Do You See What I See? 12 Fascinating Facts about Chicken Eyesight


Have you ever wondered just how well your chickens can see?  Or if they see in color or black & white? Or have you marveled at how they can spy a tiny bug or seed in the grass? Well wonder no more! I've assembled some fascinating facts about chicken eyesight for your reading enjoyment.


Chickens see basically the same way humans do - in color. They have a cornea and iris in each eye through which light enters before reaching the cones in the retina that sense the different colors. But that's about where the similarities end. Did you know:


  • Chickens possess not only the three basic color cones that humans do (red, yellow and blue) but also an ultra-violet light (UV) cone. This allows them to differentiate between and see far more colors and shades than humans can.
  • The UV cones help them to find shiny bugs, seeds, berries and fruits easily among non-UV reflecting grass and dirt.
  • A mother hen also uses her UV cones to sense which chicks are healthiest, since growing feathers reflect UV light. She can therefore determine which chicks are growing fastest and strongest, and devote more of her energy to them to ensure they survive, since they have a better chance over weaker chicks.
  • Chickens also have a motion-detecting cone in their eyes. This enables them to sense slight movements more easily such as bugs creeping through the grass or a predator lurking.
  • Because chickens' eyes are more sensitive to light than humans and can detect far more subtle motion, the use of artificial light can lead to pecking within a flock because the flicking of a light bulb that is invisible to us humans appears to them like a rotating disco ball (trust me, being under a disco ball would make me grouchy too!)

  • Because chickens evolved after the dinosaur age and didn't spend millions of years as nocturnal animals like many other species, their night vision is poor due to their low light sensitivity never having developed in the retina.
  • In addition to the upper and lower eyelids similar to that which humans have, chickens have a third eye lid called a nictating eyelid that slides horizontally across their eye instead of moving up or down. This membrane is transparent, so often while dust bathing or foraging in dirt, chickens will close the nictating eyelid to keep debris out of their eyes.
  • A chicken can use each eye independently on different tasks simultaneously.
  • Just before hatching, a chick turns in the shell so its right eye is next to the shell (and absorbs light through the shell) and its left eye is covered by its body. As a result the right eye develops near-sightedness to allow a chicken to search for food, while the left eye develops far-sightedness, to allow a chicken to search for predators from afar. That is why when a hawk flies overhead, you will notice your chickens tilt their heads with their left eye to the sky.
  • A chicken's eyes are about 10% of the entire mass of its head (conversely a human's eyes are only 1%) to allow them to see larger and more clear images.
  • Because their eyes are on the sides of their head instead of the front, chickens have a 300 degree field of vision without turning their head, compared to the 180 degree field of vision a human has.
  • Chickens can sense the presence or absence of light through the pineal gland in their brains, so even a totally blind chicken can still sense daylight as well as the changing seasons using the pineal gland.

So, now you know.  Chickens see and sense far more than we as humans do.  Fascinating animals, chickens.



Source:
The Eyes Have It by Julie Moore, Your Chickens Magazine, November 2013

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26 comments:

  1. miss nessa, the source is at the bottom of the Article :)

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    1. Thanks, I didn't notice the small print.

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  2. Got a grouchy reader today have we? Perhaps you should check your sources Nessa before questioning Lisa's!

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  3. Thanks for the info!! There is so much to learn about chickens.. I never knew how interesting they were.

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  4. Thank you Nessa but the source IS very clearly noted at the bottom of the article. Since Your Chickens is a UK magazine and not widely distributed here in the US I thought it would be a nice idea to share some of the highlights with my readers. Don't even go there re: plagarism. I've been on the other end of it way too many times and its not something I EVER do. I also note sources. Also, the information in the article wasn't discovered by the magazine anyway, its all things I've read elsewhere over the years for the most part.

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    1. My apologies, I did not notice the small print.

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  5. I loved reading this. I've raised chickens my entire life and yet I still learn new things :). Thank so much for sharing this information with us! :)

    Erin
    http://yellowbirchhobbyfarm.blogspot.com

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  6. I definitely don't want to make my chickens grouchy. I know you feel it's best not to provide artificial light in the winter, but I work away from home and it's dark when I need to do coop chores, so I choose to light the coop. Is there a light bulb that won't be as harsh as a disco ball?

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    1. Oh turning on a light to do chores is fine! I just don't agree with adding light for hours to extend a short winter day, but by all means, turn on the light for chores!

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  7. Hi Lisa
    Thank you, I have learnt a great deal from your post. Sarah

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  8. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you again for your perfect timing! I am working through issues of blindness with an injured hen. (Here's a link to my blog about it http://sub-urbans.blogspot.com/2013/10/our-first-chicken-injury.html). She is now blind in one eye. I found it great news to learn that even in complete blindness they can sense the presence or absence of light.

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    1. Oh good...yes, I knew much of what was in the article already from reading it from other sources, but that one was new for me too.

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  9. This is some great information. It also helps explain why our chickens can tell when I have the box of oatmeal they love so dearly, even if I am across the yard!

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  10. So interesting! I have watched my hens turn their head to watch when we have had helicopters go over, and it was so neat to watch them. It has always been their left eye watching above, I just didn't realize there was a reason for it.

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  11. Very interesting!! Your articles teach me a lot about chickens and I just love mine. They are so fun to watch, especially the moms with their wee chicks.

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  12. Fascinating! Love learning more about my hens. Keep the articles coming!

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  13. Fascinating! Love learning more about my hens. Keep the articles coming!

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  14. Thanks for the fascinating write up. I have been noticing my chickens nictating eyelid closes when they peck at a corn cob I am holding out. Must be a way to protect their eyes as they peck at something.

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  15. Wow great information..Thank You for sharing ..My husband just asked me the other day what kind of eyesight that chickens have ..going to share the article with him :)

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  16. I have a blind chicken. I believe she has a neurologic condition because she began with a staggaring gait. Walking like a drunken sailor at times. And sometimes she would walk into the doorway like the doorway wasn't there.

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  17. Thanks! That was super interesting! I have been raising chickens for about 8 years now and never knew any of these facts.

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  18. We just go chickens... I am glad to learn about their eyes... our coop is completely dark... should o put in a soft light for them so they can find their food and water?

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  19. One of my girls just lost one eye when we thwarted a raccoon in the midst of an attack. She still seems a little skittish about getting back with the flock. This information is so interesting and helpful. She lost her left eye so it will be her distance vision that is most impacted.

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  20. One of my girls just lost one eye when we thwarted a raccoon in the midst of an attack. She still seems a little skittish about getting back with the flock. This information is so interesting and helpful. She lost her left eye so it will be her distance vision that is most impacted.

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