Written by Dr. Luqman Javed

When you think of a chicken, you probably do not visualize their ears. Do chickens have ears? Yes, the birds have ears, and they’re more functional than you would imagine. At first glance, only the chicken’s ear lobes are visible below the eyes. The opening to the ear canal is obscured by feathers, but when you brush back the feathers, you can see the ear canal.

A chicken’s ears can be found on each side of their head, just behind and slightly below their eyes. As with other animals, chickens use their sense of hearing to better respond to their environment. The inner ear also helps them with orientation and balance (as it does in mammals). Read on as we learn more about their ears.

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What Is Unique About Chickens’ Ears

Have you noticed that chickens have different color earlobes? Some have white lobes, and others have brown, red, or even black lobes. Although minor exceptions apply, the color of the birds’ earlobes determines the color of their eggs. Red, brown, and black lobed chickens produce brown eggs, and white lobed birds lay white eggs. Recently, the Olive Egger chicken was created by crossbreeding a Maran chicken with an Ameraucana chicken. The new breed lays olive green colored eggs.

hen with pale pink bill, red comb, orange feathers and white ear lobes in a chicken coop
Image Credit: Clara Bastian, Shutterstock

Do Chickens Have Good Hearing?

Most birds hear relatively well, and chickens are no exception to this rule. Their hearing isn’t as well-developed as birds of prey that hunt at night (owls); however, it is, nonetheless, still quite well developed. Chickens can hear low frequencies better than humans can 1, and they can hear some sounds that are too low in frequency for a human ear to pick up.

Unlike chickens, humans slowly lose their hearing as they age. The tiny receptor cells in human ears are destroyed by loud sounds, medications, and age-related conditions. Unfortunately, the hair cells do not regenerate, and as you age, your hearing decreases. In contrast, chickens can regenerate their hair cells. They have perfect hearing throughout the course of their short lives (less than ten years).

Chickens are not the only creature with the ability to regenerate hearing cells. Reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other birds constantly repair damaged cells to keep their hearing intact.

Ginger chicken head close-up
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

What Do Chickens Use Their Hearing For?

Chickens use their sense of hearing for many purposes. Chicks can begin to hear sounds within their eggs once they have been incubated for at least 12 days. Hens frequently communicate with their chicks in low, discreet sounds before they are born and also encourage them to hatch with similar sounding clucks.

Chicks are very attuned to and quickly imprint on their mother’s call, and though the clucking of a chicken seems relatively similar to us, chicks are able to distinguish their mother’s call from that of another hen’s. This is why chicks can sometimes mingle with other chicks in a farm but then know which hen to return to when they are beckoned, even if the hens look identical.

Likewise, mother hens are very attuned to their chick’s calls and quickly respond to stress calls from a chick that is lost or in distress. When a mother hen leads her chicks out to forage, she’s often consistently calling to them; however, she usually uses a different call for when she’s found food for them. Chicks respond accordingly; when their mother leads them on, they follow, but when she clucks for food, they inspect the food item instead.

Chickens produce different sounds for different types of predators; a chicken’s alarm calls are different from their informative calls. The ability to accurately hear these calls allows members of the flock to escape danger when one of them sounds an alarm.

Roosters crow in part to declare territory, and other roosters can gauge this sound to determine if an intruder is in their territory or not by estimating the distance and direction of the crow of another rooster.

Can Chickens Recognize Human Commands?

Domesticated animals respond to human commands and soon learn to favor the humans that feed and care for them, but do chickens understand and recognize human voices? Chickens respond to human orders, and they soon learn to trust the people who bring them food every day. Chickens are not as quick to follow humans as cats or dogs, but chicks that are raised on a farm form tighter bonds with humans as they grow into chickens.

Chickens aren’t known for being loyal or lovable like your favorite canine, but some chickens will follow their owners around the yard and rub their heads against their legs to show affection. Tame birds even start purring (or trilling) when their owners stroke their plumage. They can even recognize the sound of feed arriving and can be trained to be hand fed by associating a call with feeding time.

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Final Thoughts

Although their ears are hidden from plain view, chickens have well-developed hearing that allows them to better perceive their environment. Compared to some other farm animals, chickens have regenerative hair cells in their inner ears to instantly repair damage from loud sounds. Chickens rely on their hearing to communicate with members of their flock and their young. Their communications include informative cues, alarm calls, and territorial crows.

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Featured Image Credit: Clara Bastian, Shutterstock