Chickens – The Other Rocket Scientists

For Chicken breeds and how to choose the best one for your flock, keeping needs and other stuff, check out Fowl Blog. “As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys,” Dr. Chris Evans, Animal Behaviorist and chicken cognition expert.

What does Scientific American Say About Chickens?

They can understand the concept of the future, they can plan, they recognize that objects not visible are still “there” – and they can grasp concepts that young children miss. Chickens really are the “other” rocket scientists. While this avian species is geared to process social intelligence, gallus domesticus is no intellectual slouch. Beginning as precocial chicks geared to absorb information and growing into birds that are not fully intellectually mature until nearly 2 years old – the chicken is like a flower that continues to unfurl its wonders.

Behavioral scientists have rediscovered the avian brain. Now called “feathered primates” we know that being bird brained puts you in a category marked by those with perceptive intellects. Yes indeed – your chicken is pretty darn smart. As a chicken behaviorist, I have witnessed these birds learn concepts after one request. No repetition needed.

Recently, my youngest chick watched her mother pull on my pant leg in order to get a treat. Seconds after this display, the month-old chick also pulled at my pant leg. Chickens learn by observation and by analyzing results and evidence presented by circumstances and experiments. This flexible intelligence allows chickens to understand complex ideas, language and inter-species communication. They can learn the languages of other animals and they understand their own names as well as the names of others in the flock.

I know what you’re thinking (My chicken is smarter than your 5 year old)
Chickens understand what is called “Theory of Mind” – that they have ideas and interests and that others think and have ideas as well. Young children do not possess this skill. A chicken knows that you think and that you have intentions. They understand that they can manipulate and influence another’s actions. This is why you can never catch the bird you want to handle!

“I know you are looking at me, singling me out, and I am going to put some distance between us, pronto.” This ability also enables chickens to dig up the flowers ONLY when you are not around as, if you are not there to care, well… whatever. Chickens will also engage in devious behaviors that they know they can “get away” with.

Behaviorists are exploring these abilities and including concepts such as ethics or morals. We now know that what were once wrongly perceived as “human” traits are actually survival adaptations. A chicken that can empathize with another bird is ensuring the survival of the flock. Chickens understand the vocalizations of others and respond to the information delivered. We have all witnessed the alarm call for an aerial predator and the quick response from the flock members.  I once had a hen come out from hiding from a circling hawk to collect me. Apparently, I was too dumb to hide too!

Our silkie rooster exhibits, as most roosters, a heightened sense of empathy. My mother tripped on a stair and the rooster ran to her side expressing obvious concern. He also held a wariness about the area for some time after. Again, empathy = flock survival. Similar acts of mutual benefit are exhibited by primates, rats, elephants, horses, dogs, and other animals as well.

Click here for a Free Download on Chicken Cognition (This is a great read!)