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The Pecking Order of Nature

Out in the Backyard

I was sitting in a lawn chair out back. Pretty evening, about seventy, no wind to speak of, me and Bev sitting in front of the aviary watching the quail move around doing their quail things. The chickens we keep at home were scratching at the ground in search of tiny morsels, a bedtime snack if you will.

We have seven chickens in the backyard roaming free, another twenty or twenty-five in a separate aviary, a safe place for those younger ones to grow up, and maybe seventy-five out at our son’s farm. The seven roaming around our legs that night are mostly our originals from three years ago . . . hmmm . . . four are originals, I think. Several died over the years and were replaced. Anyway, the “originals” were enjoying the quiet summer evening, close by the only humans there have ever known, everyone content.

It got me thinking, which may or may not be a good thing, but there’s no stoppin’ it. I remembered back when one of the original seven died and we introduced a new one to that flock. It did not go well at all, us being new at that sort of thing, not knowing the pecking order in nature. The “originals” picked on that newcomer, chased her away from food, literally pecked on her head until her feathers were missing and she was bleeding. We had to separate her from the flock and let her heal before we introduced her again. The second time went better. I won’t say she was immediately loved by the others, but she knew her place, which was basically bottom of the totem pole, so the others left her alone. Still to this day, a year-and-a-half later, she is the one who is last to grab treats when I throw them out. She stands off and waits while the others eat first, and then she will venture in and grab the leftovers.

The pecking order

The pecking order

Night Night Time

Same thing happens when they enter the coop at night. In the chicken world, the “top dog” grabs the highest rung of the roost, that being the safest place, higher off the ground, in case a predator should somehow get inside the coop. The others, according to pecking order, will fill in spaces below the leader of the pack, so it stands to reason that the newest chicken is always at the bottom of the “tower of power.”

And on a larger scale the same thing happens out at the farm with the seventy-five. There is always jostling going on as the chickens determine their rightful place in that world. A couple have died out there from being picked on. I suspect a couple didn’t make it because of malnutrition, they being constantly harassed at mealtime.

The pecking order of nature!


It’s Not Just Chickens

One time, while visiting Yellowstone National Park (my favorite place on this planet), I was lucky enough to see two bull elk battling it out for supremacy, charging at each other, heads down, butting into each other, their brilliant antlers reverberating with each collision, the echo of their struggle heard for, literally, miles in Hayden Valley. When the battle ended the vanquished limped off while the victor breathed loudly, the cold air pluming from his nostrils, and surveyed his winnings.

I also saw the carcass of a mule deer, by the road, torn to pieces, most likely by a grizzly, the strong getting stronger, the weak a pile of bones and fly-drenched raw meat.

And road-kill, of course, always road-kill, many a lump of flesh on the road, the obvious outcome when a manmade invention weighing several thousand pounds, propelled by three-hundred horses, meets a four-legged omnivore without body armor.

And leaving Yellowstone we heard, during a rest stop, the sound of gunfire in the distance, a hunter, no doubt, downing an antelope or black beer or deer, establishing the pecking order in brutal fashion, 21st Century weaponry meets Bambi in a battle as old as mankind.

On the African Plains

I used to love watching National Geographic specials about Africa, the thousands upon thousands of animals roaming the Serengeti, all in search of water, all in search of food, and the strong survived, the weak were eaten, the straggler nothing more than a moving meal for the next in line in that natural pecking order, absolutely stunning in its ferocity, God bless the meek, for they shall inherit, or something like that, no inheriting happening on the Serengeti, not with the harsh sun beating out a rhythm of pain on the baked earth.

But we expect all that as part of the natural order of things, the strong survive, the weak perish, that’s the way it’s always been in nature, that’s the way it will always be, what do they know, dumb animals, pure instincts, nothing more, can’t expect anything from an animal lacking reason and empathy and compassion, attributes all common and all abundant in the king of the animal hierarchy . . . MAN!

Now We’re Talking, Folks

Man! The Top Dog in the animal kingdom, the ruler of all before him, at the top of the ladder because of his ability to reason, to problem solve, to see all that is before him and make rational decisions for the common good.

Man! The most compassionate of all the animals . . . surely the barbaric system of pecking order does not apply within mankind . . . surely we have evolved beyond those primal roots . . .


If you truly believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I’d like to sell you.

If you truly believe that, you have not witnessed what I have witnessed in my lifetime.

I would submit to you that any species which blithely turns a blind eye on a billion dollar industry like sex trafficking has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

I would submit to you that any species which allows the weak and disadvantaged to starve to death, whether it be in Mali or Mississippi or the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

And I would submit to you that any species which takes advantage of those who cannot rise above that bottom rung on the roosting ladder has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

How far have we evolved?

How far have we evolved?

We Are Better Than This . . . or Are We?

I’ve seen it as a teacher, the bullying at an early age . . .

I’ve seen it countless times as an adult, the lynching tree in New Iberia Parish in Louisiana, the deplorable nursing homes in Tacoma, the Skid Rows in Los Angeles and Seattle and Chicago.

I’ve seen it far too many times for one lifetime, and every single time I see it I say to myself “surely this won’t happen again, surely we will rise above our animal origins, surely we will become the better angels we were intended to be . . .

But then I pick up the newspaper, or turn on the daily news channel, and proof of the opposite slams into my gut with the force of a thousand dying, with the force of a thousand crying, with the force of a hurricane of misery ignored, blithely pushed aside, discounted, reduced to column inches on Page Twelve, a two-minute sound bite before news of a tractor pull competition or the latest nonsense about the Hollywood elite filing for divorce, and we eat our Swanson TV Dinner, take a shot of Jack Daniels, and convince ourselves that it does not concern us, that it does not affect us, that it’s none of our business.

And up above, far beyond our capabilities of sight, the angels weep.

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 19, 2018:

Keep dreaming, Nithya! We need more like you.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on July 18, 2018:

The survival of the fittest is the prevailing law in the animal kingdom from top to bottom and sadly it includes us humans too. We who know how to think and know right from wrong still continue to follow the pecking order. I still dream of a world with compassion and understanding. Great article.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 16, 2018:

Thanks Larry! Let's keep dreaming. Who knows, right?

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 14, 2018:

A fools dream, but I always have envisioned a world where we could rise above the pecking order and just co-exist and learn from one another in peace.

Always thought provoking, friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 13, 2018:

Thank you Genna! I now limit myself to a half-hour of news per day. Any more than that and it directly affects my mood for far too long.

Genna East on July 12, 2018:

The "alpha" and the pecking order scenarios seem to exist in every society -- wolves, elephants, dolphins and chickens -- included. And then of course, there is mankind. Welcome to "civilization." Really? What's the definition of that word again? We have such possibilities, Bill. If only, if only, if only... I find that I can't read the news or watch it as much as I did before. It breaks my heart. Excellent article.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 12, 2018:

I'm afraid you are correct, Rajan! Thank you for your observations.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 12, 2018:

My pleasure, Frank. To remind others of Animal Farm is high praise. Thank you!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 10, 2018:

This is an inherent law of nature in all living animals, including us. And it is really sad since we are a far cry from our days as cave men being endowed with ability to reason and rationalize.

But for all our progression in more ways than one we still are animals and this becomes blatantly obvious anytime severe adversity strikes us.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on July 10, 2018:

I too was thinking of that animal farm book when I started reading this article.. fast paced or slow.. we gotta keep are chins off the ground ..can we say that life or lives are always ultimately served? This was a deeply engrossing account Bill.. thanks for sharing

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 10, 2018:

Thank you Pamela! I never want to forget the good done in this world, but I also never want to forget that we can do so much more to end suffering.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 10, 2018:

When I first started reading this article I thought of the book "Animal Farm", required reading when I went to school to show us how socialism doesn't work. Anyway, as I continued reading, I thought this article was very clever when you introduced man and his failings into your writing.

There is much to be sad about in this world, yet many are serving well in a variety of capacities. I felt working as a nurse was a type of service, not that I wasn't being paid well. Giving to the Vietnam Vets organizaiton is something I frequently do, yet there are so many good causes out there that most of us fall short. I pray things improve for all those impoverished people. This article certainly makes your think!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

I do get the picture indeed, MizB. Thanks for your thoughts. I like to think I'm nothing like a rooster, but I'm sure others would disagree. :)

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 09, 2018:

.Bill, I like how you take simple things in like and make a lesson out of them, like chickens. I'm learning things from our chickens, too. One lesson is how much like humans they are, or maybe it's how much like chickens we are! There's an old saying "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Now there's a new saying that I appreciate even more: Re: humanity: "we are only as strong as our weakest human beings." This is in connection with the life's lesson when we raise our vibrations, we raise their vibrations along with ours. I think you get the picture, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

No, Zulma, I refuse to give up on us too, but I sure wish we would wake up sooner rather than later.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Mr. Happy, your grandma was a wise woman.

I have not seen that video but I'll watch it tonight when I have some down time. Thank you for that; you really must go to Yellowstone. It is a holy place for me.

Always enjoy your comments, and I always appreciate the time you take to leave meaningful thoughts.

Peace my friend!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on July 09, 2018:

It does make one despair. But I firmly believe that as long as there are compassionate, good people within the pecking order, humanity might yet pull itself from the abyss. That may be naive, but I refuse to believe we are a lost cause.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I wish it were not so.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Unlike many humans, Gilbert, none of the chickens suffered. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Time, I don't know if I can muster up an argument against what you just wrote. Thank you for your thoughts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Goodness begets goodness...I love that, PS, and I believe it as well. Hopefully we are both not naive.

Blessings coming your way, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

I don't know, William! I keep waiting for us to do that. Hopefully I will live long enough.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Endy, I thank you for your beautiful comment. Yes, self...love thyself, but never at the expense of others...you summed it all up much better than I could.

Peace be with you always!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 09, 2018:

Nell, I was bullied as well, but I can tell you, it will never happen again to me. Life is too short to allow someone to impose their will on us. Thank you for sharing.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on July 09, 2018:

"In the chicken world, the “top dog” grabs the highest rung of the roost" - My grandma had them divided in the chicken coup. The rooster, or roosters would go up top in a bigger space, while the chickens that layed eggs had smaller "rooms" at the bottom, where they would go in pairs of two lol She had a system going I guess : )

Yellowstone National Park (my favorite place on this planet)" - I just watch videos about it. Not sure if I'll ever make it but it sure does look beautiful. Now that we're talking about Yellowstone, have You seen the video about how Wolves change Rivers? If You have not, please take four and a half minutes and watch this (it is about Yellowstone and how Wolves change Rivers): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

"And road-kill, of course, always road-kill, many a lump of flesh on the road" - You know, if it's fresh, it's good to eat. : )

"Man! The most compassionate of all the animals" - No animal specie other than Rodents kill their own kind as much as Humans do. And that's a fact.

"I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I’d like to sell you." - Only if it comes with a Yaht docked in the back yard ; )

"I’ve seen it as a teacher, the bullying at an early age" - Did You see me jump over a row of tables in Geography class to stand in between a bully and his perceived victim, telling the bully that he'd have to go through me first? That wasn't the only time either. Let's do what we can to create the world we wish to have.

“surely this won’t happen again, surely we will rise above our animal origins, surely we will become the better angels we were intended to be . . ." - I used to think: "Why doesn't somebody do something about this?" Then, I realised that I am "someone".

"take a shot of Jack Daniels" - No. You don't drink the Fire Water and I also gave it up four years ago. We're not all walking with horse blinders on.

I'll tell You what though. I practice sorcery (this is another story ... runs in the family for generations) and with that in mind, I must say that I am rather thankful that witches and sorcerers are no longer burned on stakes. We've come a long way my friend. We still have a long way to go but we've made progress. When You rise like an Eagle and look down, it has gotten better. Sometimes two steps forward and one back but as long as we keep trying we still have a chance.

Cheers! (And thank You very much for the discussion here. I came looking for your weekly mail hub and found this lol)

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 09, 2018:

Excellent and absorbing article, with a great message!

Human behaviour is no different in most cases. In times of crisis or survival, people in general think about themselves only.

Thanks for sharing this thought provoking article!

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on July 08, 2018:

Bill, you got my attention; unfortunate people need a lot of help. I like your theme, we should try and act less self-centered, and work like a team. Effective team work is what's needed to help solve the critical problems in the world. You included nice video entries. I was glad to see neither of the chickens came out bloody and critically wounded from the battle.

Timetraveler2 on July 08, 2018:

After 75 years of living on this earth I have come to the conclusion that although we think we are more, we still are all just animals at heart.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2018:

Love your suggestion at the end, Mike...it does indeed alter the pecking order.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2018:

Bill, if you ever do get it, please let me in on the secret.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2018:

Sean, you said it perfectly at the end of your comment. We are in total agreement, my friend.

Blessings always

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2018:

John, I tend to agree with you about greed...the source of much evil...when will we ever learn,my friend?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 08, 2018:

Perhaps, Linda, the media only tells us about the bad cases..perhaps not. :) Thank you!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 08, 2018:

There is a lot wrong with our interactions with each other on this planet....I submit. It is up to us who sincerely care about those who are neglected abused disadvantaged and maligned to make a difference albeit ever so tiny...in any way we can. I might be too blind or whatever but I still believe that goodness begets goodness...may more goodness prevail and May those Angels arrive at your doorstep and the doorsteps of all who need uplifting well done Bill pinning this ps

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on July 08, 2018:

The angels weep for sur.e, Bill, as the pecking order continues. If we would only heed the truths posted here, the world would be a better place - but will we?

Ajodo Endurance Uneojo from Lokoja, Nigeria. on July 08, 2018:

Great piece as always Bill.

Surely, we have evolved. We are not cruel creatures. Certainly not. We are compassionate and empathic.

The odd manifestations of man happens perhaps for three reasons:

1. We are naturally wired to recognize, keep and maintain the firstline of defense. The self must be preserved. That's part of the pecking order of nature.

2. We are limited as beings in every regards. That's include how much we can evolved and how much good we can do.

3. We lack the means to justify the will. Sure we want to be nice, kind, compassionate, loving and helping. But how many can we really help?

Our existence here is a struggle...a struggle in which the `self' must be first in everything.

The great command is: "Love your neighbor as yourself." That's means we must love the `self' first.

I believe we are all good at heart...But that goodness is sometimes consumed because of the reasons above.

Thanks for the reminder, Bill. It's always cool to read from you.

Bless you!


Nell Rose from England on July 07, 2018:

As someone who was bullied from day one at school till last day, where I lost out on exams because of it, I hate it. And even today 40 years on if I came face to face with those bullys I would.....well you can guess! So I totally agree with you Bill. It makes me so mad! The one thing that drives me insane is when people/countries keep hating other countries because of something that happened 300 years before! we will never learn! the pecking order is still here to stay!

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on July 07, 2018:

Hello Bill - So, one minute I am reading about chickens and the next angels are weeping. That is what I call a sweeping piece of writing. We would all do well to raise our own chickens. It is smart, and alters the pecking order.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 07, 2018:

Hi Bill. I agree that we can do better. There are many people who are compassionate and caring, but there are way too many people who are not. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on July 07, 2018:

Amazing article, my brother! I can hear your heart beating fast at the last lines, just like mine. We need everyone's voice like yours here. We have to remind each other that we must exit this circle of surviving, where the fittest prevail at the expense of the weak. We must enter the circle of Love where everyone is significant for the New Jerusalem! We have to end the Age of animal and open the Age of Man-Christ.

Gratitude for your voice!

Together we stand, divided we fall...


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

I agree with everything you said, Flourish, and I love my bottom rung chickens.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

Shannon, you are correct of course. Absolute statements are almost always incorrect. There is good where there is bad; caring where there is indifference; the riddle that is humanity continues.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

I just saw that same story, Chris! I think that falls under the "irony" category for sure.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

I think we are,Linda, but many have lost their way. I am still optimistic, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

Delilah, thank you so much for the comment. It is sad to think....but imagine what we could be...imagine what we could do....it is there waiting for each of us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

Let us pray indeed, Manatita! Let us pray for our entire race, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

Sometimes it is, Mary! The struggles of being human continue. Thank you!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 06, 2018:

Bill, I applaud you on this article, the way you began so casually and moved on to the pecking order of chickens (then I knew you had a message or lesson coming up.) I am certainly aware of the social structure of chickens having always had some around. When we lost our entire flock, bar one, to dogs, we had to slowly begin to restock. First, introducing one new hen, the next time two and so forth so the new ones are not outnumbered and picked on too much.

Mankind is no better, animals show compassion for one another if they aren't hungry. For instance, while we only had one hen, she was sleeping with our cats. Man's problem is greed, for most animal they kill or suppress to survive, man just does it for power.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 06, 2018:

This is definitely thought provoking, Bill. It's a great shame that humans can't do better considering we have the most advanced brain in the animal kingdom. Some humans do care and do try to help, but too many don't.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 06, 2018:

We can each change the world in our own way. Whether that change will be positive or negative is up to us. That lowly bottom rung chicken would have ended up to be my favorite.

Shannon Henry from Texas on July 06, 2018:

All too true, my friend. But also don't forget that during times of disaster human compassion is highlighted and magnified by the thousands. As much as I see all the bad around me, I am also often reminded of all the good in mankind, not just whenever tragedy strikes ...... Whenever a person pays for the meal of a random stranger in line behind them.... Someone once gave me a $250 gift card to get my children Christmas presents when they were younger and we had met with hard times (I tried to turn it down, but she insisted and said God told her to do it. She carried that card around for days until she saw me in town somewhere. Someone once told me never to deny a gift because I would also someone's blessing)....So I never forget moments like this. . .Whenever a stranger offers someone a ride or when I witnessed a stranger pay for a man's hotel room for the night so that he would have a place to sleep.... I could go on. But I am sure you notice these things, too.

Having said that, sometimes I wonder about the pecking order in nature as well. Instinct is most often king, but not always. Know what I mean? I had a dog rescue a baby rat from the cat once. But then sometimes you see or hear of two different animal species in the wild becoming friends for some reason or another. Ever wonder how survival of the fittest plays into those scenarios? Perhaps the unlikely unions benefitted both animals somehow... Or maybe not. It's all relative, I guess, as compared to the whole.

Oh, hey, by the way. I just learned something new about chickens. I've been around them before and never noticed they have a certain order on the rung. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Maybe someday mankind as a whole will be less concerned with pecking order.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on July 06, 2018:

Bill, you put this together and delivered the punch with skill, compassion, and emotion. I saw a news story recently that gives us a new slant on this pecking order. Some poachers were attempting to kill an animal which was an endangered species, I don’t know which one. But a pride of lions got the poachers. Well done, Bill.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 06, 2018:

Bill, you have given us much food for thought here. This is not about chickens. As human beings we are "evolved", far superior as creatures on this planet . . . or are we?

Delilah from Kentucky on July 06, 2018:

It's sad to think, we as people that should have caring and understanding above everything else, don't seem to know what to do with that. We turn a blind eye to things that don't directly affect us ( not speaking of everyone of course). Just imagine what a great place the world would be if more people cared....but like your article explains about pecking order, that goes for humans as well. There are those on top and those on the bottom. Those on the bottom are treated like the new chicken in your flock, not given the chance to grow and be equal but shown their place quickly and kept there, having to fight hard to climb to the top rung of the ladder, some of which sadly never make it there.

manatita44 from london on July 06, 2018:

Pause ... long pause.

You started well, slowly building into a story most definitely worth telling.

The animal is still there, made worse by the fact we are suppose to have reasoning. Let us pray

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on July 06, 2018:

As i look at my own experience, it is not a puzzle. Although we have evolved, we continue to do so and when confronted by insights from the events of our day, we make choices and sometimes, they make us grow. There are, however, times when we fall back. Sometimes, the choice to grow is harder.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 06, 2018:

It is a mystery to me,Ann, why more people don't care. How has it come to this, my friend?

wishing you a superb weekend...thank you!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 06, 2018:

Thank you Janine! I have not seen a blog post from you in quite awhile...is there a problem?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 06, 2018:

Very short, Eric...we must care, or we are all lost.

Thank you buddy! Hope you are well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 06, 2018:

We do for sure, Peggy...God bless the dreamers...we need them to speak out loud and clear.

Thank you for your thoughts.

Ann Carr from SW England on July 06, 2018:

Yes, indeed, the pecking order.... We should have evolved better than that by now but we have that horrible word 'greed' that interferes. We want more land, more power, more money (or some do and it's usually those who are prominent).

The other thing we have above most animals, of course, is reasoning and love. I wonder why we don't use it properly and more often.

Great piece, bill!


Janine Huldie from New York, New York on July 06, 2018:

Thanks for the Friday food for thought here, Bill and now wishing you a wonderful, relaxing, weekend ahead :)

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 06, 2018:

Bill I think that every now and then a preacher needs to talk "fire and brimstone" (certainly not often). You give us one here that we should take to heart. My son is just learning when it is none of our business and the list is short.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 06, 2018:

This is a well written piece Bill. "The angels weep" at the nonsense of what we do to one another or in some cases do not do (ignore) regarding the plight of every single living thing on this planet. Some animals seem to care more about their fellow beings (elephants as just one example) than we humans do towards each other in many instances.

I never thought of this being equated to a pecking order. Certainly humans should rise above that in an ideal world. An ideal world...that is elusive. We need more idealists...or to put it simply...people who care about others more than they care about themselves.

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