When people find out I've written "The Valley of Howling Wind," a novel about CHICKENS, the responses vary from intrigue to scorn. After all, what's so interesting about a flock of bird brains? Turns out, "bird brain" might be quite a compliment!
As science reveals more about our common backyard birds, we have come to discover our feathered friends possess the equivalent intelligence of some three-year-old children. An article published in "Scientific American" by Carolynn L. Smith, Sarah L. Zielinski on February 1, 2014, explores startling research about the social makeup of chickens as well as the psychological prowess of these complex birds.
Many of us are familiar with the "pecking order" referred to time and again but social hierarchy in chicken flocks is more complex than who is the top bird. To maintain and forge this kind of complex social order, chickens demonstrate problem solving skills, long-term memory in building relationships, as well as cooperative efforts with flockmates when under attack or during mating evaluations.
Keeping Chickens UK describes a study demonstrating startling reasoning skills that might be seen in four-year-old children, but which is demonstrated in a chicken flock!:
"Studies have also shown that hens have the capacity for self-control in situations which are of benefit to them. In one experiment, scientists devised a situation where, when they fed a group of chickens; those that were first to the food got much less time to eat it then those who waited. After a while over 90% of the chickens learned that, if they waited longer, they could eat for longer, totally reversing the pecking order. A case of, “You first, dear, I insist!” This puts chicken intelligence on a par with a four year old child. Quite a feat."
Until you've owned a flock of birds, it can be difficult to lay the societal cliches to rest, but upon personal observation and interaction I can verify many of these qualities to not only be true, but greatly inspirational novel fodder!
Stay tuned for "The Valley of Howling Wind," release to be announced soon!
Want more information on these fascinating birds? Check out these great resources: