Chickens are fully capable of remembering both good and negative events.
For example, earlier this summer my new flock managed to escape the coop before completely associating it as a ‘place of safety’. This association is critical as it encourages them to return when the sun goes down and they are at high risk from predators.
FYI, rounding up 15 chicks and trying to coral them into a coop all by yourself, can be quite a challenge.
Using some scrap particle board, I manufactured a chute by which to direct them. Then with the chute in place, I grabbed a broom as a means of extending my arm, and began ‘shoosh’ing’ them in.
Between the chute and the broom, I was able to get all 15 chicks back into the coop.
This process was repeated for 3 nights, until the chicks understood the coop to be where they should be at night and began returning of their own accord.
Fast forward about 4 months, and I’ve got one hen that has started laying, but does not want to use the nesting box (she had elected to make a nest outdoors and was keen of using that instead).
Confined to the run and unable to get out to her free-range nest, she was crowing in distress as she really needed to lay an egg.
Aware of her needs, I grabbed my trusty broom/arm extension and headed out to the run.
Remarkably, the flock noted the broom and immediately responded by running away. They remembered the experience of being corralled as chicks. This is quite notable as I use a rake everyday to clean their coop and they’ve never displayed concern at the rake.
In other words, not only were they able to identify between the rake and the broom, but they remembered the unpleasant experience associated with the broom.
But negative experiences are not the only thing a chicken is capable of remembering.
I treat my flock daily, by tossing wheat seed on the ground. This treat is nutritious for them and I am able to utilize their innate drive to scratch and dig by sprinkling the seed in areas that I want to be cleared for gardening.
There is a bright orange bowl that I use to hold the wheat as I walk to where I want my flock to work.
No matter how careful I am, if they see a glimpse of that bowl, they come running! They have associated that orange bowl with ‘treats’ and they will drop whatever they’re doing to come.
Do Chickens Remember Their Owners?
Chickens have no problems remembering their owners faces, as well as their voices. Chickens will also place higher levels of importance amongst the people they know.
For example, every now and then, one of my hens will get separated from the flock. This is easy for them to do as the birds are trained to come back to the nesting boxes when they need to lay, but are otherwise able to free range. Unfortunately, if the flock moved while someone was laying her egg, there is no way for the lone bird to know where everyone else is at.
And a chicken alone is a seriously stressed out bird.
Consequently, I will walk out into the backyard and call for the flock. This brings everyone back to one spot, where the lone bird is able to rejoin her friends.
As I am the one who takes care of them, you might think I was the one with the highest level of importance. (I would certainly think so!)
My wife spoils the flock significantly more than I do. So while she may only interact with them a fraction of what I do, it is obvious by the speed at which they come to her, that she is of a higher level of importance.
And for the record, she doesn’t even have to call, for them to recognize her. Even at distance, they are able to distinguish her and come running to see her (though hearing her voice does help the stragglers).