Five Little Roosters (Y8+)

Five Little Roosters by Tim Griffin, copyright 2020

Five little roosters hatched one day from eggs in mama’s nest
Each was different, who could say which rooster was the best?
Each a slightly different mix of parent DNA
But which of them would father chicks? Only time would say.

Five little roosters in a field, scratching in the ground
Four of them kept their eyes peeled for predators around
When some foxes came along and had to feed their pup
The careless rooster’s genes were gone before he could grow up.

Four little roosters in a tree, sleeping through the night
Three of them were hard to see but one had feathers bright
Late at night a great horned owl came swooping on the scene
The bright little rooster may call “fowl” but won’t pass on his genes.

Three little roosters crossed a road, I really don’t know why
The auto traffic never slowed to let the birds go by
Two of them were careful but the third ran right ahead (tires screeching)
The reckless rooster never reproduced because he’s dead.

Two little roosters grew ‘cause they could dodge and hide and run
Sad but true, they knew with roosters there can be but one
Brandishing their spurs one day, they faced each other down
When one little rooster ran away, the other held his ground.

Now there’s one little rooster squawking how his genes will rule them all
And all the hens are flocking to his cock-a-doodle call
He outlasted all the rest and you know what that means
The rooster’s crow says, “I’m the best… so come and get my genes!”

Notes

Caution! This song features some serious poultry mayhem and is NOT recommended for very young listeners accustomed to having all baby animals return home safely, because for very young humans this message of safety is important. Sadly, though, nature often has other plans for young animals; so one reproductive strategy is to make lots of babies in the hope that a few of each generation (the ones with the best combination of genes, environment, and luck) will survive long enough to reproduce themselves. Other species (the foxes in the song, for example) use a different strategy by having fewer babies but investing more time and energy in their care.

Many thanks to Professor Chris Robinson for his thoughtful feedback and assistance in clarifying some of the lyrics.

Here are some academic content standards from the NGSS addressed by this song, noting that most states' science standards are very similar to the NGSS:

Third Grade
3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
3-LS2.D. Being part of a group helps animals obtain food, defend themselves, and cope with changes. Groups may serve different functions and vary dramatically in size. (3-LS2-1)

Fourth Grade
4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
4-PS4-2. Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified.

Middle School
MS-LS1-8. Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.

High School
HS-LS4-2. Construct an explanation based on evidence that the process of evolution primarily results from four factors: (1) the potential for a species to increase in number, (2) the heritable genetic variation of individuals in a species due to mutation and sexual reproduction, (3) competition for limited resources, and (4) the proliferation of those organisms that are better able to survive and reproduce in the environment.
HS-LS4-4. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.

This song is based on a true story. We have a henhouse at casa Griffin (mmmm, fresh eggs!) and each year we get some chicks from a nearby chicken farmer. We ask for females and the farmer really does try, but it's hard to tell sometimes; it would be great if they were all female because roosters are too noisy for the suburbs, don't lay eggs, will fight with each other (sometimes unto death), and also happen to be illegal where we live. The rule here is, "Hear a crow, gotta go!"

Now if it were up to me, I would have those young roosters for dinner (and not as guests) because I lived on a farm at one time and I know where meat comes from, but my family has decided that although they eat chicken they will not eat a bird they have previously met; so the dinner option is out. Fortunately, my big brother has a farm not too far away and always has room for a few more chickens. Sadly, the reason he always has room for a few more chickens is that his area also includes hawks, owls, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, mountain lions, and other predators to whom a young chicken looks delicious. Some of the young roosters I bring him survive; many do not.

Another reason I wrote this was to help correct a misconception from one of my earlier songs. In Natural Selection, I was thinking in terms of "survival of the fittest." But as Richard Dawkins explains in his brilliant book The Selfish Gene, the point of natural selection is not for the individual organism to survive but rather to reproduce its genes at any cost. This is why it makes sense, for example, for a mother octopus to sacrifice her life to the care of her eggs; or for the males of some spider species to get their heads bitten off at the conclusion of courtship. Post-coital decapitation obviously impairs survival; but your selfish genes do not care about YOUR survival, only about making lots of babies that carry copies of your genes! Kind of a bummer, but there it is.

Based on some feedback this song has received, I also want to clarify that it is NOT intended as political or social commentary, and will fail pretty badly if interpreted as such. Mind you, I am flattered that some of you figure I am writing on some deep metaphorical level; but unlike George Orwell’s Animal Farm or the movie Chicken Run (both of which are great for social commentary but for zoology, not so much), this is simply a non-anthropomorphic song about genetics and natural selection as they occur in one particular species, which is about as deep as my brain will go on most days. If you want to discuss social Darwinism, patriarchy, gender roles, etc. I am down with that; but I reckon a flock of chickens being eaten or run over is a pretty poor allegory for human relationships, and even worse as a societal model. If you want to study animals for insight into human behavior, I would suggest finding a much smarter and more team-oriented species than gallus domesticus; crows and some species of cetaceans might work, and of course many primates. But chickens? Nah.

Chords: C, Am, F, G, A, D, G7