6 Facts About Chickens That Will Make You Question the Term “Birdbrain”
Recent research reveals some fascinating features of our favorite fowl
We’re always singing the praises of our Handsome hens—from their quirky character to their golden eggs—but we thought it was about time to make space to really get to know them. If you were asked to gauge a chicken’s level of intelligence, there’s a good chance that you would either be completely stumped or your mind would quickly hop to “birdbrain.” From where we sit, it’s a shame that chickens get mocked as one of the animal kingdom’s least interesting members when there’s so much more to them than meets the eye.
From maintaining stringent social hierarchies to possessing a real memory, these 6 fun facts will let us forget our former judgements and give our fowl friends their fair share of credit.
A chicken never forgets
While most of us struggle to remember the names of anyone outside our immediate social circles (I’m looking at you, second cousin Matt? Mike? Mark?), chickens can remarkably remember details about over 100+ of their peers at any given time — from their fellow flock members' height to the fullness of their coat. Why’s that? Well, this type of memory is essential when you have pecking orders as stringent as they do. While ascendance to the top can be a rough battle, the good news is that most pecking orders for chickens raised together are established early on (and remembered forever), meaning that they can live in predominantly peaceful circumstances thereafter. So next time you mock a chicken’s mind, remember that elephants aren’t the only ones who never forget ;)
Varied temperaments are actually what determine a chicken’s position in the aforementioned pecking order — from fierce and feisty to kind and calm — every individual has a unique personality that situates it within the social structures of its respective flock. Fun fact? Chickens can be homebodies too. “Low-rangers”, as these comfort-loving chickens are called, have been found to be more cautious, making them extra attentive to (and more adept at navigating) their surroundings.
Eye’ll be Darned
If you’ve ever bragged about having 20/20 vision, it might be time to take a step back and let the real stars show. Chickens are able to see not only red, blue and green light — but ultraviolet light too — opening up a whole cast of colors that remain entirely inaccessible to the human eye. What’s more, because of the placement of their eyes, our girls can see 300 degrees around their heads and use each eye independently, making them the ideal secret agents. Maybe most interestingly, they even have a special gland on their heads (“pineal gland”) that can detect changes in light even if they lose their sight, which means they can actually sense things like time of day and even seasonal changes. It might not be x-ray vision, but we’d back a hen Avenger any day.
We might think that feelings like fear and empathy are reserved for the mammals amongst us, but there we’d be wrong. Recent studies continue to reveal emotional intricacies that we’d once ignored, forcing us to reframe how we’ve treated our feathered friends. Chickens even experience something referred to as “emotional contagion”, which means that they quite literally reflect the emotions of their fellow flock members. It’s why at HBF, we know that the happiness of every individual hen is crucial to the humor of the entire flock!
In 2009, researchers in Italy discovered that baby chickens actually have the capacity to “count” certain quantities. As part of the study, little balls were moved behind screens as curious little chicks looked on. Surprisingly, the chicks were repeatedly able to add up quantities in their heads and — when released — walk directly towards the larger amounts. Pretty remarkable considering basic math continues to confound even the best of us.
Beyond the “Bah-Gawk”
While their sounds might seem one-note to our untrained ears, chickens make an incredibly vast series of noises while “speaking” with one another. From small chirps urging chicks to stay close, to hiss-like vocalizations warding off those too near their nests, to sharp squawks in reaction to potential danger, chickens are thought to make up to 30 different sounds — each with its own specific connotation! Looks like it might be time for Duolingo to add “chicken” to its language list.
Studies aside, we at Handsome Brook Farms know full well that our little ladies are chock-full of personality. From the way they greet us, to how they interact with one another, to their penchant for exploring the pasture each day. It’s why we make it our mission to give these charismatic creatures the dynamic, adventure-filled daily lives they deserve. It’s the Handsome way.