top of page

Let's Play Chicken

I harbor a love for chickens. I grew up with them, and that created a problem when I went off to college and could no longer walk out to the barn and grab an egg anytime I wanted an omelet. For years, pathetically pale supermarket egg yolks mocked me. A couple of years ago I found Pete and Gerry's eggs which are like the ones I remembered: brilliant deep orange double yolks! And chickens are smart. No really, I'm not making that up! Neuroscientist Lori Marino has found that chickens are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, and they exhibit Machiavellian-like social interactions. In fact, they interact socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.

They were found to be masters of manipulation and counter-strategies, with males making false food calls to attract nearby females, and females eventually ignoring those who made false alerts too often.

Marino, a senior scientist at The Someone Project, a venture focused on changing public perceptions of farm animals, said that chickens exhibit logical reasoning that humans do not develop until the age of seven: "Unlike many other birds, chickens are categorised as a commodity, devoid of authenticity as a real animal. But chickens have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences. They perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events," he said. The farmyard bird was found to exhibit social awareness; capable of waiting for a better food reward, and recognizing their status in the pecking order.

They also have distinct personalities, with mother hens exhibiting different "maternal styles", thought to influence the behavior of their chicks, and have a complex system of communication, consisting of a wide range of visual displays and at least 24 different vocalizations.

A recent study showed that chickens are intelligent and emotional animals, and are able to "demonstrate thinking skills on par with mammals and primates." If you hide an object from a chicken, she will still know it's there — this is something even young human kids aren't able to do. They have extensive, expressive vocabularies. Their beaks contain their superpowers, full of sensory receptors and nerves that enable them to distinguish between types of food, and interact with the world around them. Hens communicate with their chicks while still in the egg so they'll recognize their voices after they hatch.

Speaking from experience, they make good pets. I would LOVE to have a flock, but can't deal with predation. So I just draw 'em instead.


bottom of page