People: Siobhan Abeyesinghe

What is a chicken’s eye view?

Chickens rely heavily on their vision for finding food, avoiding predators and communicating social messages. Their visual system evolved in complex forested environments, quite different to those in which they are routinely housed and reared domestically. Appreciating how chickens see their world in terms of colour, shape, detail and sensitivity to movement is important in understanding how to best to provide appropriate husbandry and to identify if and how artificial environments, for example with dim artificial lighting, may impact upon their behaviour and welfare.

Do hens recognise one another and form friendships?  

 Provision of space and ability to perform normal behaviour are often considered extremely important aspects of welfare. Just like with humans, a tough social environment for animals can be a huge source of distress whilst a good social environment can protect against stress and even be associated with positive experiences. An understanding of the basis of social relationships in chickens is key to influencing the impact of their social environments. Chickens are thought naturally to form small stable groups based on recognition of individuals, so can they tell familiar individuals apart regardless of rank, do they just cluster together or actually form specific positive social bonds and how might social structure adapt in large groups?

What do hens understand about their world? 

Although they will never be Mensa candidates, chickens are smarter than many people think. People develop more positive attitudes towards animals that look and/or behave and/or think like we do and this can make us more considerate of their welfare. Finding out more about chicken cognition, such as complex decision making, understanding of future consequences of actions and understanding of social relationships can also help us to tailor management physical and social environments and to their needs and address welfare problems associated with cognitive and environmental mismatch.

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., DREWE, J. A., ASHER, L., WATHES, C. M. & COLLINS, L. M. (2013). Do hens have friends? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 143, 61-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2012.12.003 [Article also featured in Veterinary Record 2013, 172: 48].

O'CONNOR, E. A., SAUNDERS, J. E., GRIST, H., McLEMAN, M. A., WATHES, C. M., & ABEYESINGHE, S. M. (2011). The relationship between the comb and social behaviour in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 135: 293-299.doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.09.011

GOVER, N., JARVIS, J. R., ABEYESINGHE, S. M. & WATHES, C. M. (2009) Stimulus luminance and the spatial acuity of domestic fowl (Gallus g. domesticus). Vision Research, 49(23): 2747-2753. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2009.08.011

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., McLEMAN, M. A., OWEN, R. C., McMAHON C. E. & WATHES, C. M. (2009). Investigating social discrimination of group members by laying hens. Behavioural Processes 81:1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2008.11.017

JARVIS, J. R., ABEYESINGHE, S. M., McMAHON C. E. & WATHES, C. M. (2009). Measuring and modelling the spatial contrast sensitivity of the domestic fowl (Gallus g. domesticus). Vision Research. 49:1448-1454. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2009.02.019

ABEYESINGHE, S. M., NICOL, C. J., HARTNELL S.J. & WATHES, C. M., (2005). Can domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, show self-control? Animal Behaviour 70: 1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.10.011

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