It’s now widely accepted that chickens feel pain and suffering, and recent studies have shed light on the complex social, intellectual, and emotional lives of these amazing birds. Scientists have discovered that chickens are bright animals, capable of understanding cause-and-effect relationships and anticipating the future. Adding to this body of research is a new study from the U.K. suggesting that chickens not only suffer on factory farms – but also empathize with other distressed birds.
Researchers at the University of Bristol released a puff of air every thirty seconds to create a mildly stressful situation for chicks. As mother hens watched, they preened less, experienced an increased heart rate, and made maternal vocalizations directed at their chicks. Such physiological and behavioral changes led researcher Jo Edgar to conclude that adult female chickens have “the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another.”
Chickens make ideal subjects for the study of avian empathy because of the suffering they commonly endure on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. Bred for unnaturally rapid and large growth, modern broiler chickens often experience crippling leg disorders. Meanwhile, most egg-laying hens are crammed into battery cages so small that they can barely move. It’s little wonder these birds would empathize with one another in these cruel conditions.