Why Roosters Don’t Deafen Themselves

The “fact” that roosters — adult maile chickens — act as farmers alarm clocks is something of a myth. Roosters definitely crow, and loudly, but they don’t necessarily do so to ring in the sunrise. Roosters crow whenever they want to, be it 6 AM, noon, or dusk. But that said, they’re definitely loud enough to wake you up, even from far away. So if you find a rooster that likes to sing at the morning sun, and you have some flexibility as to when you start your day, feel free to use it as your morning wake up call. 

But one thing you shouldn’t do is put the rooster on your nightstand. Not only is it a bad idea to have a chicken next to you as you sleep — they’re not gentle animals nor good pets — but you are also at the risk of suffering hearing loss. Sustained exposure to loud noises can harm our ears. 

The same is true for roosters, though; if they’re similarly exposed to loud noise on a regular basis, their hearing will also suffer. So, given that they are the loud noise, why don’t roosters deafen themselves?

In 2018, a team of Belgian researchers tackled that question. Step one was to see if roosters truly were loud enough to cause aural damage. As Science Mag reports, the researchers “attached recorders to the heads of three roosters, just below the base of their skulls” and used that to measure the length of their crows and the decibel level. The roosters range for one to two seconds at a time, with each blast reaching 130 dB on the low end and 143 dB on the high end. ANd that’s definitely loud enough to cause harm. As 3M explains, we’re equipped with “thousands of tiny hair cells that live within your inner ear, which capture and transmit sound waves to your brain.” And, 3M continues, “when noise gets loud—above about 85 decibels (dB)—these little hair cells can get damaged,” and we should use earplugs, earmuffs, or a similar sound-blocking tool. Roosters are much louder than that — Science Mag likened the 30-decibel cry as having “the same intensity as standing 15 meters away from a jet taking off.” Similarly, 3M puts jackhammers at 130 dB and noisy traffic with lots of horns honking at 120 dB. Roosters truly are loud.

The rooster, however, is blissfully unaware of this fact.

While chickens have those same tiny inner ear hair humans have, the researchers discovered a feature we don’t have. The research team, per Discover Magazine, “made micro-CT scans of hen and rooster ears to reconstruct the geometry of their ear canals when their beaks are open and closed.” What they found, as Phys.org reported, was that when the beaks were open, “half of the birds’ eardrum was covered by a bit of soft tissue that dampened incoming noise.” Further, the researchers discovered that “when the rooster tilted its head back to crow, another bit of material covered the ear canal completely.” While we humans can cover our ears with our hands, the handless-chickens happen to have a much more efficient solution — one which doesn’t even require a conscious behavior on their part. 

Roosters, it turns out, don’t lose harm hearing for a very simple reason: they come with built-in earplugs.

Bonus fact: Roosters are also called “cocks,” as you probably know. The “cocks” name provides a lot of giggles for tweens and teens (and for hat sales), and also provided some consternation for American Puritans in the 1700s. At the time, “rooster” wasn’t a word used for the bird. But as the word “cock” took on a second, PG-13 meaning, Puritans didn’t want to say it anymore. So they created a new word. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, as cocks were “roosting birds,” the word “rooster” was adopted as a euphemism and quickly became the favored name for the bird.

From the Archives: Mike the Headless Chicken: The rooster that couldn’t crow (because he didn’t have a head).