Can Chickens Smell

Can Chickens Smell? (How They Use Their Sense of Smell)

Can chickens smell things as well as we can?

They certainly tend to turn their beaks up at certain foods, are great at finding scraps to eat on the floor, start to recognize people, and do some other things associated with a good sense of smell.

I know what I think based on how my own chickens behave. I thought I’d also take a look into any scientific research into this topic to help answer this question for you.

What Is a Chicken’s Sense of Smell Like?

The general consensus was always that birds had a great vision and hearing, and primarily relied on these senses to keep themselves safe and find food.

However, a study published in The Royal Society Publishing journal discovered that birds in general, and this includes chickens, have quite a developed sense of smell.

This study focused on the olfactory receptor genes (OR), which are responsible for the range of scents an animal can detect, tell apart, and generally distinguish.

They found that while the number of (OR) genes is linked to the size of the bird’s olfactory bulb, they discovered birds had a lot more OR genes than previously assumed.

The report goes on to say that birds use their sense of smell to, “navigate, forage, or distinguish individuals,”

All things that I mentioned I know my chickens use their sense of smell for!

This scientific evidence backs up what I think a lot of backyard chicken owners know, our birds can smell pretty well. Especially when it comes to food.

Can Chickens Smell Fear?

Can Chickens Smell Fear

Something that most animals are able to do is smell, or be aware of fear through a sixth sense. Especially animals that have survived in the wild for thousands of years like chickens have.

A study published on the Global Animal Network suggests that chickens can, in fact, smell fear.

In this study, “odor zones” were created by scenting certain areas with predator odors. Hens were then observed as they approached these zones and compared against zones with no odors.

The results were, “a preliminary indication that hens can detect and differentiate between various odor cues”.

Further evidence that chickens do have a good sense of smell. And they’re able to use it to detect fear in the form of predator odors.

What Smells Do Chickens Hate?

There are a number of smells that chickens hate. Some of which come down to the individual chickens, because they do have individual personalities you know.

I’ve lost count of the number of times a chicken owner has been surprised that their flock won’t eat a certain food that chickens love. It happens.

A smell that a lot of chickens hate is citrus. This has led some owners to say that citrus is bad or toxic for chickens, but there’s no evidence to support this. At least not that I can find.

I can find more examples of owners that feed their chickens citrus fruits, those that actually like citrus that is.

There are some herbs that have caused some of my chickens to turn the other way, too. Obviously, herbs are strong-smelling, so it’s no surprise, I can’t remember which herbs offended which chickens, but you might find some mixed results when offering your flock herbs.

RelatedCan chickens eat oranges?

How Well Can Chicks Smell?

It’s been proven that chicks develop their sense of smell before hatching.

A test was carried out where a certain food smell was placed around the shell of an unhatched chick. After the chick hatched, they were drawn to the smell over other smells.

Pretty interesting. Makes perfect sense though, most animals rely on their senses to survive when they’re young and they often develop early.

In Summary – Can Chickens Smell?

Yes, chickens can smell pretty well actually.

There have been some studies on how powerful a chicken’s sense of smell is, and it’s a lot more powerful than was previously assumed.

They don’t have a powerful sense of smell like some other animals that rely on their noses to hunt. But it does play a part in deciding what they eat if they feel threatened, and some other things.


Image credits – Header image by Michelle Tresemer, in body image by Kirsten Carr on Unsplash

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