Chicken Behaviors and Senses
Jonathan Balcombe (text) and L.A. Watson (illustrations)
Sensory nerves are located throughout the beak and help chickens negotiate fine movements when feeding, preening, building nests and in social interaction. Because the beak is so important for functions of touch and contain sensory nerves, birds subjected to the painful ordeal of de-beaking lose a significant part of their sensory system. It has been compared to losing one’s fingertips.
Chickens have olfactory receptors in their upper jaw and can respond to particular scents. This is helpful when making food choices. They can even react to odors that they were exposed to before hatching. Recent genetic analyses found that chickens have a similar number of olfactory receptors as humans, suggesting a comparable sense of smell to ours. A study conducted in Sweden and published in 2012 found that domestic chickens can detect predators using solely their sense of smell. The chickens reacted to predator scents (tiger and hunting dog droppings), with more watchful behavior, but they were unfazed by elephant and antelope dung. That chickens will not mate with close relatives, even those they didn’t grow up with, suggests that they are able to sniff out hens that are their siblings.
Chicken Behaviors and Senses, below, enjoying the sun. I have noticed with my hens is their acute memory………..if there is an opening in the garden fence and one discovers it, the others will follow and enter the garden after the finder shows them. From then on that breach in the fence will be the first discovery the next day.