“Chicken talk, chicken talk a lot…” (Playschool)

Do you understand chicken talk? From a welfare perspective it would be wonderful if we could! And so the idea for my PhD was borne out of the desire to see whether we could relate chicken calls to their feelings. This idea evolved from research I did during my Masters in Animal Behaviour, which focussed on animal emotions. From there, I decided to narrow my field of research and to try to understand what chickens find rewarding, and whether they perform certain behaviours or give specific calls which tell us they are in a rewarding environment. I tested hens in an experimental setting to see how they reacted when anticipating rewards.  Twelve hens were trained to expect one of three rewards when they heard a specific sound, and the 15 second period after the sound was played was considered an “anticipatory period”. It was during this period that I recorded the hens’ behaviour and vocalisations. Other animals show increased activity when anticipating rewards, and this activity has been linked to an activation of the reward centres in animals’ brains.

Chickens have an elaborate vocal repertoire, with around 25 distinct calls. Finding meaning in those calls helps us to understand chickens better! It follows that if chickens do give “reward-related” vocalisations, then as long as humans are able to correctly identify them, they could be a useful tool in learning about what they need. In my first experiment, I found that hens gave a particular call when anticipating rewards. In this survey I am investigating whether humans can identify this call, and relate it to “reward”.  If we can, then this may open a path to humans being able to determine what chickens really need.

Please take ten minutes to do the following chicken call survey.


Please note that it can only be done on a computer, not a smart device. Respondents can go into a draw for a fascinating book on the welfare of farmed flightless birds, published by Springer, edited by Phil Glatz, and valued at 187 Euros!







Nicky McGrath

PhD student, University of Queensland