That's how we learned it, but apparently, there are several variations on this rhyme:
- A crooning cow, a crowing Hen and a whistling Maid boded never luck to a House. The two first are reckoned ominous, but the Reflection is on the third.[1721 J. Kelly Scottish Proverbs 33]
- A whistling woman and a crowing hen, Is neither fit for God nor men.
[1850 Notes & Queries 1st Ser. II. 164]
- ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men,’ is a mild English saying.
[1891 J. L. Kipling Beast & Man ii.]
- A whistling woman and a crowing hen will fear the old lad [the Devil] out of his den.
[1917 J. C. Bridge Cheshire Proverbs 28]
- Royal teased her, Whistling girls and crowing hens Always come to some bad ends.
[1933 L. I. Wilder Farmer Boy xi.]
- A whistling woman and a crowing hen, Will bring Old Harry out of his den.
[1979 G. Duff Country Wisdom (1983) 55]
We don't have any roosters. We do have a hen who thinks she's a rooster.
Duck (our Alpha hen) bosses around a small group of backyard bitties whose only major decisions each day involve whether to snack on greens first, then get a drink of water, then scratch around in the leaves for bugs, or to do these things in a different order (they usually don't opt for a different order; "Different is bad!" they may be saying. Chickens are very particular.)
The one thing they can definitely count on, though, is that they only perform their limited repertoire of tasks at the whim and fancy of Duck. This even extends to the nighttime decision of who gets to fly up to the roost first. We were astounded the first time we realized that the evening rustle, always punctuated by some henpecking and fuss, is extended due to the fact that Duck is lining the girls up and telling them who gets to go where, and when.
She also feels the need to announce to the world as each egg is laid. It's almost as though she's standing there wanting to pass out cigars. I don't know how to break it to her that her proud brood is soon to be consumed in the form of omelettes and taquitos.
And now, just in the last few weeks (the birds are about 22 months old now), Duck has started to crow. Every morning, about 30 minutes before sunrise, there is an unmistakable "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" coming from our backyard. If we didn't know for sure that she is still laying eggs, I would swear she had just been pulling a Jack Lemmon from "Some Like it Hot". But no, she really is a she; she's just taking on a role.
It's amusing, it's annoying, it's informative. It makes me wonder what else in the wide world of behavioral evolutionary science we've taken for granted, and made silly assumptions about.
Either way, come on over some time, pull up a chair and a hot cocoa, and watch some chickens with us. It's really quite a floor show!