Keeping a flock of chickens comes with a variety of questions. A common topic for owners is regarding the emotions of these birds. Do chickens possess feelings and is this something an owner needs to take into consideration? Intrigued, I decided to conduct some research. What follows is the result of my findings and what I thought you would like to know.
So, do chickens have feelings? Chickens do have and express feelings. These are not just basic emotions, but real empathy for fellow chickens within their flock and their peers. For example, mother hens will experience the feeling of stress when separated from their chicks. Chickens can also become sad and happy, and this can be witnessed in their behavior and eating patterns.
Indeed, chickens have empathy, and hens have strong maternal instincts when it comes to their young.
Hens often feel depressed when isolated or removed from the rest of the flock. These hardy birds have a surprisingly strong sense of community and neighborliness.
While this may become obvious to owners who have reared chickens for many years, it is not outwardly obvious or apparent to everyone.
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So, let us know take a closer look at the feelings and the emotions of these birds. This way, as an owner you can better understand your current or future flock.
Do Chickens Have Emotions?
Yes, chickens have emotions, In fact, they have what we call deep emotions. A researcher from the University of Bristol named Dr Joanne Edgar set out to discover if chickens have feelings.
Dr Edgar and her team observed strong emotional, behavioral, and physiological responses from these birds.
This conclusion was drawn through an experiment designed to mimic chick stress. The mother hens were kept away from their chicks – they could see and hear their offspring, but they couldn’t have access to them.
The baby birds were exposed to light puffs of air, which made them feel distressed, their mothers mirrored their chick’s responses.
The heart rate and temperature of the birds were closely monitored, and when the chicks were distressed, the hen’s heart rate and external temperature increased.
This study demonstrated that adult female birds have one of the most crucial characteristics of empathy, and that is the ability to share the emotional condition of another.
Throughout the research, the mother hens released a maternal vocalization call, which they used to call their chicks back to them. This study confirmed that these birds have empathy, and hens have strong maternal instincts allowing them to experience the pain their chicks feel.
Beyond this, other studies have concluded that chickens have feeling which impact their behavior. Mother hens actually play a significant role in directing their chicks’ behavior and are able to reduce their chicks’ response to stressors. These chicks are therefore less fearful when compared to those raised without their mother hen present.
And it goes the other way too.
Chicks also imprint upon their mother – influencing the hens specific actions and behaviors.
How Chickens Handle Loss And Mourning
Chickens get attached to their flockmates and feel lonely and depressed when their flockmates die. While they may not cry about the loss of another bird, it will be soon visible in their behavior.
With that said, Some chickens have no respect for their dead and will try to eat the deceased if they’re hungry enough.
Still, often, these birds do experience loneliness and desperately need the company of other hens to keep depression at bay.
If you own a chicken, who happens to be the last surviving flock member, it’s an excellent idea to introduce a new bird to her for the company as these birds don’t handle trauma well.
Studies reveal that chickens recover faster from stressful events when in the company of friends. They correlate being with their flock as feeling safe.
Did you know that as a hen is facing the end of her life, she will retreat to a quieter place away from the other birds.
During this period, the rest of the flock will visit her one by one; they maintain eye contact with the dying bird and make soft coos and mutterings in her ear.
Some hens choose to stay with the sick bird until her last breath; they are very considerate like that.
Once the bird dies, the others go their separate ways and return to their usual routine of foraging, dustbathing, and scratching – life goes on.
The deceased hens closest friends may mourn her death for longer and make sounds as if calling for their friend. Grieving hens avoid associating with the rest of the flock and may even sit in the corner with feathers all puffed up.
Some hens become so broken-hearted by the death of a friend that they can suddenly die themselves. Some chickens handle loss better than others, but others can be sensitive and need extra attention.
Do Chickens Have Personalities?
Yes, chickens have personalities on par with dogs, cats, and some primates. These are distinct and can range chicken to chicken, flock to flock.
Personality is defined as a set of traits that differ across individuals and are consistent over time.
There is an huge amount of anecdotal evidence for individual personalities in chickens from sanctuaries, small farmers, and people who keep backyard chickens.
Chickens adore their families, and we know how protective mother hens are towards their chicks.
These birds have: intricate social structures (designed to protect their families), clear communication skills (they have numerous types of vocalizations), and they understand cause and effect connections.
When chickens live in their natural environment, they form social hierarchies or “pecking orders,” and every chicken understands his or her status within their own social structure.
Often, more than 100 birds are members of a social rank, and they remember each individual – they have excellent memories.
Undoubtedly, these birds are very smart, even smarter than some mammals. Chickens can complete challenging mental tasks, learn from observing one another, show self-control, and also fret about the future.
Leading animal behavioral scientists have found that each of these birds has a unique personality that relates to his or her status in the pecking order.
Some are bold and natural leaders, while others are timid and watchful. Some like the company of human beings, while others don’t. Each chicken has a distinct personality.
In studies examining the relationship between dominance status and personality traits in male chickens, three personality traits became evident —boldness, activity/exploration, and vigilance.
Chickens have feelings and a complex range of emotions. These birds are not just brawny but also brainy.
Chickens come from well-structured societies, called pecking orders, and every bird knows his or her own place within that society. Chickens form personality traits from each other and previous generations.
Mother hens have great empathy for their offspring, making them excellent parents, with a strong ability to care for their young.
How these birds handle death is often dignified; however, some birds eat their dead – this happens occasionally.
Chickens have a great sense of community and care for their flockmates; looking out and depending on one another. Besides, they are happier and healthier together.
Chickens possess excellent judgment and the ability to carry out challenging tasks.
Yet, they possess profound emotional intelligence – a trait that is indicative of a well-managed and highly civilized social structure.
People are often surprised to learn that chickens are highly intelligent birds.
If you have little to no experience of keeping chickens, their intelligence and resourcefulness are unfamiliar territories to you.
Still, you must become aware of this trait if you plan to keep chickens long term.
Chickens can get sad if a particular event occurs. Chickens can suffer from depression and loneliness and this can be seen through not eating and being generally lethargic. Hens that lose young chicks will often act differently. They can also suffer if they are unable to act on instinct, have too many restrictions or their needs and requirements are not met.
A happy chicken will display specific behaviors mostly being active, pecking around in the grass, laying in the sunshine, preening, and taking baths in the dirt. In times of unhappiness, they are unlikely to partake in these behaviors.
Chickens can feel pain when they are killed. Chickens have pain receptors across their body which enables them to feel pain and distress. This is why (according to the National Chicken Council) they are electronically stunned before they are slaughtered.
Chickens can get attached to their owners if shelter, food, water, and care are provided. Chickens will learn to recognize their owners and express familiarity by visiting specific locations that they visit often and by following them when around. However, individual chickens will have different personalities and not all will be as loyal or forthcoming.
Wondering what else chickens may have? Check out my guides below:
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.