Being the mammals that we are, we tend to assume certain things based on our own experience. Our ability to look from side to side, for example, is one of those physical acts that we do instinctively, rarely giving it any thought. So if it’s completely natural for us, then surely everyone else must do the same thing… right?
I’ve said it many times, chickens are amazing creatures. And the longer you work with them, the more you are amazed.
While a chicken does have the muscles associated with eyeball movement, the eyeballs themselves have a very limited range of motion. Consequently, a chicken will move its whole head when it feels the need to see more.
However, it’s worth noting that a chicken’s field of view is considerable. A human has roughly 135 degrees of horizontal view. By comparison, a chicken has almost 300 degrees. You can understand why there wouldn’t be an extensive need for eye movement when you are able to observe almost the entire world around you.
### Important Note ###
There are very reputable sources that claim birds can not move their eyes. So it should be noted that the above is my opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of a licensed vet. However, I am fairly confident that, while handling my chickens, I have noted their eyes moving (especially forward), – albeit not by a great degree.
Why Do Chickens Bob Their Heads When They Walk?
With a chicken’s eyes being fairly fixed in position, it’s easy to understand just how jostling their vision would be without some sort of way to smooth things out.
In the same way a pair of shocks on your car allow the tires to move significantly, while the vehicle stays relatively smooth, a chickens’ neck will move in order for their eyes to spend the maximum amount of time in the same spot.
This darting forward with their head and then walking into position, allows them to focus better. Granted it is fairly humorous to observe, but this bobbing process does offer benefit to a creature that is constantly under threat from predators.
Chickens: Staring Behavior
Often, when I’m working outdoors, I will come across something that I can not immediately identify. The item in question is either at distance where I can’t distinguish it, or, when up close, I’m just not sure of what I’m looking at.
Other times, I will see something of significance and know exactly what it is. However this item is a potential threat; such as a hawk or a fox. In both of these situations, I will pause and focus more attention on the item in question.
Chickens are the same way.
A chicken will often pause and stare intently on something that it is either unfamiliar with or recognizes as a potential threat.
For example, a few flocks back, I looked out the back door and noted that the birds were all frozen in position, staring intently in the same direction. Alarmed, I quickly ran outside to investigate.
The item in question turned out to be a baby bunny.
The chickens had never seen such a small fuzzy animal like this before and were simply unsure of what to make of it.
Another example was a couple of falls back, I checked on the flock to find them standing motionless and staring, again, in the same direction. However, this time, the perpetrator was not a baby bunny, but rather a large hawk sitting in a nearby tree… staring at them!
To which I pointed a finger and offered my own personal stare (there might have been a few choice words spoken on my part as well).
After this, the hawk flew off and the flock was able to relax.
### Important Note ###
Regardless of the reason, if you observe your flock standing motionless and staring in a particular direction, you would be wise to investigate. Quite often, my birds will see something that I don’t and introducing my physical presence into the equation will often change the dynamics of the situation.
As I learn more about animals as a whole, I am impressed by the unique differences each species has. Chickens, while small and quite often humorous to observe, have a field of vision that is dramatically more capable than our own.
And while, they do not move their eyes in the same manner that we do, they have developed the means to sustain a higher level of situational awareness than we ever could. And this is good as they have very limited capabilities to either defend against or evade, both ground and airborne predators.
If you’d like to take a further look at a chicken’s vision, check out, ‘Are Chickens Blind?’