How Smart Are Chickens?

How Smart Are Chickens?

Conventional wisdom suggests that chickens aren’t clever, but research has shown otherwise. Chickens are social animals with a surprising level of intelligence and understanding. People who keep chickens as pets and take the time to get to know them soon realize that these birds have distinct personalities and can be quite clever.

Compared to other species of birds, such as crows or parrots, chickens are not geniuses in any way. They do however possess a measure of intelligence and benefit from being kept in a way that will provide mental stimulation and enrichment to keep their minds busy.

Chickens can be stimulated using treat balls, which you can hang in your chicken coop during snack time. Treat balls have bells that stimulate a chicken’s natural foraging instincts by providing them with a challenging feeding source.

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As social animals, chickens develop a hierarchy or “pecking order” and are able to understand their position in that social framework. They are also capable of communicating and can make and understand a number of distinct vocalizations to convey different sorts of information.

Research also suggests that chickens may understand numbers to a limited extent, and some chickens may possess the reasoning skills and self-awareness to anticipate future events and hold out for awards. They also express a form of empathy called emotional contagion: If one chicken becomes distressed or anxious, others in the flock will have a shift in mood as well.

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Domesticated chicken breeds, like many farm animals, are a bit dumber than their wild ancestors. There is also some variation between breeds and between individual chickens. You may quickly discover that some hens in your flock are more clever than others. Chickens can be quite cunning and even manipulative to get what they want.

A chicken can bond with a human, especially if raised from a young chick. However, they are not eager to please the way that a dog would be, so they are not easy to train. You can still train certain behaviors through a reliable reward system. By identifying what rewards motivate a specific chicken, you can establish a behavior-reward system and modify your chicken’s behavior to make your shared life easier. For example, you can train a chicken to come when she’s called by offering treats, which will make it easier to catch the bird when necessary.

"People talk about fools counting chickens before they hatch. That's nothing. We name them."
-- Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman

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