An In-depth Analysis of a Chicken’s Brain: Busting the Myth of the “Birdbrain”

An In-depth Analysis of a Chicken's Brain Busting the Myth of the “Birdbrain”

Ever wondered about the size of a chicken’s brain? You wouldn’t be alone. This question has piqued the curiosity of many, leading to a multitude of research studies and debates.

The common notion of chickens as “birdbrains” suggests a lack of intelligence, largely due to their relatively small heads.

However, scientific research has begun to challenge this stereotype, painting a far more complex picture of our feathery friends. In this article, we will explore the intricate world of chicken cognition, unraveling the mystery behind their brain size, brain structure, and intelligence.

The Size of a Chicken’s Brain

A Matter of Perspective

Chickens are among the most populous domesticated animals, with a global population of approximately 20 billion. Given the size of their heads, one could easily conclude that their brains are small. Indeed, the size of a chicken’s brain is often compared to a marble or a peanut, just slightly larger than their eyeball. But does the size of their brain really define their cognitive abilities?

Interestingly, the size of a chicken’s brain has been shown to vary across different breeds and ages. For instance, laying hens have been found to have smaller brains than other breeds. However, the size of a chicken’s brain doesn’t necessarily correlate with its intelligence.

The Impact of Selective Breeding

Over the years, selective breeding has played a significant role in shaping the size and structure of a chicken’s brain. Research from Linkoping University has shown that the brains of today’s domesticated chickens have become relatively smaller due to selective breeding over ten generations. During this process, the offspring chickens may have developed smaller brains to adapt to the living conditions offered by humans.

Where is the Chicken Brain Located?

Where is the Chicken Brain Located

Contrary to humans, where the brain is situated at the top of the head, a chicken’s brain is located towards the back of their skull. This distinction allowed Miracle Mike, a famous headless chicken, to survive for an astonishing 18 months. His story demonstrates the resilience of chickens and the adaptability of their neural systems.

What Kind of Brain Do Chickens Have?

A Tale of Two Hemispheres

A chicken’s brain, much like a human’s, consists of two halves or hemispheres. These hemispheres process information differently and independently, a feature known as lateralization. This fascinating characteristic allows chickens to focus on two completely separate things simultaneously. For instance, one eye could be used to look for food while the other scans for predators. This means that a chicken’s brain can process two different sets of information at the same time.

Do Chickens Use Their Brains?

Emotional and Intelligent Beings

Chickens are far from being mindless animals. On the contrary, they are intelligent, emotional, and possess a surprising level of self-awareness. They can recognize faces of other chickens and humans, demonstrate problem-solving skills, and adapt to new environments based on past experiences.

Furthermore, chickens have been found to exhibit counterstrategies and manipulation tactics. For instance, males may make false food calls to attract females, while females sometimes ignore these false alerts.

The Edibility of Chicken Brain

Chicken brains are indeed edible and are considered a delicacy in various cuisines around the world. Many people who have tried them suggest that they have a buttery richness that adds a unique dimension to dishes. There are even claims of eating chicken brains contributing to longevity, although there isn’t scientific evidence to back this up.

The Complexity of Chicken Brains

The Complexity of Chicken Brains

Visual Abilities and Cognitive Skills

Chickens possess impressive visual abilities and cognitive skills. They can use each eye independently to focus on different things, a skill comparable to primates and mammals. This ability, coupled with their problem-solving skills, social reasoning, and adaptability based on past experiences, paints a picture of a creature with remarkable cognitive capabilities.

Emotional and Social Capacities

Chickens are not only intelligent but also emotional beings. They show awareness of their social position, demonstrate self-control, and can form social bonds with other chickens. They also exhibit empathy, a trait that further underscores their emotional depth.

Quirky Facts about Chicken Brains

A Delicacy in Some Cultures

In some cultures, chicken brains are considered a delicacy, prized for their tenderness and delicate flavor. These cultures often attribute longevity and well-being to the consumption of chicken brains.

The Fascinating Case of Miracle Mike

Perhaps one of the most astonishing tales about chicken brains is that of Miracle Mike, a chicken that lived for 18 months without a head. This extraordinary case demonstrates the resilience of chickens and provides a wealth of insights into the complexities of chicken brains.

A Call for Further Understanding

While current scientific research has provided fascinating insights into chicken cognition and behavior, there is a need for further understanding of chickens in more naturalistic settings. Such research could offer a deeper comprehension of their full capabilities and improve their welfare.


Despite their small brains, chickens are far from being “birdbrains”. They are intelligent, emotional, and capable of complex thinking. Their cognitive abilities are a testament to their resilience and adaptability. As we continue to explore the intricacies of their brains, we can only appreciate and marvel at the intelligence of these feathered creatures. So, the next time you encounter a chicken, remember, there’s more to them than meets the eye!

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