Chickens Don’t Smile

We humans are programed to read emotions by looking at faces – and especially at mouths. We look for snarls, sneers and bared teeth. We look for grins and laughter. It’s how we determine friend or foe. Some animals, like dolphins, appear to be perpetually smiling, and so are deemed beneficent, loving creatures. They are, probably at times, but they are also dangerous animals capable of anger. Karen Pryor has told me harrowing tales of dolphins that mean harm, all the while “smiling.” With dolphins, one has to read air bubbles, body language and swimming patterns.

So, how does one interpret this?

Ignore the downward turn of that beak. Garnet can’t help it. Ignore that beady stare. She can’t do anything about that, either. Instead, pay attention to the set of her tail, to her bold curiosity, to the tilt of her head. Listen for chortles, squawks or silence. Drop your assumptions and see the animal for what she is.

It’s hard to get past that glare, isn’t it? It’s hard not to believe that Garnet  is one disapproving hen.

Like most Rhode Island Reds, she’s bossy, hungry and demanding. Garnet is used to me, and knows that there are times when I’m the bearer of good things, so she’s approachable. She wants to know what I’m up to. She doesn’t want to miss the hand-outs. That’s all obvious. But, the more subtle traits take time to discover. As the weather warms I’ll be sitting out on the lawn. Watching. I’ll have to ignore that downward scowl in order to see the chicken behind it.

Still, it makes for a funny photo doesn’t it?


    • I read an article about Chicken Run, and how they made a conscious decision to add teeth because otherwise the chickens wouldn’t have expressive features.

  1. Garnet reminds me of the famous “mad bluebird” picture. She’s wonderful. Amazing what a little tilt of the head does to change grumpy into inquisitive.

  2. Hilarious! I wouldn’t argue with that hen!

    It would be nice to learn more about chicken communication, especially their calls.

  3. I had to take another look at the previous post’s pic of Pip & Caper- goats also have that perpetual smile, don’t they?

    • Pip does, but Caper can look quite sly and thoughtful. Have you seen him stick out his tongue? Goats are certainly more facially expressive than chickens!

  4. I’ve noticed that the 2 pets, Sarah a Buff Orpington, and Ernie a Barred Rock, do sometimes seem to have gentler expressions. I have 2 NH Reds and they seem to always look like Garnet.

    Sarah, especially when she wants a ride, has a positively benign look on her face, in addition to expectancy. Ernie, who recently elevated herself to upper management from supervisor, is wary of all but very curious. One can see the curiosity from the eye and the action of her head in addition to the way she carries herself.

    We don’t watch the others of the flock much, as we don’t need more pets. But it’s hard to ignore a NH Red bent on eating your fingers at any opportunity. Or the miss the regal stance of the Jersey Giants. If they’d just lay better, I’d keep the Giants as pets just because of that.

    I’d forgotten how much I’d liked chickens as a child. It was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of it when we ended up with the laying flock.

  5. i LOVE Karyn Pryor!! i’ve been reading her books: Reaching the Animal Mind, and Don’t Shoot the Dog! amazing woman! a total inspiration.

  6. Neck feathers on end. wings held in a downward position and tail erect = predator about.

    Magic, I thought the blog was going to be about dinosaur. I tend to look at the pictures before I read the blog.

  7. I am curious about Garnet. She is dark about the head and has a “saddle”, with other subtle markings, so I am wondering that she might be a red version of welsummer? Dark eggs? Lovely girl, and look at those ladylike wattles! No rubies needed!

  8. I could not help but apply your kind words about ignoring the glare, etc. (because she could not help it )to some people I know. It worked in helping me realize sometimes people are what they are, like chickens, glare and all. If you get to know them you realize they are mostly well-minded and well-intended, often misunderstood and misjudged,to my loss.Love the pic you captured here!