Wildlife

‘Our Idiot Brother’ Casts Doubt at Reliability of Roosters

Our Idiot Brother,starring Paul Rudd as the idiot, is actually full of idiots. Rudd’s character Ned is an organic farmer. One of his fellow (idiot) farmers oversleeps one day and blames the rooster at the farm, claiming that it did not crow, probably because it was “depressed.”

This made us wonder: Do roosters always crow at dawn? And if they don’t, why not? William Stricklin, an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences at University of Maryland who specializes in animal behavior, had answers for our crowing questions.

Why do roosters crow?

Roosters crow to communicate with other chickens—to the female hens but especially other competing males. Roosters are very territorial, Stricklin explains. Crowing sends a message to other roosters that the crower is “present, healthy and ready to defend his territory—in which live his harem of hens.”

Do roosters habitually crow at sunrise?

Roosters do not specifically crow at sunrise, but studies done by Nicholas and Elsie Collias, leading experts in domesticated chickens, have shown that they crow the most during the early morning hours. Though rooster experts aren’t sure why roosters are early crowers, Stricklin notes that between sunrise and noon, socially dominant roosters frequently mate with hens—then boast of their success by crowing very loudly and often. Data has shown that more conceptions tend to occur between these early morning hours, giving credence to the theory.
Another crowing theory suggests the rooster’s behavior is linked to his family tree. The domestic chicken is descended from the Red Jungle Fowl of Southeast Asia near the equator. Stricklin said the day lengths in these areas do not vary that much throughout the year and the fact that most domesticated chickens live in a very different part of the world now may affect when they start to crow. This may explain why some roosters crow before sunrise because North American days may start later. Stricklin also said crowing could potentially be connected to direct daylight, but a rooster’s behavioral pattern tends to be the same everyday and light doesn’t usually directly affect it.

If a rooster usually crows at dawn, what would cause him to skip a morning? Could it be … depression?

Though Stricklin would not speculate on the emotional well-being of a rooster, he did offer us some common reasons why a rooster may not crow:

a) He is not feeling healthy that morning

b) The early morning weather is overcast, and the relative darkness disrupts any light influence on his typical “time of first crowing.”

c) The rooster’s sleep pattern was disturbed during the night and he slept later than usual.

d) When he awoke the rooster sensed a potential predator threat and did not want to give away his location.

e) Testosterone levels influence crowing behavior and could decrease in roosters who lose fights to other roosters or in aging roosters.

Would relying on a rooster’s crow be the most effective way to get up in the morning?

 
“While rooster can serve to meet a number of useful purposes, a rooster is not altogether a reliable alarm clock!” says Stricklin.
-Erin Durkin

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