Chicken owners swear that their chickens are like little people. They love their feathered friends and enjoy watching them play and run around each other, imagining them having conversations just like in Chicken Run. But that makes you wonder – do chickens miss each other? Or are we just pretending it?
Chickens display some emotions, such as empathy, although the evidence is unclear as to whether they miss each other or their caretakers. Whether or not chickens miss each other, people definitely project human emotions onto chickens, including the idea of missing each other.
Let’s take a look at some of the evidence on both sides that points to whether chickens can feel this particular emotion, or whether we are so convinced that they’re our little friends that we imagine things that aren’t there.
Do Chickens Miss Each Other?
Chickens probably don’t miss each other, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t emotional animals! While their feelings are unlikely to be as much like those of people as we imagine, there are a number of factors that complicate the issue.
Some owners are sure that their chickens develop attachments both to them and each other, as they can seem to be sad when separated.
Scientifically, some studies have had significant findings in this area, with the evidence seeming to suggest certain cognitive functions in chickens such as empathy, the ability to remember things that are outside the current frame of reference, and more complex emotions — but whether these extend to feelings in the same sense as with people is a pretty nuanced question.
However, getting down to business, do chickens actually develop emotions like humans, and feel things in the way we imagine them to? Can, and do, chickens actually miss each other?
In particular, chickens have a range of ways of recognizing the world around them that mirror human emotions, such as facial recognition and the concept of object permanence.
Chickens have great facial recognition and actually have the ability to learn to recognize up to 100 human faces. They certainly know who you are, and who the other chickens in the yard are too! Object permanence relates to a chicken’s recognition of objects existing while outside of the frame of vision, but more about this in a moment…
Do Chickens Remember Each Other?
Chickens do remember each other and display an understanding of object permanence, the ability to recognize that objects still exist when they’re not in view.
While human babies can take up to two years to get their heads around this, chickens seem to have mastered this within the first two days of hatching. This is hugely significant, as it opens a whole realm of psychological possibilities such as being aware of what’s missing in their life or extensions of long-term memory functions.
A significant inference of this is that when chickens are separated from other chickens, they certainly can still remember each other, but also know that the other isn’t there with them. They often call out to each other in a searching way, suggesting that they’re absolutely after finding their friends.
Weirdly, while this ability isn’t unique to chickens within the animal kingdom, it is something that’s generally associated with animals that are considered “more intelligent” than a bunch of bird brains (which is an unfair assessment of chickens, who are quite intelligent!).
And, while unlikely, it certainly opens the possibility that chickens would be able to not only remember but ‘miss’ things!
Do Chickens Miss Their Eggs?
It’s generally thought that chickens don’t miss their eggs, although broody chickens and chickens who have their eggs removed while sitting on them will react negatively to eggs being taken away.
It’s definitely been noticed that chickens will react to their eggs being taken, especially if they’re broody at the time. However, the fact that chickens generally don’t seem to react much when they’re not sitting on their eggs at the time, and will even eat these eggs if left with them for too long, means that their reactions to the eggs are fairly neutral and they don’t seem to miss eggs when taken.
A significant factor in this is the age of the eggs and whether or not they are fertilized. Mother hens actually begin to communicate with their eggs even before they hatch, with small cheeps being audible in the last couple of days before hatching.
Again, it’s difficult to know whether they’d miss the almost hatched chicks in the same way that people miss other people but, based on this communication, it certainly seems more likely than them missing the unfertilized eggs!
Do Chickens Miss their Owner?
Most chickens don’t seem to miss their owners. It’s thought that the attachments that chickens display towards people are based on the possibility of food rather than people themselves.
While chickens often follow their owner, and can even learn to come when called, it’s generally believed that this has less to do with emotional attachment and more to do with the fact that they associate their owner with feeding time.
Other animals such as dogs get clear attachments to their owners, and can even develop psychological issues such as separation anxiety from missing their owners. However, this kind of behavior is pretty undocumented in chickens. So it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – but it means we need to study chickens more.
Just because chickens don’t seem to miss their owners doesn’t mean that chickens don’t like their caretakers. We can’t really quantify ‘liking’ something, but many chickens seem to enjoy hanging around their owners or being handled and played with.
Like most animals, chickens can get bored without stimulation and enrichment, so when they have a good owner who provides them with interesting things to do? Chickens will certainly begin to pay those entertaining humans some attention!
Do Chickens Grieve when Another Chicken Dies?
Chickens are thought not to understand the permanence of death, and so not to be able to grieve. However, they do display some empathetic awareness of when another chicken is sick or dying.
Anecdotally, some chicken owners talk about their chickens behaving sympathetically by acting quiet and getting their heads down to the level of the dying chicken, which makes sense when you consider that chickens have been scientifically considered to display signs of empathy.
However, whether they grieve, or even recognize death as a concept, is another matter. Chickens will recognize that another chicken is missing, and possibly display signs of searching for that chicken, but the fact that they do this suggests they are unfamiliar with the concept of death in the same way as humans.
On the other hand, chickens are also known to peck a sick or injured flock mate to death. After all, a sick or injured chicken can attract predators. So chickens have evolved to take out weaker members. If there’s a general protein shortage, the chickens may even cannibalize the other chicken.
In those particular instances, it’s extremely hard to see chickens as the intelligent, empathetic creatures that they are. After all, they’re actively killing a member of the flock – even if it is to protect the rest of the flock.
Final Thoughts on Chickens Missing Each Other
Maybe it’s me projecting emotions onto our chickens, but they seem to enjoy spending time together. And they’ll even miss each other from time to time. But they also get sick of spending too much time together – and they’ll go flapping across the yard to get away from each other. Or maybe they’re just chasing some food.
No matter the case, the chickens are a hoot to watch. We love playing with the chickens, who come running to the fence when they spot us through our back glass door. They know people mean some combination of playtime, fun, and food.
Now, after spending all that time and fun with your chickens, make sure they’ve got enough clean water so that they stay properly hydrated.
- I’ve got a bunch of key tips and takeaways for you on keeping water clean for chickens.
- Or if you’re just joining in on the chicken fun with a set of chicks, here are my tips to keep the water clean for chicks.
Both of those are great reads, so make sure you check them out next.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Edgar, J. L., Lowe, J. C., Paul, E. S., & Nicol, C. J. (2011). Avian maternal response to chick distress. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1721), 3129-3134. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2701
- Garnham, L., & Lovlie, H. (2018). Sophisticated fowl: The complex behavior and cognitive skills of chickens and red junglefowl. Behavioral Sciences, 8(1), 13. doi:10.3390/bs8010013
- Lee, April. “Chicken Feelings – According to Science.” The Hip Chick, 17 May 2021, thehipchick.com/chicken-feelings-according-to-science/.
- Marino, L. (2017). Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken. Animal Cognition, 20(2), 127-147. doi:10.1007/s10071-016-1064-4