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Tidbitting | What It Is and Why Do Chickens Do It

A mother hen will pick up a tasty seed or bug and drop it at her chicks' feet to show them its good to eat. A rooster will do the same for his favorite hen.

Have you ever noticed a mother hen cluck in a series of high-pitched notes while she's scratching in the dirt and then drop something onto the ground? 

She's doing what is known as "tidbitting".

Tidbitting | What It Is and Why Do Chickens Do It

According to Australian researchers Prof. Chris Evans and Dr. K-lynn Smith, tidbitting is a "multi-modal referential signal", which means its usually both vocal and visual, which increases with highly preferred food. 

In simple layman's terms, that means that when a mother hen sees a tasty seed or bug, she will start making a series of high-pitched clucks to call her chicks over and might also do a funny little dance for them as she points out the yummy snack. 

Mother Hens Tidbit for their Chicks

A mother hen will pick up a tasty seed or bug and drop it at her chicks' feet to show them its good to eat. 

She will then drop the piece of food at the feet of one of the chicks to encourage it to try it. 

If the chick doesn't respond, she'll pick it up and drop it at the feet of another chick, continuing to drop the treat and cluck encouragingly until one chick is brave enough to give it a taste.

Conversely, if a chick goes for something it shouldn't eat, the mother hen will pop the chick on the head to let it know that's NOT something it should be eating.

Her level of excitement, both in the shrillness of the clucks and the intensity and frequency of the clucks will correspond with how excited she is about the treat. 

At our coop, chick feed rates only a moderately excited response, while raw oats, mealworms, a "real" earthworm, or a tasty berry really rachets up the excitement level.

Roosters Tidbit For Their Favorite Hens

Roosters will tidbit also. A rooster will drop a particularly tasty bug or seed at the foot of a favorite hen, then bob his head and make the same throaty clucking sound while hopping excitedly from one foot to another. 

It's quite a sight to behold actually, and very chivalrous, if you ask me.  It always reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin hopping around one one foot in excitement!

And apparently it does impress the ladies, according to research studies. (As a side note, a large, dark red comb and wattles also seems to do the trick - and maybe a jaunty bowtie - where the ladies are concerned!)

So next time you're hanging out with your chickens and happen to have friends over, you can just casually mention tidbitting during the conversation and amaze everyone with your vast knowledge of chicken behavior.

Observing my chickens and their social mores is so fascinating! I hope this was new information for you and you found it interesting.

Watch as Abigail clucks away, pointing out tasty treats for her Littles!

Watch Annie tidbitting for her chicks in 2013--->HERE
And watch Truffle doing the same for her chicks back in 2014---> HERE

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