5 strange but fascinating facts about your backyard chickens

We’ve been keeping chickens for just little over two years now, and during these past years, I’ve become a bit of a crazy chicken lady. I keep telling my husband he has no idea. I don’t know how in the world people sleep with chickens on their pillows.

I will point out scientists recently published a study about malaria pointing out that, in parts of the world where malaria is an issue, people who sleep with chickens in their rooms are less likely to get malaria from the mosquitos. So, there you go.

Still, my chickens flap around and peck at me for treats and poop way too much for me to bring them in the house to stay.

However, as far as my husband is concerned, I’m definitely the crazy chicken lady. Probably just because I know that little fact about the malaria would help support his case.

I do spend quite a bit of my time reading research about chickens and telling stories to anyone who will listen about chicken behaviors I observe. Maybe I’m a little bit obsessed with chickens, but they are fascinating.

image of chicken

Public domain photo from Pixabay

With this in mind, this week’s post is devoted to some strange but completely fascinating facts about chickens.

  1. Chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

That’s right! Thanks to the discovery of a 68-million-year-old fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that included some preserved soft tissues like collagen and blood vessels, scientists were able to confirm that the dinosaur was most similar to our modern-day birds, particularly ostriches and chickens.

  1. Chickens can change genders, sort of.

According to scientists, it depends on how you define gender, but this is fascinating information for sure. We have a hen who really, really seems to act a lot like a rooster; it could be that she’s just being dominant, as there is a specific social order for chickens.

Still, according to scientists, if you cool a fertilized egg for a few degrees for three days after laying, even eggs that are fertilized with male chromosomes will develop more female characteristics. According to this piece, this cooling technique produces a chicken with a fertile female reproductive body, even though that chicken is technically, genetically a male about 10% of the time!

  1. Chickens are highly social animals with amazingly complex social structures.

You just have to hang out with chickens for a little bit to see this in action. The pecking order is so important to chickens, and, sometimes, it can be tough to watch. The biggest and strongest really are in charge, and the others must go along to maintain social order, but maintain social order they do. It’s this social order that makes chickens so easy for humans to care for them and probably one of the biggest reasons humans started keeping chickens some 8000 years ago. We don’t have to worry too much about keeping a large number of chickens together because they handle themselves and maintain an order for us. Of course, some humans take too much advantage of this and put way too many chickens in a small space, but I’ll save that rant for another day.

  1. Chickens have amazingly awesome eyesight, and there’s a great story about how they develop the sight they have.

Chickens can see more colors and shades than humans because they can see ultra violet light. They are amazing at seeing bugs and catching movement, which makes them amazing pest control. But here’s my favorite story about chicken eyesight: Chickens can use each eye independently to see different kinds of things. When baby chicks are in the eggs, just before they hatch, they apparently always turn their little right eyes toward the shell, which lets light in. The left eye stays turned toward the body. The light impacts sight. So, in chickens, the right eye sees close up, and the left eye sees far away. The right eye sees food close up, and the left eye sees predators from far way.

Yes, chickens are awesome, and you can read more about chicken eyesight here in this piece from Fresh Eggs Daily.

  1. Chickens are highly communicative and have pretty complex “chicken language,” that you can learn—if you pay close attention.

Before we got our chickens, I had no idea just how vocal chickens are, even the females. I imagined loud roosters but quiet hens. Not even! Those girls are just as loud and sometimes louder than the rooster, and they are always talking. I’m highly familiar with the egg song, the beg, the argument, the complaint, and I’ve come to learn distress calls fairly well as well. One time, my husband and I were out in our woods building a fence when I heard a call from a chicken that just didn’t seem “normal.” I ran over to find that our chicken had somehow gotten herself stuck in some junk in the garage and couldn’t get back with her people. You just have to pay attention.

Our rooster is really fascinating to me though. He has a call for when things aren’t right, a call for when one of his girls is outside of the fenced area and he’s worried, and the cutest thing is a call for when he’s found food and wants the girls to know about it. This food behavior is called “tidbitting,” and it’s awesome. Here’s the funniest thing though. When we bring out snacks, he will run over to the snacks and make his tidbitting call, like he just found it. It’s like he’s a credit taker, and this makes me smile.

According to scientists, chickens have more than 30 calls that mean specific things, and it seems they are learning more all the time. You can read more about chicken language here. And, if you want to see just how loud those girls can be, check out my video of my girls arguing over a nest box. You will notice there are plenty of other nest boxes available. Sometimes, that just doesn’t matter.

Crystal Sands

About Crystal Sands

I am a former academic and award winning writing teacher turned hobby farmer/homeschooling mom/freelancer. In 2015, after too many years of working too many hours, I decided to change my life. This blog shares my stories related to making the change and simplifying my life–a process that began when we finally got our first chickens. In this blog, I will share my experiences learning how to hobby farm on a small place in Maine, become more self-sufficient, live frugally, live peacefully, and have more time for love. I hope you will join me on this journey by following my blog and following me on Twitter @CrystalDSands.