How Smart are Chickens?

Despite the fact that chicken is a major dietary ingredient for most Americans, few have had time interacting with them. In fact, there is a general society driven mentality that chickens are dumb. That probably makes things easier for us when they’re on our dinner menu. But, it doesn’t take long to realize that chickens are actually quite intelligent. I found that out myself while raising a set of chicks from newborns to full grown adults.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that put them on par with some mammalian species:

  1. Delayed Gratification: Chickens actually have the ability to have some degree of self control. In studies where they tested delayed gratification, chickens could learn to refuse food if they knew they’d get more later if they did.
  2. Memory: Humans can recognize thousands of different people. Studies have shown that chickens can recognize different individual chickens (studies say more than 100). They can also recognize different humans.
  3. Object Permanence: This is an interesting concept. If you show someone an object, then take it away, we know that the object still exists, somewhere. We may look for it so as to find out where it is hidden. Chickens are able to do this. Baby humans aren’t able to do this until they’re a bit older.
  4. Counting: It has been shown that chickens can do basic math as objects infront of them are moved to and fro.
  5. Personality: If you’ve spent time with dogs, you know they all have strong personalities. They can form friendships and have a range of interests. Chickens are no different. They’ll change behavior depending on who is around them.
  6. Empathetic: Some chickens have shown the ability to be protective of not only their own chicks, but those of others.
  7. Manipulative: Chickens can be cunning and show some sort of machiavellian manipulation so as to get them what they want.

delware chicks and rhode island red chickens

The simple answer is that yes, chickens are smart. They’re intelligent in ways that most people would never know. Here is a good example of chickens learning with operant conditioning (feeding them when they choose a particular colored dot).


Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

You can follow Rob Nelson