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Chickens' faces change color depending on their emotions

Did you know you can read a chicken’s emotions? It turns out our feathered friends have a surprising way of showing their feelings – their faces blush a deeper red when they’re distressed.

A revolutionary study has confirmed this, opening up new ways to understand how chickens feel and build better relationships with them.

How do chickens express their emotions?

Chickens, like many animals, experience a spectrum of emotions ranging from joy and excitement to frustration and fear. However, their ways of expressing these emotions differ from ours. They don’t rely on facial expressions like smiling or frowning to communicate how they feel.

Instead, changes in chickens’ facial coloration offer clues about their inner state. The skin around their faces, including the comb and wattle, is particularly sensitive. These areas maintain a lighter red hue when chickens are relaxed and content.

When chickens experience negative emotions, the blood flow to these areas increases significantly. This causes a visible change as their faces become flushed with a much brighter scarlet shade.

Why do chickens blush?

Researchers from INRAE (France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment) embarked on a detailed investigation to decipher how a chicken’s blush reveals its emotions. They focused on Sussex hens, a popular breed of laying chickens.

To ensure accuracy, the research team employed advanced camera technology and specialized software. This allowed them to precisely measure and analyze subtle changes in facial redness.

The researchers exposed hens to various stimuli and carefully documented the changes in coloration. When presented with appetizing feed such as mealworms, the hens did get a bit red but their entire face became scarlet red during negative experiences such as capture. This demonstrated a clear connection between the hens’ emotional state and the intensity of their flushing.

Intriguingly, the study also shed light on how chickens perceive humans. Hens who had been gradually accustomed to the presence of a friendly researcher over time showed a reduced stress response.

This was evident in their calmer demeanor and the less intense flushing of their faces in the researcher’s presence. In comparison, hens without this positive exposure exhibited a more pronounced stress response when near humans.

Emotions in chickens and humans

The ability to accurately interpret chicken emotions provides invaluable insights for farmers, animal scientists, and veterinarians. Using this knowledge, they can tailor environments and care practices to promote positive emotional states in chickens.

This includes minimizing stressful situations, providing opportunities for enrichment, and fostering a sense of security. Such changes in animal management can lead to improvements in overall chicken well-being and health.

While chickens and humans may seem worlds apart, this study highlights a shared emotional language. By learning to recognize the subtle cues chickens use to express their feelings, we can develop greater empathy and understanding towards them.

This awareness can promote more respectful and compassionate interactions, potentially transforming our relationship with these birds even in backyard settings or small-scale farming.

Future directions

The study serves as a springboard for numerous exciting avenues of future research. Scientists are keen to delve deeper into the diverse ways chickens might communicate their emotions.

Beyond facial flushing, changes in the position or movement of head feathers could hold clues to a chicken’s emotional state. For instance, during moments of excitement, a hen might rapidly raise and lower her head feathers.

Conversely, fear or stress might be signaled by flattened or ruffled feathers. Careful observation and analysis are needed to decode this potential new emotional language.

Chickens live within complex social structures, often with clear dominance relationships. Researchers want to understand how emotional signals play a role in these interactions.

For example, a dominant hen might display specific feather patterns or facial coloration changes to assert her position, while a subordinate hen might exhibit different signals to indicate submission. Understanding these nuances could unlock secrets about chicken communication and social dynamics.

The next time you see a chicken, take a good look at its face. Is it pale, relaxed, and content? Or is it flushed, indicating the chicken might be feeling stressed or worried?

Remember, our awareness and empathy can make all the difference in the lives of animals around us, even backyard chickens.

The study is published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.


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