Can chickens adopt human behaviors?

ssferret

Chirping
Apr 13, 2020
63
104
96
Knoxville, MD
Maybe 4 or 5 months ago I thought I noticed a chicken behavior that I had not heard of before. My girls would use their beaks and open and close them repeatedly at one time very quickly. I knew they did this while eating but began noticing they did the same thing when submitting or greeting a dominant. They now routinely do it to me when sit down with them and they come over.

After mentioning it here and learning that even the experts had never noticed it before I began to do research online. I found no reference to that behavior. Knowing that chickens are much more intelligent than most people give them credit for, I began to theorize that they could have simply learned it from me.

When I was a behaviorist for non-human primates, I would use some of their own behaviors to show I was no threat. One was moving my lips up and down really fast called "lip smacking." It was used as a submissive behavior or a greeting to one another.

When we got the girls as newly hatched chicks I unthinkingly started using that same non-human primate behavior to show I was no threat them too. I would sit with them everyday continuing that same behavior over and over again. It became a habit. I even started using it to say hi or try to encourage them to come over to me.

So now I'm wondering if it's possible I did unknowingly teach them this behavior or am I making a fool of myself again? ☺

I'm sorry for the length of this post. I've either become too thorough or am just clueless between useful and useless information. 😁
 

ssferret

Chirping
Apr 13, 2020
63
104
96
Knoxville, MD
We got our cockerel, Caspian, at 5 months. (exact same age as girls) It took a couple of months after we got him but now he does the same behavior just not very often. I swear the girls had to have taught him.
 

Sablehaven

Chirping
May 22, 2020
134
250
93
It is the nature of most social animals to try and fit in and get along, my brother and I once taught a few chickens to make a purring noise to greet us.

I would say the chances are good you taught your chickens to submit like primates, and that is absolutely incredible :D
 

Allthefloofs

Songster
Sep 16, 2020
581
1,412
206
Scottsdale, AZ
I could see it I guess. I know that chickens can learn behaviors, both from each other (when she does this, that happens, I might try it) and from us (when the lady sits down I know I can jump on her lap). I supposed if they watched you do that all their lives they could pick that up. It doesn't seem any weirder than them getting used to being held or petted. I train as many of my chicks as I can to jump on my arm at a hand command or vocal command so I can easily give them health checks. Sometimes I teach them different arm/hand positions so I can select which chicken I want. Justin, my super blue only jumps up if I hold my flat hand out, Billie only jumps up when I offer my left arm. Spots knows if I kneel and pat my level thigh that I want her up. This seems more like a learned behavior than anthropomorphizing. I feel like if you were doing that it would be more a question like "Do they feel like us" or "Are they acting like us because they understand some deeper thing about us". This feels more like a question of "Are they learning a behavior from us", which they do all the time. They know what voice means treats, that is learned, so maybe? Do they do it back to you if you show them the behavior? I used to work in a behavioral sciences lab, so I tend to be tuned into behavior a lot too. I think your observation is really cool. None of our chickens do that, it is something I haven't observed here.
 

ssferret

Chirping
Apr 13, 2020
63
104
96
Knoxville, MD
I could see it I guess. I know that chickens can learn behaviors, both from each other (when she does this, that happens, I might try it) and from us (when the lady sits down I know I can jump on her lap). I supposed if they watched you do that all their lives they could pick that up. It doesn't seem any weirder than them getting used to being held or petted. I train as many of my chicks as I can to jump on my arm at a hand command or vocal command so I can easily give them health checks. Sometimes I teach them different arm/hand positions so I can select which chicken I want. Justin, my super blue only jumps up if I hold my flat hand out, Billie only jumps up when I offer my left arm. Spots knows if I kneel and pat my level thigh that I want her up. This seems more like a learned behavior than anthropomorphizing. I feel like if you were doing that it would be more a question like "Do they feel like us" or "Are they acting like us because they understand some deeper thing about us". This feels more like a question of "Are they learning a behavior from us", which they do all the time. They know what voice means treats, that is learned, so maybe? Do they do it back to you if you show them the behavior? I used to work in a behavioral sciences lab, so I tend to be tuned into behavior a lot too. I think your observation is really cool. None of our chickens do that, it is something I haven't observed here.

I agree with you about the anthropomorphism. It has more to do with feelings but I can understand why it might seem that's what's happening to some. It's a fine line at times. The funny thing is that I have more of a tendency to do the opposite like watching human behaviors and them comparing them with a monkey's. LOL

I started this thread after I searched everywhere that mentioned the same behavior my chickens were showing but found not a one. Also the reason I have for determining the meaning in the chickens view is due to months of observations but that doesn't mean it's right. Hence the thread.

I have only had my chickens since last March. I am definitely still a novice and have lots to learn and the only way to learn is by talking to those who are much more knowledgeable. That's why I love this group.

I do want to tell you how impressed I am with how your chickens have been trained. I was wondering how difficult that was. It's definitely harder then getting them to learn their names. LOL
 

Trisseh

Duck-duck-chicken!
Jun 21, 2019
1,346
4,099
316
NW Ontario, Canada
Animals of all kinds will continue to use a behaviour that awards them with a positive response. It’s been documented in street dog packs that the “cutest” members will approach passersby for handouts, and that the individuals that have more mobile/expressive brows tend to get better or more handouts. They learn what works to get the desired response. :)

Cats meow for the benefit of humans. They have a range of vocalizations for communication with other cats, but it appears that specific vocalizations are reserved for people - they generally don’t make the same sounds to each other as they do to us.

as for birds, my runner drake trained himself (or maybe trained me?) to spin circles while chattering loudly in front of me in exchange for mealworms. It’s a consistent behaviour he does whether or not I have any, but it’s clearly what he’s looking for when he does it and then inspects my hands. They learn what works and they use it. I never specifically fed him when he would do the spin, but he started doing it and hasn’t stopped. Lol.
 

Allthefloofs

Songster
Sep 16, 2020
581
1,412
206
Scottsdale, AZ
I agree with you about the anthropomorphism. It has more to do with feelings but I can understand why it might seem that's what's happening to some. It's a fine line at times. The funny thing is that I have more of a tendency to do the opposite like watching human behaviors and them comparing them with a monkey's. LOL

I started this thread after I searched everywhere that mentioned the same behavior my chickens were showing but found not a one. Also the reason I have for determining the meaning in the chickens view is due to months of observations but that doesn't mean it's right. Hence the thread.

I have only had my chickens since last March. I am definitely still a novice and have lots to learn and the only way to learn is by talking to those who are much more knowledgeable. That's why I love this group.

I do want to tell you how impressed I am with how your chickens have been trained. I was wondering how difficult that was. It's definitely harder then getting them to learn their names. LOL
I am somewhat guilty of anthropomorphic treatment of my girls, lol! I do like to say they love me, thought in truth they probably have a positive view of me because I am bringer of all things good, and only a few things bad (medicine! 🤣).

Training them was fairly easy. There is a time commitment, but once you find out their favorite treat it's more about rewarding when they do what you want in phases. When they were 4 week old chicks they each got their favorite treats when they would be sitting on my hand or arm, but not when they were on the ground. Soon my crested legbar, Billie would want to sit on my wrist almost all the time in hopes for a treat. As she got older I started expecting her to hop on my wrist first instead of me going to get her. The first few times I would put my arm forward she ran, but she missed the treat so much she started coming for me when I would show up at the brooder. The first time she hopped up I gave her mealworms right when she hit my arm. Justin knows her name. I would only let her jump on my hand if I called her name and she figured out in a few days that when I said her name I would probably want her to hop on and she would get a treat. Food is the most powerful motivator for most of them, but Billie likes to be carried to sleep, as does Justin and Spots, so there is what I think of as a protective motivator. They seem to know when they are in my arms they can relax and fully sleep without fear of predation and that seems to motivate them too. I have enjoyed their training and plan to do it with all the girls we raise, it just makes checking their health so much easier. I tend to train them all differently so I'm not mobbed by all the girls at once. Some are to jump on my lap when I sit in a high lawn chair, some for a low, though they occasionally all try to get on at once. Some are my thigh when I crouch down, some are my flat palm, some are one arm or the other. That way I can select who I want. I have had a couple that just refused training, and that's okay with me. It just means I am not chasing 10 chickens around for health checks every week, just two 😂.
 

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