Cock-A-Doodle-Do!

Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 6.28.22 PMBy Leigh Morrow

There is nothing to create a more quintessential Mexican ambiance than that early morning sound of a rooster crowing. When you live in a Canadian city most of the year, as I do, where chickens are allowed in back yard cages, but a rooster’s crowing would be considered a noise bylaw infraction, it’s definitely a different sound to my urban ears and one that instantly tells me I’m waking up far from home.

Yet how roosters know when to crow was a mystery until just a few short years ago when scientists decided to end the speculation once and for all. While roosters crow shortly before mornings’ first light, they also can crow throughout the day, and even at dusk, so what is making them cock-a-doodle-do? Is it their internal circadian clock or external stimuli? To researchers’ surprise, they found no evidence to scientifically and definitively explain what is at work.

So Japanese scientists took on the challenge, and created two identical sets of roosters. One set of roosters experienced 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness for 14 days. Scientists found these roosters would start to crow two hours before the onset of light. This is called “anticipatory predawn crowing.”

The second set of roosters were kept under 24 hours of dim light conditions for the same 14 days. The researchers found these roosters would start running on a 23.8-hour day and would crow before they thought dawn should break. Scientists and researchers discovered that the male birds, the ones that do all the noise making (surprise, surprise) don’t need external light cues to know when to start crowing.

Despite providing sound and light cues throughout the rest of the day, the experiment found the roosters were much more vocal in the mornings. They deduced that the roosters’ internal clocks take precedence over any external cues. The conclusion: roosters will sense the breaking of dawn even if they are kept in the dark.

What’s also interesting is that social ranking also plays a role in to when roosters will crow. The highest ranking rooster gets first dibs on breaking the dawn with his call. The lower ranking roosters will patiently wait, and then follow the highest ranking rooster each morning. Roosters are also very territorial. The sunrise song is a way of telling other roosters this is their territory and if they trespass, well, they are asking for a fight.

A rooster will often crow from the highest vantage point above his territory, so his song travels farthest, and informs as many birds as possible that he is king of his domain.

He crows to let his females know he is on the job protecting his flock and ready and able to mate. However, roosters also crow because they can.

Roosters may crow to communicate with other roosters or animals; they may just make noise because it feels good. They can also make clucking sounds, occasionally in a patterned series, to attract hens to a source of food, the same way a mother does for her chicks.

Rooster crowing contests are popular in Europe, Indonesia and Japan. The oldest contests are between “long crowers.” These roosters are characterized by their unusually long drawn out crow, which may last as long as 60 seconds. The length and duration of the crow is as important in the contest as the number of crows, the tone and even, wait for it, the melody, which judges look for.

Trying to silence a rooster is tough if not impossible. The methods range from muzzles and voice collars to a sharp axe and a BBQ. The best way I’ve found to not hear the rooster’s calls is to get to bed early and wear ear plugs. Seriously.

And the last kernel of corn on rooster calls, is this. If you dream of a rooster, it signifies a new beginning in your life, but if you dream of the rooster crowing, it’s a warning that there is a part of your life that is needing attention. And if you don’t get those ear plugs I mentioned, neither dreams nor interpretations are in your future.

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer, and co-author of Just Push Play-on Midlife. She owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the coastal village of San Agustinillo, Mexico.

Her house can be rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com

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