Are Chickens Bird-Brained?

We don’t think so! The term “bird brain” is often used as a derogatory term referring to someone who is not very bright. Yet chickens actually have very complex brains and use the information they process in a very particular way.

A hen’s brain

The chicken brain consists of two halves (known as hemispheres). Each half helps it to process information in a different way. This is known as lateralization and it is more pronounced than that of the human brain. It is fascinating to realise that not only can a hen see the world using both eyes (binocular vision) they can also use each eye to look at a completely separate image at the same time with no overlap of visual information between the eyes (monocular vision).

Being a prey animal in nature the chicken relies on the location of its eyes to give a panoramic view of the environment and to warn of potential danger from predators, for this, it uses its monocular vision. Its binocular vision is used when foraging for food and to identify other members of the flock.

Here is the really clever part, chickens can process two sets of information at the same time! While using one eye to look for food, the other eye is scanning for predators. If you have ever tried sneaking up behind a hen you will know how well this system works!

Are they ambidextrous?

Ever wondered why your hens perform the same scratching routine in a set pattern using a series of alternative scratches? Chickens usually start with their right foot which is controlled by the left side of the brain. If the chicken finds food with its right foot, the right eye will see it first. The left side of the brain linked to the right eye is responsible for the chicken deciding if an object is food or not. A quick decision can then be made and the food is quickly eaten.

Finally, when your chicken is still in the egg waiting to hatch, the left side of the head is usually tucked under the wing. More light, therefore, passes through the shell and reaches the right eye at the important time when the nerves associated with vision are developing. The young chick, therefore, has a natural preference to use the right eye to peck at feed and the left eye tends to be used more for identifying predators. Rather like a human child being right or left-handed.

So not such bird brains after all! Want to learn more amazing things about your hens? Check out our health and welfare blog.

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