Chickens Clever or is Just Us

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Jajika, Dec 30, 2010.

  1. Jajika

    Jajika Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I folks--

    I have a question for everyone:

    I'm as guilty as the next person of "Anthropomorphising" my chickens. By this I mean, of course, I
    imbue my chickens with all kinds of human personality traits.

    However, and I know this is not just my chickens, I swear that when I say one chicken's name, she shakes her head when she hears it. When I
    call a different chicken, she does nothing. Just the tone?

    The same with other things. I'll "talk" to a particular chicken and she responds with a little burble.

    I have also witnessed some very "purposeful" behaviors that appear individualized and less instinctual.

    What is your experience?
     
  2. jasonm11

    jasonm11 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    simply put they are all different and lots of fun to watch.
     
  3. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm not sure about understanding the concept of "name" as we do, but I think chickens are quite attuned to sound in general. This makes sense, since they communicate with each other by vocalizing: hen clucks to chicks, rooster beep beep beeps to the hens to point out a tasty morsel, they use specific alarm calls that alert the rest of the flock to which type of predator, etc.

    It's really easy to train them to recognize specific calls by rewarding them with food. This ability is hard wired into them: chicks need to be able to do this to respond to mom's calls to good food. Perhaps you have done that (reward reponse to your call with food), intentionally, or unintentionally, with the one who recognizes her "name". To her, it may be a call to something good, rather than a name.

    I am amazed at their ability to distinguish between different words. I have had more than one flock at a time, and have taught each flock to come to a different call to receive their daily treat of scratch/birdseed. Flock A will come to its call, and ignore my call to flock B, as long as flock A cannot see what I give flock B when I call them....And vice versa.

    I am convinced they learn to recognize they alarm calls of the various wild birds in the area, as well. We have blue jays that mimic red tailed hawk call. When chx hear this, they come to attention to see if it was really a hawk, but then relax as soon as they see that blue crested bird laughing at them in the apple tree.

    Chickens cannot do trigonometry, but I think their social interactions and ability to communicate are much more complex than people give them credit for.

    What sort of "purposeful behaviors" have you seen?
     
  4. Jajika

    Jajika Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hi Janinepeters:

    I really like your post. Thanks.

    In terms of purposeful behavior, one incident stands out.

    Many years ago I lost a chicken to extreme heat. This has never happened since as I have rigged up a misting system to remedy the problem.

    However, this hen was the top dudess.

    When she was gone for just a day, I watched an amazing ritual.

    The the hens were resting in one location under a tree in the shade. Jeannie walked over and walked be each hen sitting down and spread one of her wings over each hen, one after the other.

    She stopped by Hannah Banana and spread her wing over her. Then she walked over to Chole and did the same, until each chicken had been "covered."

    Of course, Jeannie became the new Top Chicken. It was truly amazing to watch.

    This is my example of purposeful behavior a bit beyond just instinct. I know one hen takes the top post, however to see this ritual took it beyond that for me.
     
  5. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jajika, you might like this book: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff.

    I wonder if the wing thing you saw was like a rooster's wing drop dance. Are you familiar with that? Some people say he does that to hens when he feels turned on by her, but I kind of think it's more of a dominance thing, because I've seen one roo give another roo the wing drop, a roo give it to a human, and the occasional hen do it to another hen. Only dominant hens do it, in my experience. So probably your hen was telling the other she's at the top, as you suggest.

    The wing drop might be more of a hard wired behavior that require no thought or intention. At least that is the way most animal behavior has been viewed by scientists. However, there have been a lot of studies over the past 10 years or so, that suggest that animals of many species, from dolphins to crows to ants, are more capable of planning for the future and acting with intent, than used to be thought. Some social species also appear capable of empathizing with their companions, and empathy is one of those emotional abilities that was previously thought to be uniquely human. The more we study animals, the more we see that what we like to consider uniquely human is not so unique after all. We ourselves are animals, on a continuum with other animals.

    If you are really interested in reading up on the subject, let me know, as I can point you to some scientific articles. But Bekoff's book is a good start, and fun to read.
     
  6. they'reHISchickens

    they'reHISchickens Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I think ours respond well to physical cues... like swishing hands similar to a wing drop.
    And we are convinced our late dog Cleo spoke "chicken". really.
     
  7. Jajika

    Jajika Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hi Everyone:

    Thank you for these great posts.

    No, I'm not familiar with the behavior you described so well, the "Wing drop." However, now that you give it a name, that is exactly what she did.

    As I don't have roosters, it has been explained to me that one hen will take on an even stronger dominante role, such as a rooster. I have seen this
    repeatedly over the years.

    I agree with you totally that we are more like our animal kin than some understand. As we learn we do find out more about ourselves as well as the creatures
    we live with.

    What is so joyous to me is to observe "empathetic" behavior in animals, but here again, how much am I imposing my own observations and
    how much is really there?

    I will look for the book. Thanks. I agree it will be something I should enjoy as I embark on this journey. Still would love to hear from others.
     
  8. magicpigeon

    magicpigeon Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 9, 2010
    I do believe chickens are smarter than most people think. My pigeon foster mother lets only one of her 2 chicks sleep under her. She's already 2 months old but can fit her head under her mother. They are very affectionate to each other, but watch out! They're also the Dynamic Bully Duo, and attack anything and everything that enter their territory. They sometimes both roost in the highest perch, one reserved for the "flying birds", or so I thought...[​IMG]
     
  9. Jajika

    Jajika Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Too funny. What an image.
     
  10. mgw

    mgw Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 29, 2010
    Eastern Wa.
    Sounds like they nearly have you trained. LOL
     

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