How sensitive are chickens to human stress?

AriadneCastro

Songster
5 Years
Jun 23, 2016
120
31
123
Sintra, Portugal
Greetings everyone,

Yesterday I spent the whole day with my birds, all normal and well... Then, a problem came up (nothing related with the chickens) and I got somewhat upset. I mean, I became nervous but I didn't yell or do anything strange. I was just talking about it with a friend who was with me when, suddenly, one bird became very depressed, went into the coop and sat there, looking ill. After I noticed that, I became even more nervous and, in a couple of minutes, another chicken started walking around like drunk, tumbling over her own feet... After another few minutes, a third chicken was crawling around, like her legs were numb (?!). Finally, I became so scared of it, I ran to call for help and left my friend tending the birds. When I came back with my boyfriend and with a box to carry them to the vet, all was normal again.

Now, the thing is: my friend and I had been watching the chickens all the time and there were no accidents, no fights, well-behaved cockerels, everyone eating & playing normally, no rats in sight... What the hell happened?! We were so startled, eventually, we thought the chickens could somehow be affected by my state of mind, is this even possible? I know they are empathic but this much!?
 

Birdydeb

Songster
Apr 6, 2016
454
71
116
In a valley between the mountains
That does seem to be an extreme reaction. Hmmm.....I have parrots too and they can get very depressed from my moods. Usually that means they get really quiet and go sit up high in their cage. I have witnessed my chickens get nervous and start "fussing" and acting upset because of things going on. I have never witnessed a chicken or parrot stumble around though. But I suppose if your bond is strong enough that could be possible. If it were me I would keep a close watch and if nothing else happens I guess I would assume they picked up on your emotions. Birds are indeed very sentient creatures. It is part of their protection because they know they are prey.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Nov 27, 2012
99,094
138,339
1,807
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
I think many animals sense and react to our emotions and it can change their behavior/demeanor...
if a human is anxious, angry, or afraid, it can make an animal nervous and a fight or flight can occur
....but the correlation described does seem a bit extreme.
 

AriadneCastro

Songster
5 Years
Jun 23, 2016
120
31
123
Sintra, Portugal
Thank you all for the replies. Meanwhile, I've come to the conclusion that it couldn't have been anything else... Actually, it happened again, even though the situation was different: I had another stressful moment and went to sit in the chicken pen for a while - that always calms me down - but I was really sad and weeping a bit, so my pets had their first encounter with human tears, and their reaction was priceless! Every single one stopped whatever they were doing, raised their heads, then surrounded me and stared at the phenomenon for a moment. Then, two sat down at my feet, as if they knew I was needing the company. The sweetest of the bunch, Michelle, jumped on my lap to have a taste - one single and tender peck to my face - then sat on my knees very quietly. Not a single one moved away for at least 5 minutes, which is quite a lot in a chicken's life... And, finally, when they did, my number two cockerel tumbled over, like drunk, as before.

This time, instead of running for the carrier box, I picked him up and sat with him until both of us were feeling better. That, apparently, sufficed.

For the record: My birds are young, all between 5 and 8 months of age, and we have a close relationship. I'm with them every day, hand-feed them, pet them, teach them tricks and we have a lot of fun together. I enjoy their company and can clearly see that they also enjoy mine, even when I'm not bearing treats. They always get impatient if I don't show up for a while, inventing all sort of nonsense out of boredom. They have also experienced quite an array of stimuli in their short lives, ranging from my continuous construction work in their enclosure to live concerts (my partner and his fellow musicians rehearsing in the garden) and they cope pretty well with it. I'm still amazed how they reacted in such an extreme way to a few tears, whilst almost ignoring bagpipes and remakes of dionysian theatre!
 

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