Your Hen’s Hearing

When you look at a hen’s head, what do you notice? The eyes? The comb? That beak with the permanent downward disapproving  scowl?

rhode island red


What we see impacts how we perceive the lives of our animals. We think that dolphins are happy because they look like they’re smiling – but their mouths are as fixed as hens’ beaks.

How we think that the animal relates to the world is done from our own prism of self-centeredness. A dog’s primary way of knowing what is going on is via smell. Because we don’t have that sense, we often misinterpret our pet’s behavior because we don’t take into account his complex world of odors.

Back to the hen’s face – what we fail to notice are her ears.

Cuckoo Marans


That flap of red skin, to the left of the wattle is Veronica’s ear. This is Agatha’s ear.

chicken ear


Chickens have excellent hearing. It’s about in our own range, but they are far speedier in processing the direction that sound comes from.

At twelve days into development, the chick inside of the egg is hearing. Some birds recognize their mother’s vocalizations before they hatch. Chickens recognize individuals, both in the flock, and in other species. I’ve no doubt that my hens know the difference between Lily’s barks and Scooter’s. They know my voice. Sounds matter. Lawn mowers. Hawk screams. The rattle of the grain bin. Think about that as you care for your flock. Yes, they’re confined, but their world extends farther than the fence that surrounds them.

There’s some anecdotal evidence that music makes them more productive. Or at least calmer. I think that it depends on the farmer as to which music they prefer! I don’t play music for my hens, but I am aware of how sounds affect them. I try not to slam doors, or shout. I do talk to the Girls. They hear me, of course. They don’t understand the words, but the tone matters.


  1. Up here, the farmers play the radio in their dairy barns at milking time….supposedly it sooths them?!

        • Have you heard anything about chicks making sounds while still in the egg, so that the brood can synchronize their hatching date?

          As for songs to sooth cows while milking, I heard one in a collection of Scottish folk songs. There probably used to be a lot of those in the old days.

          • There’s some interesting research out there about what they hear and what that means to early life. Another question is – if they’re wired to know their mother hens, what happens in an incubator when there isn’t the mother to listen to?

  2. Very cool, I had wondered what that was on my chickens and how they do hear! Thanks.

  3. Chickens are very intelligent, they learn very fast and remember. The slightest sound and mine will look, if they see a large shadow or bird they run for cover even with no sound. They always look for me an hour before bedtime for there treats, even though the day length is altering. Will your clocks alter on 29th March or is it only in UK ?? :)

  4. Th radio on the hen house porch is on all day for the hens and guinea fowl and tuned to UPenn’s station (WXPN). Purely anecdotal but the birds seem grumpier on the days that I forget to turn it on. They really seem to enjoy “Funky Friday at 5.” Not unusual to see heads bobbing to the beat.

  5. I also believe that chickens are intelligent and that their hearing is excellent. They get used to routine and I am sure my girls know their names – although I know that they do not know words. Perhaps it is just the sound and tone of my voice that they are familiar with (I like to think that they know their names!!).

    • Mine absolutely know their names…and the names of their fellow flockmates. I can call individual hens to me by name, and if one is on my lap, and I call one she doesn’t like over, the first hen will growl at me. I can’t prove it, but I’m also sure they know other words. I think they are every bit as clever as dogs.

    • Good question. First understand that people have changed the size of wattles through selective breeding, just as we have feather color – so it’s not like the wattles you see developed over time for one purpose. The best guess is that they have several purposes – including making the roo look attractive, heat dissipation, and possibly to aid in facial recognition.

      • I also think on a hen it is a flag for chicks to help them find food when the hen clucks and clicks to her chicks when she is showing them food. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen chicks come running to the call of a hen, grab a hold of the wattle and not let go and then get sent flying when the hen shakes her head.
        I think it is one reason the chick feeder and waters usually are red on the bottom. It attracts the chicks.

  6. When I took my hen, Picasso, on school visits, I showed the kids where her ears were. They thought it was great, and were really interested in learning about the chickens ear and how it works! Some of them thought it was funny that chickens ears are hiding behind their feathers!!

  7. My girls hear me coming in the morning and all gather by the window to see if I have seeds for them. They don’t get as excited to hear anyone else’s voice because I’m the only one who offers treats. On a somewhat related note. My brothers hens don’t like anyone who walks into their coop. My brother is in a wheelchair. They literally, are terrified of “walkers”. True story. Smart animals.

  8. They must have acutely sensitive hearing. Workmen have told me that they the hens come running to the pasture gate a good minute or 2 before my car appears in the driveway. That’s how the workmen know that I’m on the way up from the road. Also, the chickens and the guinea fowl will start their hawk alarm long before I can see/hear a hawk. They’ve even sounded the alarm when they’re in the hen house and can’t see outside and it’s a minute or more before a hawk comes soaring overhead, riding the thermals.

  9. Just been watching 4 of the Gems on Barn Cam having a lovely lay down and feather bath in the sun, very contented even though its cold outside :)

  10. Very interesting! One of my mom’s caregivers has always insisted on playing classical music for her
    chickens. I thought he was crazy, but I just sent him these links, admitting he was right all along. Clearly, I have a lot to learn. I just enrolled in a free online class from the University of Edinburgh, which is apparently famous for its animal programs, on chickens. Anyone here want to join the fun? Coursera rocks!

    • I’m letting this link go through – but I read the course description and am not sure that I’d agree with everything taught in it. So, enjoy, but I’m not endorsing the curriculum :)

  11. I play an all talk station on my radio in the coop. I do it simple as I think it keeps predators away.

  12. Enjoy reading about the hens and their intelligence…..especially their choice of music.

  13. Very interesting! My favorite things, chickens, music, now if the chickens could only read!
    All my day old to 5 or 6 wk. old chicks are raised in a clogging studio! They are in a room closed off, so they don’t have extreme noise and drafts, but 3 days a week they here taps, music and get visits from all the students! They are in a large galvanized oval stock tank, with 3 ft. high sides. Too bad they don’t join in and clog dance with the music! Then I would really have something! Ha!

  14. I have noticed their heads perk up at the slightest sounds. I’ve even seen them come running for the fence before I’ve reached the door to go outside. Right now though, I’m trying to teach them words: they know I have food when I go out and say “Hey, chickens!”, but they’ve shown no reaction when someone else says it, even in the same way. Couple more greens or goodies from someone else saying it, and I’m sure they’ll get the idea though.

    • Some animals are verbal learners, some are not. If you want your hens to learn to do something for different people, I suggest using a sound maker of some sort that would be the same for anyone using it. A bell? A bicycle horn? Come up with something cute that can hang on the coop door.

      • Great idea the grandkids would love to ring a bell for the girls to come, ( I have the perfect one a very old small school bell ) but I would have to stay away as they come as soon as they see me ! :) Raining heavy again here, we need a dry spell as much as you need a thaw :)

  15. My husband likes to watch the chickens but I do all the caring and of course giving of treats. My husband has observed when in the garden that the girls run towards the sound of my footsteps be it flip flops in the summer or boots in the winter but ignore his footsteps. He also says when watching through the window that they run to the sound of me unbolting the back door first thing in the morning.

    I talk to the girls all the time and they definitely respond to the tone of my voice. If I talk to them affectionately they like to get up on a perch at eye level and get close while listening.

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  17. Lovely to see Girls and Phoebe’s outside. Phoebe’s is still trying to get at the pumpkin !! Do you have to trim Pip and Caper’s hoofs regularly ??

    • Yes, the hooves get trimmed (by me!) every few months. They’re due. The goats will also be getting their springtime vaccinations soon.

  18. That’s interesting, Grandkids want me to get 2 pygmy goats but had read that they needed their hooves done quite often and was a bit worried about costs. Did not realize it was easy enough to do myself with help. Any other problems I might encounter ?? :)