A Hen’s Eyelids

One of the many reasons that chickens seem so other to us is that their eyes are so different than ours. We’re used to reading emotion in eyes – squinting from puzzlement, tears from sadness, eyes open from surprise. Physically, birds can’t do those things.

rhode island red


Their eyeballs are mostly stationary. When we glance at something we can swivel our eyeballs. A hen can’t, instead she moves her head. Like birds, we have two fleshy eyelids, but we close our eyes by dropping the lower lids down. The hen does the reverse – she raises her lower lids to close her eyes. The hen’s blink is very rapid and you’ll rarely see it, though you might catch it when she’s about to doze, or when she’s preening.

chicken eye closed



A chicken has something that we don’t have – a nictitating membrane. This functions to clean and lubricate the eye’s surface. It slides horizontally over the eye, moving from the inside corner across the lens. Here is Beatrix in the nesting box.

chicken eye open



In the time it took to snap this photo, the nictitating membrane swept over her eye

nictating membrane




and disappeared again.

chicken eye



How hens see is for another post. I’m working on it.



In the meanwhile, you might want to read about goat eyes and eyesight here.


  1. I always think it makes the eyes look quite spooky. When I take photos and catch some like this I reject them as they don’t look attractive. It’s different of course in your case for informing. It’s a very clever mechanism but it still looks spooky.

  2. I agree Carol about that looking creepy. I have to say though, that I do enjoy the feeling of relaxation I get sitting on my garden bench watching the chickens all cuddled up close together in the sunniest spot, preening and chatting quietly amongst themselves, seemingly so comforted by it all that their eyes shut and they gently drift off to wonderland. It is really hard to get any work done on sunny days. :)

    • Lesley I have to agree I do exactly the same thing, its a great time waster and I have so much planting to do :)

    • It`s like `mother napping`……The eyes might appear to be closed but they are still aware what is going on around them.

  3. Very interesting, do you think they can see through the membrane or would they be sightless in the moment that it goes over ?
    The Ladies are having a great time in the Boys area, wonderful to have more sunshine and your temp’s have really gone up :)

  4. Just been watching Twiggy chase Phoebe’s around the run, very annoyed about something !!

  5. I’ll be VERY interested to see what there is about hen vision. Obviously they find things to eat without a problem, but I don’t see how they spot such things and determine if it’s edible so quickly. The whole “birds have sharp eyes” thing comes to my boggled mind.

  6. Camels have that membrane, too, and use it to protect their eyes during sandstorms. Humans have a remnant which you can see in the inner corner of your eye. If you have allergies and rub your eye, it swells up and you will become very aware of it.

    Great photos, and great info! Thanks.

  7. I love the last picture. With the tilt of her head, she seems to be suggesting that this had better be the last picture you’re going to take.

  8. my chick is breathing with difficulty, not eating or drinking. what can i do