Watch as Lucy the hen chooses the Queen of Hearts card from an ever-growing choice of playing cards. She is even able to distinguish face cards of the queen of hearts from the king of spades!
Although humanity has lived with chickens for hundreds of years we, the so-called “smart ones”, know little of their intelligence. In watching the video one must keep in mind how different a chicken’s eyesight is from humans. Chickens can see by using either both eyes together (like binoculars) or by using each eye to view separate images with no visual information overlap (monocular vision). Their natural world is three-dimensional one, yet notice how quickly Lucy is able to distinguish subtle differences between the many two-dimensional objects even though they have visually flat graphic images. Human beings are also motivated by food (that’s why we trudge off to work at our jobs every day, right?) but I wonder if a two-year old human child could match Lucy’s ability even if multiple lollipops were given as a reward!
Consider these other chicken intelligence facts*:
- Chickens can recognize up to 96 other individual chickens.
- Chicks show an ability to add and subtract and can distinguish between large and small groups of objects.
- Chickens have around 24 unique and complex vocalizations to communicate with others of their kind.
- It takes eight months for a human baby to understand that objects moved behind a visual barrier are still there, chicks are able to do this at one week old.
- Hens have shown an ability to sense time by being taught to peck a computer screen after a fixed time period.
Historically humans have degraded other humans and animals as a means of disconnecting from acts of cruelty and justifying oppression. We call chickens “dumb, bird-brained, stupid, feather-brained” and degrade them in images, popular culture and the media. In many cultures throughout history chickens have been honored in art and literature as positive symbols of courage, fertility, new beginnings, good fortune, beauty, and self-confidence. Today they deserve our respect for the complex and interesting beings that they are!
*Fact source and for more in-depth information: “The Chicken, A Natural History” general editor Dr. Joseph Barber
Video source and credit from Addison Geary’s YouTube channel: Conditioning a chicken to distinguish the Queen of Hearts from other playing cards by employing both classical and operant conditioning. Thanks to Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS for “The Art & Science of Animal Behavior” & “Chicken Tricks: Chicken Pecks Queen of Hearts.” video.
Chick Training YouTube video by Lotti
This little chick can differentiate between three same size red and green and orange color chips even when the placements are changed:
Seed for Thought: Does our own motivation to see chickens only as food keep us ignorant of knowing their true potential?