14 Fun Facts About Chickens | Science | Smithsonian
Chickens at a Florida farmhouse museum (Courtesy of Flickr user Kristine Paulus)

14 Fun Facts About Chickens

#5: With 25 billion chickens in the world, there are more of them than any other bird species

smithsonian.com

Why chickens? Well, I think we need a break from natural disasters, and chickens are a good distraction (how can the Chicken Dance not amuse?).

1 ) The chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, is a domestic subspecies of the red junglefowl, a member of the pheasant family that is native to Asia. Genetic studies have found that the grey junglefowl also contributed to the chicken’s evolution.

2 ) This bird was probably first domesticated for the purpose of cockfights, not as food.

3 ) Chickens aren’t completely flightless—they can get airborne enough to make it over a fence or into a tree.

4 ) These birds are omnivores. They’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey like small mice and lizards.

5 ) With 25 billion chickens in the world, there are more of them than any other bird species.

6 ) There are dozens of chicken breeds, such as the Dutch bantam, leghorn and Rhode Island red.

7 ) Baby chickens are chicks. Female chickens are pullets until they’re old enough to lay eggs and become hens. Male chickens are called roosters, cocks or cockerels, depending on the country you’re in.

8 ) A rooster announces to a flock of chickens that he’s found food with a “took, took, took.” But the hens don’t pay attention if they already know that there is food around.

9 ) Roosters perform a little dance called ‘tidbitting’ in which they make sounds (food calls) and move their head up and down, picking up and dropping a bit of food. Researchers have found that females prefer males that often perform tidbitting and have larger, brighter combs on top of their heads.

10) Scientists think that the rooster’s wattle–the dangly bit beneath his beak–helps him to gain a hen’s attention when he is tidbitting.

11 ) A female chicken will mate with many different males but if she decides, after the deed is done, that she doesn’t want a particular rooster’s offspring and can eject his sperm. This occurs most often when the male is lower in the pecking order.

12 ) The chicken was the first bird to have its genome sequenced, in 2004.

13 ) Avian influenza (a.k.a. bird flu) is extremely contagious and can make chickens very sick and kill them. The highly pathogenic form of the disease can kill off 90 to 100 percent of birds in a flock in just 48 hours.

14 ) And which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, all vertebrates have eggs, but the hardshelled variety first appeared among reptiles.

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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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