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Can Chickens Recognize Each Other?

Have you ever wondered if your chickens recognize you? Or can recognize other flocks members? It turns out that they can.

chickens in pen

Have you ever wondered whether or not your chickens recognize each other? Or recognize you? 

Could a chicken, say, pick you out of a lineup? Or do you ever wonder if - treats notwithstanding - they are actually happy to see you when you come home from work?

chickens in pen

Well it turns out that not only do your chickens recognize YOU, they can also recognize other flock members, chicken or human - as well as the family dog or other pets! 

And they can remember faces they've seen for up to 30 days (personally, I think their memories last even longer than that, but that's just me!).

chickens in pen

Can Chickens Recognize Each Other?

Interestingly, chickens have similar eyesight to humans (actually theirs is even a little bit better!) and can recognize up to 100 different flock members by sight. 

It's believed that chickens recognize the shape of the head and comb of their flock mates - and will obviously accept them even if they are different breeds. 

close up of chicken

Each chicken has their own distinctive silhouette that other flock members use to identify each other and can actually differentiate between 100 different flock members. (after that, I'm not too sure what happens!)

woman holding chicken

Chickens Can Recognize Their Humans

Although I'm not sure what parameters they use to pick out their humans, since my hairstyle changes pretty often from hanging down straight to  curled to in a pony tail or up in a messy bun and I'm often even wearing a hat or ball cap! But somehow they do recognize their human "flock members" too!

And studies have shown that chickens prefer looking at attractive people....hmmm. Which is to say that in studies they are more drawn to people with symmetrical faces. So I guess it's true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It's also thought that chickens can remember both positive and negative experiences with various humans and will even share that information with other flock members! So just one more reason to always treat animals with respect and empathy. They will tell on you if you're not nice to them! 

corgi looking at chickens through fence

Chickens Can Recognize Other Animals

I know from personal experience that chickens can also recognize other types of animals as being friend or foe - and even a specific, individual animal as a friend or foe. For example, if our dog comes bounding around the corner past the run, our chickens don't even react. 

However, on the few occasions that a neighbor or friend's dog has been visiting, the chickens immediately freeze and sound an alarm call or scurry to the coop for safety. So they understand that certain dogs are part of the family and not a threat, while other dogs could be.

And speaking of which, chickens are capable of making at least 30 different sounds, each of which has a specific meaning which they all recognize. Which is how they communicate with each other.

hen with baby chick

Chicks Can Recognize their Mother

It's interesting to note that newly hatched chicks can recognize their own mother by sight and sound. 

Studies have shown that "when a sitting hen was removed in the dark from her chicks and another broody hen put in her place, the chicks still found their mother hen without being able to see her. When the hen was disguised by various means, her chicks came to her anyway." 

What's fascinating though, is that it doesn't seem to work the other way. A broody hen will generally accept any chicks and seems to respond to the sounds they make (i.e, a distress call if they're cold or lost) instead of their appearance. 

hen with baby chick

Apparently her maternal instinct kicks in and she feels responsible for ALL the baby chicks! This trait makes it very easy to slip day-old chicks under a brood hen that you have hatched in an incubator or even bought at the feed store. 

She will most likely take to them as if they were her own. And the baby chicks will respond to her warmth, since their primal instinct drives them to a heat source, and they don't have a mother hen that they hatched under or identify with.

two baby chicks

Chickens Don't Recognize Each Other by Smell

One thing that's for sure is that chickens don't recognize each other by any sense of smell. Chickens actually don't have a very developed sense of smell at all since it would have very little utility for them in the wild. 

So if you are adding new flock members to your flock and trying to trick your chickens into not being able to identify them, rubbing everyone with dryer sheets (don't ask..that's actually advice I've read online!) or spraying them with white vinegar to 'mask' their scent isn't going to work. 

chickens in pen

And don't put the new members on the roost after dark when you lock up the coop...when the sun comes up, your chickens WILL able to pick out the newcomers out of the lineup! 

And having a bunch of chickens who haven't been properly introduced, all "cooped up" in a small space, is just asking for trouble. 

Now that we know that chickens do recognize each other by sight, and we know that they can differentiate between different flock members, it's interesting to watch them interact. 

chickens in yard

My chickens, interestingly enough, don't necessarily seem to prefer hanging around with those who look the same as they do, i.e. are the same color or breed. 

Despite having a mirror in their run and having the ability to see in color, I'm not sure it actually registers with them what color they are.

chickens looking in mirror

They do tend to stick with their brooder or hatch-mates at first, but as they get fully integrated into the flock, they tend to pair off or form small groups of three or four.

For the life of me I can't figure out their criteria for choosing a buddy, but once they've chosen a partner for free ranging, that pairing up will generally stay consistent.  Who says BFF stands for "best friends forever"? I say it stands for "best feathered friends".

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can chickens recognize each other

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