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Chick behaviour

  • Chicks are very active and when running, they extend their wings and flap them for use as breaks.
  • They will jump on to feeders but do not perch till 4-6 weeks old.
  • They stretch in a very precise way with a wing and leg on one side stretched out pointing to the rear with the wing primary feathers displayed.
  • Chicks spend a lot of time chasing and if they turn, face up and stare at each other, this can lead to regular fights by 2 weeks of age.  These fights are only between two birds at a time (usually males) where they grab at neck feathers and pull the adversary to the ground.
  • Pecking and feather pulling clearly induce pain from day 13 and by day 18, weaker chicks can be pulled down and trodden.
  • Dust bathing starts at day 3 and is a copied activity.
  • Preening of wing and breast feathers may start at day 2, but no preen gland is used until day 14.  The preening spells may last up to 4 minutes.
  • Chicks will start picking at toes by day 10.  If conditions are hot, dry and too bright, they'll pick at wing and tail feathers until they bleed as well as picking at pasted up vents.
  • Chicks will pick at any bright object in the litter which may include nails and staples that can cause death if swallowed.
  • Litter scratching is a very stereotypical action from day 2.  Its best described as a scratch with the right leg, then two with the left, then one with the right and so on, while the litter is flicked over with the beak.
  • The whole sequence takes about 15 seconds and occurs in the best-lit areas first.  If the environment is too cold, litter may be eaten and the gizzard impacted.
  • A study of chicks up to 10 weeks old showed many behavioural activities:
    •    Resting was high near hatching, declined till 3.5 weeks, rose to 8 weeks, then declined again.
    •    Females rested more than males.
    •    Leg stretching increased (especially in males) to a peak at 4-7 weeks old and then declined.
    •    Scratching increased in the first week, declined to almost nothing at 7 weeks and then reappeared at 9 weeks old.
    •    Preening increased with feather growth while running about decreased with age.
    •    Frolicking increased up to week 4 and then declined as sparring started and reached a peak at week 5.
    •    Agonistic (fighting) encounters replaced sparring by week 7 and this pecking reached a peak at 8 weeks by which time a clear peck order was established.
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