Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular and less well-known animal residents.
Chocolate eggs are on the menu this weekend so we take a look at the animal which provides us with the eggs we enjoy all year round.
(Gallus gallus domesticus)
Chickens are found all over the world and outnumber every other species of bird; they also all come from one common ancestor – the Asian red jungle fowl.
Domesticated for thousands of years, chickens have been bred for their meat, feathers and eggs, kept as pets and some were even trained for their fighting ability.
We have a variety of species from the small, dumpy Pekin bantams to the large traditional light Sussex.
Our chickens are free to roam all over the nature centre and enjoy getting in people’s way!
We provide a diet of pellets, wheat and maize and they search for insects, plants and seeds as well as trying to raid our buckets when we’re feeding the other animals.
Dust and sunbathing
Chickens don’t enjoy getting wet so rather than bathing in water they can often be seen ‘dust bathing’ where they cover themselves in loose soil or sand. This actually helps keep their feathers in good condition and free of pests.
Another favourite activity in warmer weather is sunbathing. They will often lay motionless on their sides when soaking up the sun, this often leads to visitors asking us if they’re OK!
Cockerels and hens
In the wild, chickens generally live in small groups of one male known as a cockerel and several females, known as hens. Cockerels are generally larger than hens, with longer tails and bigger combs on their head.
Cockerels will protect their flock by crowing loudly to warn off rival males. If this doesn’t work they will use spurs on their legs to fight intruders. The male of the species does have a tender side too; they have a special call to alert hens when they find something tasty for them to eat.
Hens are excellent mothers and sit on their eggs until they hatch – which can take up to 21 days. Chicks are able to run around soon after hatching and will quickly start searching for their own food but for several weeks they still rely on their mum for warmth and protection.
There are plenty of cute, weird and wonderful animals to visit this Easter, we hope to see you soon! Visit www.tilgatenaturecentre.co.uk for more news and stories.