Have you ever come across a question that sounds so outrageous that you’re not really sure if it’s a serious question or not? You end up wondering, is this person just messing with me or do they really not know? If you have, then you know exactly what I was feeling when I came across, ‘does a chicken have a tongue?’
Though they might not function like ours, a chicken absolutely has a tongue. A casual observer will probably never see it and it definitely doesn’t function like, say a cat’s tongue, but it’s in there and it has a purpose.
How Does A Chicken’s Tongue Work?
A chicken’s tongue has relatively limited mobility. You will never see a chicken lapping at an ice cream cone or licking a lolly-pop. And unlike your dog, you will never see your bird with their tongue hanging out and drooling (if by some extremely rare chance you do, that would be cause for serious concern).
The tongue does influence sound, however it doesn’t have the shape or the flexibility to form complex sounds like a parrot does.
Also worth noting is that a chicken’s tongue will not extend out past its beak.
The most interesting fact, however, about a chicken’s tongue relates to its use when eating. While a chicken can use its tongue to push food back to where it can be swallowed, the tongue can not effectively push water. The only way for a chicken to swallow water is for the bird to tilt its head back and let gravity do its thing.
Can A Chicken Taste Food?
There has been quite a bit of debate on whether or not a chicken is even capable of tasting. It’s a decades old argument that has varying opinions. I am of the opinion that they do. And unlike of some schools of thought, I believe they can taste even before swallowing. Here’s why.
When giving your birds treats, they are very quick to recognize the ‘good stuff’. A piece of bread is a wonderful thing…unless there is a grape laying on the ground next to it. Our girls will pointedly ignore the leftover roll on the ground if they can see that we’re holding a handful of grapes. And the sweet grapes get gobbled up faster than the sour ones.
A chicken will try and eat anything that piques their interest, but they do exhibit a higher level of excitement when that something tastes good.
With regards to whether or not the item has to be swallowed first before tasting, I believe a chicken can taste long before it hits the back of their throat, as some would suggest. I’ve seen chickens pounce on a french fry only to quickly spit it back out. And I can tell you that french fry was no where near the back of its throat before the bird decided it didn’t want anything to do with fast food.
Food for thought: why is it a chicken will scratch and peck its way through a cow-pie, presumably looking for seeds, bugs, ect, – but it won’t eat a french fry? (And for the record, I love french fries!)
What Does A Chicken’s Tongue Look Like?
A chicken’s tongue has a very skinny, pointed shape to it, the length of it reaching about two thirds of the way towards the pointy end of the beak. The tongue will be smooth, but with a slight sandpaper like feel to it, especially farther toward the back. The color of the tongue varies from breed to breed but is generally the same color as the inside of the bird’s mouth. However, because the tongue doesn’t extend or retract very much, if at all, it can be very challenging to see it.
How Can I See The Tongue?
You may see the end of the bird’s tongue lift from the bottom beak when the bird crows. But you will have to be close to the bird and have a good side profile from which to view.
Another way to see it, is just take a peek the next time you harvest a chicken for the freezer.
Diseases Affecting A Chicken’s Tongue
Fowl Pox is a nasty viral infection that comes in two different forms; the wet form and the dry form. This virus is usually transmitted by a bug bite (think mosquitoes) and has the potential to wipe out your entire flock, though this is generally not the case.
Fowl Pox can be seen on the inside of a chicken’s mouth in the form of white legions – white puffy sack like growths. You will also see the signs of this illness elsewhere on the body, such as black specks or sores on the combs, wattles or legs. And while you can not see it, the wet version of Fowl Pox can affect the bird’s respiratory system – meaning lungs and throat.
The wet version of Fowl Pox is the more deadly of the two and sadly there is no cure for this virus. Should a member of your flock become infected with this virus, your best course of action would be to immediately separate the bird from the rest of the flock as Fowl Pox is highly contagious. Do what you can to ensure the infected bird is comfortable and well nourished. A healthy immune system is the key to your chicken’s recovery.
Chicken Tongue Deformities
Deformities of a chicken’s tongue is rare but does happen. Generally, this deformity will coincide with other deformities, such as the beaks that are curved – sometimes in different directions – or beaks that don’t match up with each other. For example, the lower half of the beak could extend out past the upper half.
Surgery to correct the deformed tongue is sometimes possible but only if you can find a vet familiar with poultry and if the deformity isn’t to severe. Also, deformities that are caught early are easier to fix.
Can You Eat Chicken Tongue?
While I have seen chicken feet recipes, I have never seen a recipe that called for chicken’s tongue. To my knowledge, no one is currently considering chicken tongue to be a delicacy. I’m sure someone somewhere in our history has tried preparing chicken tongue for consumption. However, I would strongly encourage you to consult a physician before trying. It could very well be full of poison or some variation of toxins. I really don’t know.
What I do know is that a chicken’s tongue is a muscle, just like cow or pig tongue. And while people may prepare those for consumption, a chicken’s tongue is notably smaller.
Just how small?
Take a number 2 pencil and cut roughly an inch off. Then, take that small piece and split it in half. This small half that you now hold in your hands is still bigger than a chicken’s tongue. Hardly a meal. A person would have to eat a lot of chicken tongue before they would ever even dent their hunger.
I can understand why people would question whether or not a chicken has a tongue. It can be difficult to believe in something that you don’t see, and a chicken’s tongue is rarely seen. Compounding the confusion is the fact that a chicken must tilt their head back to drink water – this is something you can see!
But to answer the question, yes…chickens do have tongues. These strange sliver like muscles have a purpose and work…just in their own unique way.