Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yet Another Sign of Animal Intelligence: Chickens can count

This just in: In a three-way study between two Italian universities, the University of Padua and the University of Trento, and a Canadian university, the University of Saskatchewan, scientists have discovered that chickens have the ability to count. Study leader Lucia Regolin elaborated on the significance of the study:

We were able to train chicks to peck at either the forth or sixth hole in a series of 16. Our results indicate for the first time that a disposition to count from left to right exists in non-human, non-linguistic species. The fact that they were chicks supports the theory that such a disposition is apparent very early in development. (Source)

This is the kind of animal testing I like, because it shows what animal rights activists have been arguing for a long time: animals are intelligent, and chickens are no exception. If anything, we humans have been underestimating the intelligence and abilities of chickens for years. Now there is compelling evidence to show that chickens, from a very young age, learn to count exactly the same way human beings do.

In fact, the scientific community has added weight and legitimacy to these claims. As the website/Blog for Scienceray (dubbed, "All that is Science, Astronomy, Biology, Mathematics, Physics") pointed out last April:

Chickens are highly intelligent birds that have been traditionally underestimated, especially for their mental abilities. But now, it has now been confirmed by doctors and professors alike that their brilliant cognitive capacities match even those of mammals and primates. Research has indeed proved that they lead very complex lives which is now very clear.

These graceful birds exist in stable social groups and can recognize one other from their facial features. Apparently they have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other. These include, separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is travelling by land or sea. They are also brilliant at solving problems, just like monkeys.

Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist which is beyond the capacity of young children. They display sophisticated social behaviour which is what the act of pecking is all about. Chickens can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them too. They also have more than thirty types of vocalizations.

The term “bird brains” can really be regarded as a compliment because chickens have proven that they can do things that people thought they just couldn’t! And terms like being “scared like a chicken” is also falsely depicted as this is in fact just a very natural motherly instinct for them to flap their wings to protect their hatching chicks! There are in fact a lot of hidden depths in chickens which we all need to make an effort to understand. They are very expressive and emotional as well. (Read the full post here.)

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