For a long time, people widely believed that chickens didn’t have a strong sense of smell. However, recent research on the genetics of chickens may challenge this common belief. Scientists have discovered olfactory receptors that are unique to birds, but research regarding the exact functions of these genes is ongoing. But it is now thought that chickens do have a sense of smell.

There’s still so much to discover and learn about a chicken’s sense of smell. Read on to learn what fascinating information we have uncovered so far.

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How Strong Is a Chicken’s Sense of Smell?

The exact strength of a chicken’s olfactory senses is still unclear. However, several significant research studies prove that birds have a stronger sense of smell than people give them credit for.

For example, a 2008 study1 showed that birds can have just as many—if not more—smell-related genes as humans. Humans have 400 smell-related genes, while some bird species can have about 600.

Many scientists believed that birds had a poor sense of smell because the olfactory bulbs in their brains are smaller than other types of animals, such as mammals. However, this groundbreaking research showed that size isn’t always directly correlated to strength.

chickens walking on grass
Image Credit: Pixabay

As of today, many scientists believe that chickens and other birds can use their sense of smell to communicate and detect food.

Chickens prefer to live in flocks, and these flocks can have complex social structures. Researchers are still uncovering the role that scent plays in these social structures. Many researchers also believe that chickens rely on scents during the breeding season and may even use them to avoid inbreeding.

Overall, chickens may use their sense of smell for many purposes, including foraging for food, communicating, and identifying suitable mates during their breeding season.

When Do Chickens Develop Their Sense of Smell?

Chickens develop their sense of smell some time before they hatch out of their shells. In one experiment, researchers placed certain foods next to chicken eggs. Once the chicks hatched out of their shells, they preferred these foods over other kinds of food.

Leghorn Chicken
Image Credit: Ivdonata, Shutterstock

What Scents Do Chickens Like?

Chickens tend to prefer eating foods that are familiar to them. This preference may be due to appearance, as chickens rely on sight and colors to detect food. However, familiar scents are also likely to play a strong role in determining what a chicken decides to eat. They also have an affinity to odors associated with the nest they grew up in as chicks.

A research experiment observed eating habits in domestic fowl and found that chickens tend to avoid food that smells unfamiliar. Therefore, chickens may only stick with eating foods that they’ve become familiar with during their developmental stages.

chickens on fence
Image Credit: Cparks, Pixabay

What Smells Do Chickens Hate?

Chickens can also have an aversion to different scents. It can be difficult to determine what types of foods chickens will avoid because studies now point to a strong association with memory and a chicken’s food preferences.

However, it’s common for chicken owners to have chickens that don’t like citrus and certain herbs, such as rosemary and thyme.

Can Chickens Smell Fear?

Chickens may not be able to smell fear itself, but they can smell things that cause them to feel fear. Once they catch the scent of a predator, they will learn to avoid spots that have traces of the same smell. In a 2012 study, chickens were able to differentiate between the fecal matter of predators and herbivores.

Lohmann brown chicken
Image Credit: ABC photographs, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

People have misunderstood chickens’ olfactory senses for quite a while. Although they’re known to have excellent vision, recent studies show that we still have much to discover and learn about chickens’ sense of smell.

Overall, chickens rely on their olfactory system for social purposes and protection. They can grow bonded to scents that become familiar to them while they’re chicks, and they can also find a good potential mate by depending on scents. Chickens can also protect themselves by identifying predators’ scents and avoiding areas where these predators dwell.

So, the next time you’re with your chickens, observe them and see what sorts of foods or areas they prefer. You may be able to gather clues and information about their past and what they can perceive about their surrounding environment.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels