Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

What a natural rooster standoff looks like

Rooster fights, the real ones, are about posturing, not about injury. I have so much respect and gratitude for pattrice jones and the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, because they’re the first and still one of only a few who will rehabilitate former fighting roosters.

The roosters who are “bred” and “trained” for fighting are no different, in essence, than Vick’s dogs in that the fighting is inherent in their personality only up to a point. The majority is abuse, pure and simple. And a bit of the twisted minds of the people who pay to watch that kind of carnage.

The reason that pattrice can rehabilitate the roosters isn’t through magic, but through a lot of patience to get past the abuse, to get them back to the real personality of the roosters.

It isn’t that roosters don’t fight among themselves. The same is true with dogs. The “fighting” is just more a matter of puffed up chests and flying feathers (or loud barking) than it is blood and tears.

One weekend this past winter at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, I was able to capture some pictures that tell a great story of what a rooster fight is really like.

Here we have Leopold on the left and Hermes on the right. Leopold has had years of experience in these “fights”, but doesn’t seem to be (in my opinion) at the top when it comes to king of the mountain, rooster style. He can definitely hold his own, though. Hermes is still fairly young…

You can see three things from the following picture:

  1. They move fast
  2. They don’t necessarily touch at all
  3. My camera is set on Aperture Priority

To explain what is going on, they start in the classic position, chests low, head close to the ground, neck feathers ruffled up. They’ll often move their heads up and down a little, maybe moving a foot forward as if feigning a charge, and they’ll mirror each other as they do this.

Suddenly they’ll fly at each other. They’re fast, and it is dramatic. It looks like they butt chests, but I’m not sure they even get that close. There’s a great flapping of wings, and some feathers usually fly at this point. (Merely from the flapping of wings, from what I can tell!)

This repeats several times.

You can see that Hermes isn’t really in the best strategic position, as he has the wall against his back. Leopold has more confidence, as well as strategy, and that is almost the entire game when it comes to these contests. Hermes sticks it out. What’s the point of youth, if not for brazenness?

And Cornelius comes to watch. This is telling. I remember Terry or Dave telling me once, long ago, that neither Leopold nor Cornelius alone have what it takes to be top rooster, but that when they work together, they’re almost unbeatable. So when Cornelius comes to hover on the sidelines, you know that Hermes is quickly going to be defeated.

And sure enough, as soon as Cornelius joines in, Hermes is routed.

You can see what his “defeat” is like. Much fast running. No blood. No injuries.

This is your typical rooster fight, when roosters are just themselves, with no abuse to twist their natural tendencies into something much darker. Once Hermes backed down and ran, Leopold and Cornelius were satisfied to watch him go. That’s all they wanted. To prove that when it came to a game of chicken, they’d win.

11 responses to “What a natural rooster standoff looks like

  1. kelly g. August 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    This is awesome, Deb! In the action shots, it almost looks like Leopold and Hermes are doing a ballet number together.

  2. girl least likely to August 18, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    amazing post, deb–what great pictures! thanks for sharing something most of us never, ever see.

  3. Kelvin Kao August 19, 2009 at 1:23 am

    Wow, that’s awesome. I had no idea a rooster fight is like that. It’s like in those kung-fu novels where in some fights kung-fu masters just change positions and point at each other’s weak spots as a way of fighting instead of actually punching each other.

  4. MarjiB August 19, 2009 at 10:04 am

    It isn’t always like that. We’ve nearly lost roosters to fighting. They can be dangerous and bloody. I only point that out so as not to lull people into a sense of complacency when dealing with multiple roosters.

    At the sanctuary, yes, most fights do go as you’ve just documented. They tend to be short-lived and full of posturing. It is like a dance, one that is beautiful but on the edge of violence.

    And when we introduce new roosters, whoa! watch out. It’s not pretty. We’ve only had a couple of introductions where the rooster was so submissive that the hierarchy figured itself out in minutes. Usually it takes weeks.

    All in all, though, I think it amazes people to see fifteen roosters get along pretty well. The culture of rooster fighting has created an image that, while true for some roosters, is patently untrue for most roosters – they don’t want to spend their time trying to kill each other if they don’t have to. And mostly, they don’t have to. 🙂

  5. Deb August 19, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    @kelly – if you could see it live, it would look even more like a dance! It’s pretty neat to see.

    @gllt – glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

    @Kelvin – lol! It is like those mystical kung fu moves. Maybe this is where they got their inspiration!

    @MarjiB – true, there are exceptions to any rule.

  6. Ron Kearns August 19, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Perfect photos Deb. In the 1950s Texas country, in was not that rare to see ‘rooster rinks’ in some farmers’ barns. I saw one cock fight, but only for a few seconds after I entered to see what the ruckus was. Although I was 8 or 9 years old then, that image is still quite clear in my mind.

  7. Nancy August 22, 2009 at 4:31 am

    Thank you for telling rooster stories. Most of the focus is non hte hens as their abuse is more prevalent. It would be great if you could make videos of several rooster conflicts and put them on UTUBE to dispell the idea that roosters are inherently violent.

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  9. Deb August 23, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    @Ron – I can’t even imagine how traumatizing that would have been for an 8 or 9 year old child. There are still so many rooster fighting operations, regardless that it is illegal now. It is sad, and I’ll never understand the way some people are so eager to see such pain and misery.

    @Nancy – if I ever have a chance to take video of one, I will! They don’t last very long, and the only video I have is on a little p&s, so who knows if it would be worth much of anything. But I’ll keep it in mind, in case!

  10. Tiffany in Seattle August 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Neat photos. The flapping of the wings in ducks when they fight for territory/mates I believe is intended to break the opponent’s wing. It may start as posturing, but man those wing smacks can hurt. I think it’s a maneuver leftover from when their wild heritage (before humans domesticated them) a broken wing means you can’t fly away with the flock when they move on to the next feeding spot. You also can’t fly to evade predators.

    Not sure if it’s the same situation for rooster fight wing flaps.

    Great series of photos.

  11. Deb August 31, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    @Tiffany – I hadn’t even thought of that! I imagine that the wing flapping could be used to injure with the roosters, but even if a wing was broken it doesn’t have the same implications for chickens that it does for ducks – they can fly, but they don’t fly distances. It could still impact their ability to evade predators or how high they could perch (and higher perches gives them some protection from land-based predators if they were spending the nights outside), but I think flying couldn’t be as important for chickens as it is for ducks.

    Still, it could be part of it. When I’ve seen injuries, it is usually a scrape to the comb, which makes them bleed so much you’d think they were on their last legs. Their combs are incredibly vascular, so it doesn’t take much to look dramatic!

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