thus might not need their mothers much.

Despite their self-sufficiency, below are some facts to unravel why chicks always follow their mothers.

Reasons Baby Chicks Follow Their Mothers

Most people argue that separating chicks from their mothers ensures their survival by promoting autonomy and protecting them from predators. According to them, by showing chicks where to get their food and water, they can thrive even in the absence of their mothers that can be eaten by predators or fall sick.

However, below are the reasons why chicks will follow their mothers despite their autonomy.

– Safety

The instinct to protect their children is the first one for many mothers when faced with uncomfortable, scary, or dangerous situations. Giant anteaters, for instance, will carry their babies on their backs while alligators will tuck their kids in their mouths to keep them safe. Mothers protecting their offspring is nothing new, and neither is it unique to only one species.

Mother hens are quite protective of their chicks. They will warn them of dangers, including something as seemingly insignificant as rain, using a series of special clucks. In most cases, hens that protect their chicks, more so from predators, will adopt a specific stance.

They fluff their feathers and wings to the side to make themselves seem bigger than they are. They will also spread their tails while growling loudly to scare predators away.

In response to the mother’s clucks and widespread wings, you will notice chicks gathering under the wings of their mothers. Mother hens that think you are a threat to their chicks will also be surprisingly aggressive.

They can scratch, kick and peck you trying to keep you away from their chicks. Be especially careful with kids handling hens with chicks because they can get seriously injured when the hens consider them dangerous.

– Warmth

The normal body temperature for chicks is 42 degrees Celsius {around 107 degrees Fahrenheit}. Even seconds of direct rainfall can lead to hypothermia that will kill the chick. As such, it is crucial to maintain the right body temperatures for chicks. While heat lamps and other artificial heat sources can help, mother hens have the best ways of keeping their chicks warm.

The mother understands that her chicks have different needs, so they do not all need the same degrees of warmth throughout. The hen will keep chicks warm by pulling them under her body using the beak when they do not have a good sense of direction to find their way there.

Newly hatched chicks cannot regulate their body temperatures. As such, the hens keep them under their wings until they are fluffy and dry. The chicks will roam around and explore during the day, but they sleep underneath the mother hen at night and during cold days.

– Learning

Mother hens educate their chicks. Often, chicks will not drink water until their mothers have been taught to do so, or they have accidentally discovered it by pecking at bubbles or reflections.

A mother hen presses her beak into the water so that the chicks learn how to drink. Though mild fighting among chicks is expected, a mother hen will also regulate then stop this behaviour if she considers it a threat.

When teaching, a mother hen uses verbal commands to communicate with chicks. Some scientific evidence suggests pre-hatching verbal interactions between a mother hen and an embryo. Therefore, hens and chicks will recognise a few distinct sounds to enable learning.

– Food

Chicks are born ready to explore their world and eat soon after hatching. In most cases, mother hens will not directly feed chicks. The mother hen will show her chicks how to eat the food that mature birds eat.

The mother hens have a special cluck that attracts the attention of chicks. Once they get the chicks’ attention, they pick and drop the food they want the chicks to eat. This is the same technique used to teach day-old chicks how to eat.

Once the food is dropped on the ground, the chicks will scratch at it. They instinctively know how they will scratch the ground for food as soon they can walk. Sometimes, the mother hen can hold food in her beak so that chicks peck on it instead of dropping it on the ground.

In most cases, the mother hen will not start teaching chicks how to eat right after hatching. The chicks can survive for 72 hours at most without food after hatching. The yolk sac keeps them fed for these 72 hours.

– Socializing

The survival skills that chicks come with are coupled with social skills. These social skills will not stop chicks from getting bullied by other chicks, but they allow interaction within them.

After hatching, it will take a day or two for your chicks to exhibit flock dynamics. They will identify the mother hen and quickly learn to rely on her. With time, the chicks will learn to also rely on each other.

Remember that chicks are different. While some are bold and will socialize quickly with each other and even explore their world, others will take time to learn how best to live with others or explore their surroundings. The bold ones are often the flock leaders, while the shy ones will usually fall in line in the pecking order.

How Long Will Chicks Stay With Their Mother?

Chicks will stay close to mother hens for about 4-6 weeks to learn everything they need to know about surviving on their own. When the chicks fully feather out and can comfortably stay warm alone, they might move away from their mother, but some will still huddle with the hen, depending on their breeds.

Slower developing breeds will move away from their mothers in 8 weeks. If you want to separate the chicks from their mothers, you can safely do so when they are 6-8 weeks old.

Can Baby Chicks Survive Without Their Mothers?

Yes, chicks can survive without mother hens. Some chicks are hatched in incubators and will hence be raised without the hen present. In this case, the chicks eat the food that human caretakers provide. You can start them on commercial starter feed when they are a day or two old.

You will also be responsible for supplying them warmth in their brooders using artificial sources and protecting the chicks from predators. Thankfully, taking care of chicks without the mother hen present is easy.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the above facts have answered the questions you had on why chicks will follow their mothers. Keeping chicks can be genuinely fascinating as you watch them slowly grow from being dependent on their mothers to become independent birds.

Remember that your chicks are susceptible to diseases primarily because of improper hygiene in their brooders. Clean the brooder, then line it with materials that are easy and inexpensive to replace when soiled to ensure the highest hygiene levels for your chicks.

Chickens   Updated: March 4, 2022
avatar Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too.

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