There are a lot of people out there who think chickens are dumb. It probably has something to do with the term “bird-brain,” which is generally not a compliment. I’m not going to argue that chickens are Einsteins, but they’re smarter than people give them credit for. I once read an article that talked about how they can recognize human faces, and can even communicate as well as some primates. I’ve seen that in action. If there’s a hawk nearby, whichever of my chickens that sees it will sound a certain call, and they all scatter into the underbrush for safety. This is usually followed by me running across the yard at top speed to see what the problem is, and then wrangle them all back to safety. It’s not like inventing computers or anything, but it’s pretty sharp of them if you ask me.
Chickens are also surprisingly easy to train, especially if there’s food involved. When it’s time for them to go back into the coop, all I have to do is shake a big bag of sunflower seeds, and they’ll run across the yard to greet me. If I shake the smaller bag of mealworms, they will run at twice the speed, and be 100% easier to get into the coop. They know the difference between the two bags, and they know which one has the really good stuff in it.
Of course, the fact that they just walk around crapping anywhere they please isn’t really helping their public image at all, but they just have different mores than the rest of us. We shouldn’t judge.
What made me think of this is Boss Chicken. She doesn’t have a nesting bucket in her hutch, partly because there’s no room, and partly because she couldn’t get into it anyway on account of her leg issues. She just lays her eggs in the “indoor” part of the hutch, and I look in there and find them. It’s a workable system, if not ideal. Sometimes the eggs get buried in the chips and I don’t find them right away, and that makes it difficult to judge just how long they’ve been down there. They’re probably still fine, since fresh eggs can keep for at least a month on the counter, but usually if I dig up a secret one, that’ll get fed back to the flock. They don’t have hangups about sell-by dates like humans do. Chickens are much more freewheeling than humans regarding many things.
Anyway, what I tend to do is to open the door to Boss Chicken’s bedroom and lift her up to see if an egg is under there. She usually makes a noise of some sort, and I pretend it’s a happy one, even though I’d be annoyed too if someone lifted me up while I was sleeping and looked for eggs. 9 times out of 10 there isn’t one under there, as she usually leaves them in a different spot from where she sleeps, but I check anyway. Apparently I have now checked enough that last Sunday night when I opened the door, I didn’t even have to lift her up. She saw me there and lifted one leg to reveal the egg she was sitting on. I assume the noise she made that time was more of a “fine, yes, here’s the egg, now let me get back to sleep, I have work tomorrow” sort of thing. But I was pretty amazed that she had learned that this was why I lifting her up all the time. Or maybe I’m the dumb one, thinking a chicken was trying to communicate with me. Either way, I say watch out. Get enough chickens together, and who knows what they may try to pull off?