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Chickens are smarter than we think

November 1, 2016

Chickens are smarter than we think.

As chicken keepers we know our birds are smart individuals, but new studies show that we may be underestimated how smart they are. Research from the University of Bristol has demonstrated that chickens outperform not only cats and dogs but also human toddlers in multiple cognitive and behavioral tests.

Chickens can apply logic, draw inferences, and plan ahead. You can teach them to delay gratification like refusing food now to get more later.

They have about 30 unique vocalizations used to convey different messages. For example, they make different sounds for land and aerial predators. Even while still in the egg, the chicks talk to their mom telling them if they are comfortable or cold and she should move the eggs in the nest.

Chickens observe and learn from each other. If one eats a bitter leave, the others won’t eat it. Chicks learn from their mother what food to forage, and how to avoid predators.

Chickens exhibit complex behaviors. Roosters call their hens to share food with them, this raises their status in the flock. But some roosters engage in deception, they would make the same call to attract the hens but without having food. The hens quickly know which roosters to trust, and they modify their behavior based on past experiences.

Chickens recognize shapes and patterns, even very complicated ones.
I tested this by teaching one of my hens to pick the Queen of Hearts out of a deck of cards. This was quite amazing to see her “little” brain in action.

Here is how I did it:
I taught Marjo this trick using clicker training. The idea is to mark the wanted behavior and reward it.
I used a clicker (a little box that makes a short, distinct "click" sound) to tell her exactly when she is doing the right thing, and lots of treats to reward her when she does.
The key was to decompose the complex trick in simple small steps. First she learned to peck at a card (the Queen of Hearts). This happened after only 5 tries! Then I slowly introduced cards: black numbers first, red numbers second, then black faces, and finally red faces. She had no trouble with the numbers; it was a bit more difficult when I introduced faces. But after 10 sessions of about 8min, she nailed it. She could pick out the Queen of Hearts from a deck of cards!
You can see the whole training process in this 5-minute video:

 

Did you know?

Chickens have a very well developed vision.
They have double the sensitive visual cells on the retina compared to people which allow them to see colors and shades of grey in dim light.
Their 300 degree panoramic vision helps them avoid predators.
Chickens also have a wider sensitivity to the light spectrum than us. Not only can they see the visible light, but they can also see in ultraviolet.

 

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