Chickens are complex, inquisitive animals who form social bonds, understand their place in the “pecking order,” and have advanced problem-solving skills. Before they hatch from their eggs, chicks can communicate with their mothers through peeps–alerting her to whether they’re too cold or feeling just right. Newborn chicks already know their mother’s voice – but in the chicken industry, they’ll never meet or bond with her.

Decades of research have transformed the meaning of “bird brain,” revealing chickens’ “finely honed sensory capacities”, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead,” according to Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University.

And scientists have learned that, like some other animals including pigs, chickens are smarter than four-year-old children when it comes to skills involving math, self control, and logic. These birds can reason through deduction, a skill picked up by human children around the age of seven.

Citing a recent study in Animal Cognition, an industry blog reports that chickens are capable of deceit – for example, when males falsely announce the arrival of food to grab the attention of females and keep other males away. Females can quickly pick up on this deception, however, and ignore males who don’t tell the truth.

At birth, chicks already have a basic understanding of numbers and can differentiate between different quantities. Five-day-old chicks have even demonstrated a knack for arithmetic in tracking sets of objects of different quantities hidden behind screens. These birds perform similarly to primates in terms of memory, recalling the path of a hidden ball for more than two minutes.

Within flocks, birds form deep bonds and can remember the faces of more than 100 other birds. Chickens are protective of their families, and mothers guide and nurture their young. These birds also communicate throughout their lives with 24 different vocalizations–and they all understand their roles in the highly developed pecking order.

Musical Birds

Meet Strawberry, a hen rescued by the folks at Animal Place. While recovering from a leg injury, she found joy in watching nature shows! Says Strawberry’s guardian, “Videos of other chickens got her too excited – she wanted to join them… Videos of people talking got her bored (and she’s not shy about letting us know). Wildlife and landscapes suit her best.”

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