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Do Chickens Have Emotions?

Black Star Chicken in Flock





Ever wondered if chickens have emotions?

Chickens, often viewed as mere sources of eggs and meat, are quickly becoming the subject of scientific inquiry regarding their emotional range and abilities.

The common perception of chickens as emotionless, unintelligent creatures is being challenged by a growing body of new chicken keepers and homesteaders.

New research has started to suggest that these birds possess a range of complex emotions and social behaviors.

cornish cross and red ranger flock

Approaching Chicken Emotions from an Evolutionary Standpoint

Chickens, descendants of the wild jungle fowl, have been domesticated for thousands of years.

This domestication has led to changes in their behavior and physiology, but it does not negate the presence of emotions.

Evolutionary adaptations have likely shaped the emotional capacities of chickens, helping them navigate their environments and social structures.

One of the most studied emotions in chickens is fear.

Chickens display clear signs of distress when exposed to threatening stimuli, such as predators or unfamiliar environments.

Research has shown that they experience a heightened heart rate, increased vocalizations, and altered behavior when confronted with perceived threats.

We also know that ducks are capable of feeling stress, and that has adverse effects on them, too.

Chickens Show Signs of Play and Joyfulness

On a happier note, chickens are clearly capable of experiencing joy and positive feelings.

Observations of chickens engaging in playful behavior (like the below) suggest a capacity for joy:

If you’ve ever let your chickens free range after being cooped up for a few days during bad weather, you know that they will:

  • squawk
  • run out of the coop
  • flap their wings
  • make little happy hops
  • chase each other

I strongly believe these activities are not merely instinctual but reflect a more nuanced emotional life, hinting at the presence of pleasure and contentment in these feathered creatures.

Emotional support chickens

Chickens Remember and React Differently To Individual Faces

Chickens are highly social animals that form complex hierarchies within their flocks.

Research has indicated that they can recognize and remember individual faces (up to about 100 faces). This means they foster social bonds with specific members of their group.

If you have chickens of your own, you’ve probably noticed that they have favorite humans, too.

They’re much more likely to be outgoing and friendly with the person who feeds them and collects their eggs.

On the flip side, they tend to be more standoffish or even aggressive towards strangers.

While most of our flock seem to favor me as their favorite person, I have one little oddball rooster who is a bit of an outcast. Yet, he instantly gravitates toward my five-year-old daughter.

Though she has rarely fed him any treats, she speaks kindly to him, pats his back, and is always gentle with him.

In return, he is always happy to quietly chatter with her and follow her around the property.

The only time he ever threatens to flog a person is if they are a new visitor and if they are too close to his little girl.

Chickens have been observed displaying signs of empathy. This includes comforting distressed flock members or mourning the loss of a companion.

These behaviors challenge the traditional view of chickens as emotionally detached and highlight the richness of their social interactions.

With that said, some studies suggest chickens do NOT have emotional empathy.

Chickens Form Familial Bonds Within the Flock

Hens have highly developed maternal instincts. They invest a lot of time and energy in caring for and protecting their offspring.

The bonding process begins before the chicks hatch.

The mother hen often clucks to communicate with their developing embryos as they brood.

Their chicks learn their mothers’ voices because of this.

Once the chicks hatch, they immediately imprint on the mother, and the mother hen continues to play a crucial role in their well-being.

She keeps them warm under her wings in the evening (usually sitting on the ground rather than her preferred roosting spot), teaches them to forage for food, and provides protection from other moody hens and most predators.

The mother hen is highly vigilant, alerting her chicks to danger with specific vocalizations and leading them to safety.

If separated from their chicks, hens display clear signs of distress and concern.

They actively engage in nurturing behaviors, such as preening and clucking, to comfort and bond with their babies.

In turn, the chicks often seek their mother’s proximity and protection, exhibiting behaviors like huddling under her wings for warmth and security.

This maternal bond is not limited to the early stages of a chick’s life.

In free-range and backyard settings, hens maintain strong relationships with their grown offspring.

They often form cohesive family groups within the flock.

In my own experiences, I have noticed that my hens create little cliques of their immediate family.

Each elderly hen tends to have a little posse of her daughters and granddaughters, and they free-range in a cluster all day together.

Some of these groups have a rooster to lead them around, but many stay in these mini-flocks on their own.

The strong maternal instincts really challenge the stereotype of poultry being emotionally indifferent or lacking in social bonds.

Strong Cognitive Functions and Complexities

Recent studies have revealed that chickens are much more intelligent than we initially assumed.

Chickens exhibit problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, and the ability to learn from their experiences.

These cognitive capacities suggest that the emotional lives of chickens are not limited to basic instincts.

However, they are intertwined with their ability to perceive, process information, and adapt to their surroundings.

Older hens play a vital role in the flock, teaching younger birds basic lessons like:

  • how to forage
  • avoid predators
  • sit in the nesting box to lay eggs
  • go broody
  • roost on the perches in your chicken coop
  • how to find their place in the flock (hierarchy)

I have also noticed that my hens will slow or stop laying eggs if they lose a member of the flock.

They never slowed or stopped laying during the coldest months of the year because I gave them plenty of good feed and a light.

But after a skunk killed one of my Rhode Island Reds, they all went on a five-day strike.

None of them laid a single egg, and each of them seemed sad.

I didn’t see any wing-flapping or happy squawks as I let them loose from the coop.

While this isn’t solid evidence that they have cognitive function, it has me convinced that they have at least some amount of cognitive function and sentience.

Flock of Australorps

Do Chickens Have Emotions: FAQs

Do Chickens Have Feelings for Humans?

Chickens can develop positive feelings and form bonds with humans, especially if they are raised in a nurturing or least kind/respectful environment.

Chickens are proven to recognize familiar faces, and they often respond positively to the presence of their daily human caretaker(s).

Regular interaction, gentle handling, and being a consistent source of food will also contribute to a trusting and positive relationship.

Do Chickens Get Emotionally Attached?

Chickens can form emotional attachments not only with other chickens but also with humans.

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that chickens can become emotionally attached to their caretakers, showing signs of contentment and recognition.

Can Chickens Feel Sadness?

Chickens exhibit behaviors that suggest they can experience sadness or distress.

Events such as changes in their environment, loss of companions, or exposure to stressful situations can lead to changes in behavior that indicate emotional distress.

Signs like lethargy, changes in vocalizations, and reduced social interactions can indicate a chicken is experiencing sadness.

Do Chickens Mourn When Another Chicken Dies?

When a chicken dies, surviving members of the flock may display behaviors that suggest grief, such as:

  • decreased activity
  • altered vocalizations
  • reduced or stopped egg production
  • reluctance to leave the area where the deceased chicken was

If the dead are buried in front of the flock, you may find some of their closest flock mates spending time at the grave site.

Do Chickens Have Emotions?

Scientific research and observations have shown that chickens experience a range of emotions, including joy, fear, empathy, and the formation of meaningful social bonds (with people and flock mates).

They show complex behaviors that reflect emotional states, challenging the stereotype of chickens as emotionally indifferent animals.

How Smart Are Chickens?

Chickens are surprisingly intelligent animals.

Research has revealed their problem-solving ability, display spatial awareness, and learn from experiences.

Chickens can recognize and remember individual faces, communicate using various vocalizations, and exhibit cognitive skills that go beyond basic instincts.

Some studies have even revealed that their cognitive function is on par with that of primates and mammals and surpasses that of toddlers and young children in some aspects, like object permanence.

Do Chickens Have Emotions? Here’s  Our Final Say

In conclusion, the question of whether chickens have emotions is not merely a matter of curiosity but has profound implications for how we treat these intelligent and sentient creatures.

While scientific research has shown that chickens do possess complex emotional states, including fear, happiness, and even empathy, there is still much to learn about the depth and nuances of their emotional lives.

Ultimately, recognizing and valuing the emotions of chickens can serve as a stepping stone toward fostering greater empathy and compassion toward all animals.

This leads to more ethical and sustainable practices in our treatment of them.

Acknowledging and respecting the emotional capacity of chickens should lead us to reconsider how we interact with them in various contexts, from farming practices to pet ownership.


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