Chickens are fascinating birds to observe; often giving us insight into their state of health and wellbeing. They do this in many ways, and if you look close enough, you will be able to identify these things for each individual bird, and the group in general. But what about crying? Are chickens capable of tears and is this a behavior keepers can expect?
So, can chickens cry? Chickens cannot cry, nor do they respond to negative emotions in this way. Nevertheless, these birds can and do get sad; being less social, eating less food, and being generally more lethargic are instead more typical responses.
Crying is synonymous with sadness in humans.
The same cannot be said for chickens.
But this does not mean that they cannot get sad. They just show it in different ways.
And this causes a challenge.
It makes monitoring our birds increasingly more important.
It also means we need to know what to look for.
Let us now take a closer look at why these birds do not cry before looking at signs of sadness to watch out for.
We’ll also be looking at what to do during instances of sadness; so be sure to keep reading.
Your flocks happiness will depend on it!
Why Chickens Do Not Cry Tears
Chickens do not cry in response to sadness, pain, or at any other time that we would normally associate the shedding of tears.
And this is the response of thousands of chicken owners; all of whom report that they have never seen their birds do so.
As to why, well this is certainly an interesting one.
There are two potential reasons for this.
One we know is true, the second, is open for debate:
- Chickens emotionally respond differently
- Chickens do not possess tear-ducts*
I’ve put an asterisk next to the second one.
It is believed that chickens do not posses tear-ducts.
At least that function the way that we know it.
And tear ducts have a very important function in the tear system. Without them crying would not really be possible.
At the moment, the scientific literature is inclusive.
We know that birds cry, so it would be logical to assume chickens would too.
But there is no reference on chickens, nor studies that currently allow us to confirm they do.
However, on closer inspection, the researchers concluded that on birds “the researchers think tears may be an adaptation to keeping the eyes healthy in their watery habitat”.
Well, chickens may not follow suit here.
They wouldn’t need to.
They have a ‘third-eyelid’ for this purpose.
Otherwise known as the ‘nictating membrane’; it slides horizontally over the eye to protect it from dust and debris, while also keeping it moist.
So, while it is certainly open to debate. The fact that chickens’ eyes operate differently, there is no anecdotal evidence of chickens crying tears; it’s logical to assume that these birds cannot cry.
But we know that they do not. At least via emotional response.
When Chickens Can Cry
Chickens may not cry tears, but they certainly cry in other ways. The term cry is often applied to the sounds and shrieks these birds make.
And they do so for various different reasons, at various different times.
Chickens are very vocal birds, and will do so as a means of community within the flock and to the external world.
Some vocalizations are very positive.
For instance, you have the ‘egg song’ which follows the successful laying of an egg. You also have the greeting chatter in the early morning.
However, other vocalizations can be a negative response. At lot more alarmist, and are more like screech or screams.
It is these louder, higher-pitched noises that chickens make that are often associated with cries.
Besides, an alternate definition of the term cry is: to shout or scream, typically to express fear, pain, or grief.
But when do chickens make these sounds?
Well, when they feel threatened by a predator, they have a health issue, they are protecting their eggs, etc.
Can Chickens Feel Sad?
Chickens can feel sad, and will often display this emotion in their behavior.
And it’s not just sadness chickens feel; they can experience a range of different complex emotions and feelings.
From empathy all the way through to happiness and elation.
That being said, chickens do experience these emotions in a different way.
What causes them and how long they last is very dependent on the circumstances. It can range from bird to bird, flock to flock.
But one thing is for sure; these are social birds that live in a complex hierarchy.
They become very reliant and dependent on one another; even seeking out close companionships within the group.
And when something negative happens, be illness or isolation, these has far-reaching consequences throughout the flock.
In fact, chickens will display signs of sadness in very similar ways to us humans; feeling isolated, morning the loss of flock mate, or being bullied.
Sadness will have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of your birds if it goes on for too long.
As a chicken keeper, it is therefore essential you step in to comfort them. But more on how you can do this in the next couple of sections.
How Can You Tell If A Chicken Is Sad?
The most common sign a chicken is sad is a drastic change in behavior. They will be much more lethargic, docile, and reserved. A lack of effort in eating and drinking is also likely.
At the same time, you will be able to start observing changes in their appearance. They will begin to look more vulnerable; weaker and sometimes they will pale.
Particular areas where they will pale include the comb and the wattle.
We’ve already touched upon vocalizations, but different noises may start to appear too.
In time, egg production will start to suffer. Sad chickens will not lay as many, or normal-sized eggs.
Some of these behaviors and signs are to be expected somewhat following a death in the flock, or something that could have cause severe stress.
However, chickens should return to a much better place, both mentally and physically, so long as they are comforted and supported.
How Do You Comfort A Chicken?
Comforting a chicken is all about eradicating, or helping your birds overcome the source of stress that is directly causing negative emotions or sadness.
So, first and foremost, you need to identify what is causing the issues.
If sadness is the result of boredom, then you can spend some time improving their surroundings – making it more interactive and interesting.
If sadness is the result of a death of a chicken, then you may want to introduce a new chicken or two. Of course, you need to be careful how you do this. But chickens are better in numbers.
They are social birds that like to live together. So much so that a flock should consist of three birds at a minimum.
Anything less and they can get very lonely.
If sadness is the result of confinement, then do all you can to extend the space you afford your flock. Perhaps consider getting, or upgrading the run. See if you can introduce new dust bathes or scratching areas.
Let your chickens out to forage more, and give them more access to natural sunlight and new safe areas to explore.
If sadness is the result of the pecking order, ensure no birds are getting bullied. You may need to separate some birds to ensure that there are no persistent attacks on the weaker members of the group.
Unfortunately, chickens like to establish a dominance hierarchy, so you do need to be mindful that no birds are on the receiving end too harshly, or too long.
If sadness is the result of illness, then do all you can to inspect your birds, or call for some advice, expert opinion, and support. Your chickens may have mites in the coop, fleas, or other parasites lurking causing stress.
And make sure there are no persistent predators making attempts on the coop.
You may need to upgrade your coop, solidify it further or even introduce new measures to keep predators way from your property altogether.
Chickens do not cry tears. It’s just not something that they do.
Although whether they could is still open to debate.
There appears to be no conclusive evidence stating they physically cannot.
And the scientists that have been researching crying in birds are yet to turn to chickens. Or at least publish their findings publically.
What we do know is that these birds can and do get sad.
And they need to be comforted when they do.
Its a keepers responsibility to observe and monitor the emotions of their flock.
In doing so, makes for a much more social, active and productive coop.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.