Getting to know chickens
Chickens are unique and caring individuals and much smarter than you might think!
When most of us think of chickens, we picture individuals like HeiHei from Moana.
The bird is shocked and terrified to find himself in the middle of the ocean on a boat with our heroine, along for the ride.
During the trip he falls overboard multiple times, pecks blindly around his food, and is just generally not a smart guy.
HeiHei is a fairly standard, unflattering stereotype of a chicken, and reminds us why we have phrases like “chickening out” and “bird-brain” in our vocabulary.
Sixty billion chickens—yes, billion with a “B”—are farmed for food around the world every year, a number which increased by 22% between 1996 and 2016 in the US, with far greater increases globally.
For their sake, we’ve got to set the record straight: chickens are unique and caring individuals and much smarter than they’re being portrayed.
Here are some facts about chickens that may surprise you!
- Chickens have very good memories. They can solve puzzles by pecking at the pieces with their beaks to let their human helpers know which ones go where. Chickens have also been caught on tape finding treats hidden under cups. In this video, the clever bird remembers each time that the green cup will provide a reward!
- Chickens can also recognize up to 100 different human faces. I have visited farm animal sanctuaries—places where rescued animals from the meat, dairy, and egg industries get to live out their lives in free open space with their friends—and each time I return to one, the chickens I’ve spent the most time cuddling with and feeding come running right up to me giving a chirp, just like my family dog would greet me after a few months away.
- Speaking of chirping, chickens are quite talkative, too! They make around 30 different calls to communicate with each other, expressing everything from “thanks for the food!” to “there’s a predator in the coop!” People who live with chickens in their homes, like Instagram blogger @thechicrew know exactly what their birds are saying and what they need, just like a mother understands her baby’s different cries.
- My favorite (and the most surprising) chicken fact is that they love to purr, just like cats! Check out this video showing the two animals side-by-side. When a chicken is happy, cozy, and safe, they will close their eyes and purr softly. Holding a happy young chick in my arms and petting her soft, fluffy head while she chirped and purred was one of the best feelings.
Now that we’ve broken down some unfair stereotypes about chickens, hopefully you’ll look at HeiHei with a little more empathy.
He certainly loved to chatter and perhaps understood more on his adventure than he let on!
For the billions of chickens on factory farms, unfortunately, the same freedom to express their natural behaviors doesn’t exist—chickens’ different calls and chirps get lost among the sounds of the thousands of birds in one massive barn, they can’t relax and purr in the cramped conditions.
At World Animal Protection, we’re fighting for each unique bird to live a meaningful life, and you have the power to do the same at each meal by helping to reduce the unsustainable increasing demand for animal products by reducing meat consumption and choosing higher welfare products from egg-laying hens and chickens used for meat.
- Sage Max