Why do faucets sometimes look up

Behavioral Science: Smart Chickens

This escaped the observer at first, because the animals act quickly and often secretly; Chickens like to hide in tall grass and bushes. In addition, one person cannot observe all the chickens at the same time. So one of us (Smith) came up with a process she called Chicken Big Brother.

The outdoor enclosures at Macquarie University are spacious, densely overgrown and surrounded by nets all around. Smith and her team installed numerous high-resolution cameras and microphones there to record every movement and sound of the animals. As expected, the Alpha Rooster crowed to emphasize the claim to rule over his group. He performed the ritual of offering food to seduce females. And he uttered alarm calls when there was danger from the air.

In contrast, the subordinate males caused surprises. Smith had actually expected them to keep to themselves so as not to be chased by the alpha rooster and beaten with beak and spur as soon as he suspected them of approaching his favorite. But cameras and microphones told a different story. The subordinate cocks showed a shrewd behavior that one would never have expected these birds to be. They only performed the visible part of the offering of food - head movements without "dock-dock" calls - and thus created a new signal with which they could attract a female without the alpha rooster noticing anything.

In order to examine the animals' subtle vocalizations more closely, Smith wanted to tie small backpacks with lightweight cordless microphones on the chickens. But where should she find the right material? Bras would be the solution, thought Smith. She looked for old bras with simple hooks - preferably black so they wouldn't stand out from the chickens' feathers - and only used the hooks and adjustable straps to attach the microphones to the chickens. This auxiliary construction, nicknamed Chicken Big Brother 2.0, recorded what the chickens signaled and what they heard.

We eat countless numbers of these intelligent animals and should wonder how we treat them

Smith was particularly interested in how animals react to danger. Why do roosters sometimes shout when they spot a hawk or other enemies, even though doing so runs the risk of being spotted and attacked themselves? Researchers had suspected that protecting its hen and chicks outweighs the rooster 's own risk. Smith wondered if there were other factors influencing call behavior.

With that she was on the right track. Chicken Big Brother 2.0 showed that roosters sometimes sound the alarm out of self-interest. The birds perceive a threat to themselves as well as to their rivals; they usually call out when they can simultaneously reduce their own risk and increase that of their rivals. A rooster is more likely to call when it is safe under a bush, while its rival in open terrain risks being grabbed by the raiding predator. If the rooster is lucky, it will protect its female and at the same time take out a competitor.