If you’re thinking about getting some pet chickens, you may be wondering whether chickens are affectionate pets. Well, we’ve got good news for you – not only are chickens affectionate but they are demonstrably nice to each other too! Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it – we’ve got everything you need to know, right here.
Our 6 cute ways that chickens show affection to each other include the way they nurture their young, the way they share distress, protecting each other from harm, mutual grooming, happiness when lost chickens return to the flock and genuine observable friendships. Of course, to be sure of this – we first need to be certain that chickens can actually recognize each other and that’s where we begin.
How Do We Know That Chickens Can Even Recognize Each Other?
As with all animals, chickens have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their senses. One thing that we’re absolutely certain of is that chickens can’t recognize each other by scent because their sense of smell is very bad, indeed.
In fact, while humans are often derided for their poor sense of smell when compared to say dogs, chickens are worse still and that means that your chicken simply doesn’t have the olfactory capacity to determine which of his (or her) flock mates are which by their scent.
That doesn’t mean that chickens don’t have a unique scent, we’re not able to ascertain that from the literature at the moment, it just means that even if they do have a unique scent, it’s not helpful to other chickens to tell them apart from their flock mates.
Touch and taste are not particularly useful senses to any bird or mammal when it comes to identifying other members of their own species. Plus, it gets a little awkward at social gatherings when you have to stop and lick everyone to work out who they are – so, chickens can’t taste test or squeeze each other to work out who’s who, either.
However, chickens do have rather remarkable vision. At least, when you compare it to our own. They have four sets of color cones (whereas humans have only three) which include not just red, yellow and blue but also a cone that is meant for picking things out on the ultra-violet spectrum.
That’s a very useful spectrum for chickens to be able to see in because it allows them to do two things. The first is to find food. Bugs, seeds, etc. all reflect UV in a different way to the grass around them and they stand out rather more to a chicken’s eyes than they would to our own.
Secondly, a chick’s feathers reflect UV based on how healthy they are. This allows a mother hen to prioritize the healthiest chicks when protecting her family – this makes sense (even if it sounds a little brutal) as healthier chicks are the ones most likely to live to maturity.
They also appear to be able to recognize up to 100 different chickens by sight alone. It seems that the chicken can relate to the way the head is shaped and the comb pattern of their fellows. They’re not prejudicial either, chickens will accept other chickens from other breeds, and they respond as well to them as they do to any other chicken in their flock.
On top of this, there is evidence that chickens can relate to each other by sound too. They tested this by taking the chicks away from a sitting mother. The mother was out of their sight, but she kept clucking and the babies homed in on this sound and were quickly able to discover her location.
It appears that chickens have a “vocabulary” of about 30 distinct sounds and can tell each other apart when they are speaking.
There is something unusual here though – while baby chickens are very much tied to their own mothers. The mothers are not tied in the same way in reverse and in fact, will happily shelter chicks of any litter and that brings us to the first way chickens show affection for each other.
6 Cute Ways Chickens Show Affection To Each Other
We’ve found 6 ways that chickens show affection to each other but there are probably many more, we can only go on our observation of our own chickens for this:
Nurturing Their Young
One of the clearest signs of affection in any species is the relationship between adults and children. As we’ve already seen, baby chickens prefer their own mothers, but any broody hen will be delighted to take care of any chick that comes its way.
This is really good news if you have a motherless chick as you can slip it into the nesting box and within a day or two, it will be part of the family. Adoption in this manner is a very unusual thing among different species of animals and shows a surprising level of care from birds that are often considered to be not too bright.
Chickens also share in each other’s distress and when one member of the flock is frightened, all members are often frightened. This can begin with simply all sharing the same vocal response to a threat but it can go much further.
We’ve written about chicken’s piling behavior here. It’s meant to protect the other members of the flock but sadly, it can also end up harming other chickens. It looks cute but it’s not the best thing to happen.
Protecting Each Other
This one is really good and for us, it’s the sign that most definitely means that chickens do care for each other. They are happy to stand in harm’s way when the occasion calls for it and while it’s most common for a hen to shield her chicks from an attacker using her wings. It’s not unknown for hens to shield each other like this too.
They will take on almost any predator as well in this state. There is a famous example of a chicken scaring off a cobra when her flock was in danger. You can see a great example of this behavior on this video below:
This behavior is rare and it’s not as common in chickens as it is in, say, primates but it’s one of those things that is undeniably a symbol of caring when it takes place too. Two chickens will sometimes form such a close bond that they will start to groom each other.
You can see this in the video below:
Happiness When Lost Members Return To the Flock
One thing that tells you chickens don’t forget each other is the reception that a chicken gets when it returns to the flock after being “lost”. If a chicken escapes your premises and then returns a day or so later, all the other chickens will immediately accept its presence and greet it as though greeting a long lost friend.
Chickens also demonstrate the ability to form friendships with each other. Every group of chickens will have a couple that are inseparable. They choose to spend time together, no matter how much space is open to them. They hang out and chat and enjoy the world. It’s a really heartening thing to witness and for us, it’s the absolute proof that chickens do like and care for each other.
Do Chickens Love Each Other?
This is a tricky question. Love is a human emotion. We don’t know if dogs love each other or cows do. We certainly don’t know for sure that chickens do. This is because we can’t ask animals how they feel and translating our own emotions on to them, a process called anthropomorphisation, is generally considered to be faulty logic.
It doesn’t really matter, though. Whether a chicken’s love is the same as a human’s love is one thing but there is no doubt in the examples above that chickens behave in a similar fashion as humans do for the ones that they love and we think that’s what matters most.
We hope that our guide to “6 cute ways that chickens show affection to each other” has shown you that chickens are complex pets that are fully capable of caring for each other and forming feelings that you might not have expected from birds.
However, what we can’t say for certain is whether chickens love each other. Love is a very human emotion and to decide that chickens feel love means bestowing a level of humanity on them that they might not have – this doesn’t matter. Chickens can care for each other and from an observer’s viewpoint, this feels like love to us.