Do Chickens Count?

HenWithChicks140819A

Do chickens count? The mother hens seem to be able to count rather well. While they herd their flock of chicks around, they are keenly aware if all of the chicks are present. If a chick or two or three are missing, they will go looking for them. Or if they are leading their chicks on to a new place and there are stragglers, they will go back and fetch them.

So the mother hens have a concept of “all my chicks are here” or “some of my chicks are missing”. Whether they count or not, who knows. But they certainly know if all of their chicks are present or not.

In his New York Times article Are Chicks Brighter Than Babies? from 2013, Nicholas Kristof writes:

For starters, hens can count — at least to six. They can be taught that food is in the sixth hole from the left and they will go straight to it. Even chicks can do basic arithmetic, so that if you shuffle five items in a shell game, they mentally keep track of additions and subtractions and choose the area with the higher number of items. In a number of such tests, chicks do better than toddlers.

I’ve had hens raise as many as 12 chicks, and they keep track of every single one, so perhaps hens can count up to at least 12.

HenWithChicks140819B

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