Chickens are seemingly simplistic domesticated birds. But the more you are around them the more you understand just how complex they can be!
Having such distinct personalities and behaviors, it’s no surprise that chickens are capable of experiencing a whole range of emotions, including fear. And, just like humans, chickens will make decisions based on their emotional state.
So, what are chickens afraid of?
Here we go through if chickens are afraid of certain colors, the dark, the shapes of certain predators, or if it’s all just based on a chicken’s past experiences.
Don’t be scared. If you notice your chickens are afraid we also go through what you can do to reassure them!
Why Do Chickens Get So Scared?
Fear has always been an emotion that’s necessary for evolution, not only for humans but also for animals and birds. After all, without fear, they wouldn’t have the instinct for self-preservation. As chickens are flightless birds with little to offer in terms of self-defense, their powerful fear instinct gives them a chance at escaping predators.
Chickens are sensitive to sight, and use it to their advantage to avoid potential threats. Chickens will look out for colors, shades, and shapes of what they have associated with danger in their past. They are then well equipped with over thirty vocalizations, many of them for alerting their flock and rooster to danger.
What Are Chickens Afraid Of?
The fear that chickens feel is based on past experience through single or repeated exposure to a certain stimulus they associated with danger. Whether it’s in response to a real threat like a fox or hawk, or if it’s all in their heads, like when you’re wearing a new pair of yellow boots!
Chickens may come to associate certain colors, shades, shapes, and even sounds with stress or fear if they’re linked in their minds to a scary, painful, or traumatic event in their lives. For the first 6-8 weeks in life, the baby chicks will learn by watching their mother hen’s response to colors, objects, and environments. This will help them shape a frame of reference.
If a brown weasel sneaks in but a chicken is lucky enough to escape to the rafters with just a bite wound, it’ll associate the color brown and the shape of a small slinky animal with fear and pain. If an orange fox does the same, the chicken will come to fear the color orange too. This is what leads to some seemingly irrational fears in chickens, like the sight of new bright yellow boots, a red hat, a hose, or a backyard barbecue grill. This often explains why some chickens are scared of you too, as they haven’t had time to learn to trust you yet.
The emotion of getting scared is simply to lower the risk of the chicken being hurt or dying. Over time, chickens will associate colors, shades, shapes, and sounds with various emotions, through what they learn from their mother hen, and through their own experiences.
In the same way, there are colors that chickens like, as they might associate it with food, safety, or sleep.
It’s also common for chickens to be afraid of sudden loud noises and bright lights, like chickens being scared of fireworks, a helicopter, or even the starting of a lawnmower!
Are Chickens Afraid Of The Dark?
It’s just an observation that most chickens are afraid of the dark. Well, it’s probably also the color black and the inability to see. Chickens have excellent color vision but poor night vision, while many of their predators have excellent night vision, so they’re at a huge disadvantage.
Both from their own experience and the chicken’s own survival instinct, their mind is telling them they will be in more danger in the dark, so they are naturally more afraid of it and the other experiences that come with it.
If your chicken is afraid of sleeping in the coop and you suspect it’s because it’s too dark in there, you can try to put a dull red light, or have a bit of indirect light shining near the coop to see if that helps!
Are Chickens Afraid Of The Color Red?
Instinctively, chickens naturally react to bright, distinct colors that differ highly from their normal environment. This includes the color red. If you think about it, if you have a lovely green backyard with a wooden house your chickens won’t very often see a bright red color.
But just because some chickens react in fear to the bright color of red, doesn’t mean all chickens will. It really comes down to previous experience with the color and shape of the object, which the chickens either associate with danger, safety, food, or pleasure.
If your chickens go berserk at the sight of the color red, you could try to introduce small amounts of red objects of various shapes and sizes into their daily rhythm. This may help them adjust to it. But remember, the chickens’ fear is there to protect them, so if there are red predators in the area like foxes then it might be a good thing.
Are Chickens Afraid Of The Color Yellow?
If your chickens have an irrational fear of anything and everything colored yellow then don’t worry, you’re not going mad. In fact, it’s common for backyard chickens to react dramatically to varying bright colors, especially if they’re also coming in new shapes and sizes.
Although chickens won’t naturally be born with a fear of the color yellow, they will learn by watching the reactions of their mother hen, and then later in life, their flock. If one chicken has had a bad experience with a yellow predator in the past, then its fear will also make an impact on the rest of the flock.
What Predators Are Chickens Afraid Of?
There is a lot of debate about whether animals have the innate, natural fear of dangerous animals or if it’s all learned from experience. Snakes are always at the lead of the discussion. Without picking a side in the argument, here are all the chicken predators chickens can be afraid of, whether it’s based on experience or instinct:
- Feral Cats
- Hawks Or Other Predatory Birds
How Can You Tell Your Chickens Are Scared?
Chickens hate the unusual; the combination of an unknown object or person, and triggering color approaching them is likely to cause a bit of angst. When they’re scared, they’ll try to hide or run away, show fight or flight behaviors, and spend much of their time standing alert, preening, and ground pecking.
If your chickens are afraid, their level of happiness will drop and so will the quality and quantity of their eggs; they may even stop laying eggs altogether. Chickens may react to fear and trauma by sinking into depression and showing signs of fear and distress for weeks, but eventually, they’ll bounce back.
What Can You Do When Your Chickens Feel Scared?
Depending on what your chickens are scared of there are a few things you can do. One of the most important things to do is to always keep your chickens safe from predators, and feeling safe.
The safest place for chickens to sleep at night is inside their coop with the door securely shut. Install a nightlight that provides just enough light to make them feel safe without disrupting their much-needed sleep. A small window in the coop through which a faint light from the yard could enter is another great option. Adding chicken wire for their run or chicken coop can be a great way to boost the security of their home too!
Reassure your chickens they’re safe. Walk up to them, spend time near their coop, and give them their favorite treats, especially after a scary experience. You could also add new roosts to the flock as a distraction.
Chickens will recover quicker from fear and traumatic experiences among their flock since they associate this with being safe. Among familiar companions, a chicken knows where it stands, while with unknown chickens, it’ll have to establish new rankings in the pecking order.
Lastly, always limit the number of times you transport the chickens from one environment to another. Chickens like to feel safe and a familiar environment can help them with their health and wellbeing. An unhappy or anxious chicken will likely have impacted egg production!
In A Nutshell
So what are chickens actually afraid of?
Well, the truth is there will be some fears that are common, and some that are completely different between flocks. Chickens are instinctively afraid of birds flying above, but not all chickens will be scared of the color red.
Over time, chickens will associate colors, shades, and shapes with different emotions, whether it’s the sight of its owner bringing treats, or a big scary lawnmower. Over time they build a frame of reference between all the different shapes, sizes, and colors of its known surroundings. This constant behavior shapes what the chicken is and isn’t afraid of.
But don’t worry, there’s a lot you can do to help your chickens feel safe, happy, and healthy.