Chickens are descended from wild Red Jungle Fowl and were domesticated by humans more than 8,000 years ago. A fixture of farm life, chickens come in a range of sizes and shapes, with more than 60 breeds worldwide.
What They Eat
Chickens are omnivores, eating all types of food. Outdoors, they find seeds, insects, grubs, and worms. On large farms today, chickens eat feeds packed with protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Chickens are big drinkers. They swallow 2-3 times as much water as feed.
Where They Live
Chickens live wherever humans do. People have developed different breeds to fit different environments. Some, such as Plymouth Rock chickens, are good foragers. Others, such as Araucanas, are well adapted to living indoors.
What They Do
Chickens are social animals that live in groups, with several hens living with one or more roosters. Hens spend their days laying eggs, pecking for food, or resting on a roost. Although chickens are birds, most cannot fly.
How They’re Doing
Because they are important to people, chickens are not in danger. However, some breeds of domestic chicken are rare. Farmers and Zoo staff work to preserve different breeds. Preserving diversity among breeds makes domestic chickens healthier as a species.
The Zoo has a flock of chickens at the Wells Fargo Family Farm. These birds range from Plymouth Rocks to rare Buff Cochins. The flock also includes Red Jungle Fowl, the chicken’s wild ancestor.
When the farm is open, visitors to the Chicken House can get a close look at the flock and follow the chicken’s life cycle from egg to fluffy chick to grown hen.
Meet the Animals
The Zoo’s flock changes from year to year. It generally includes Araucana, Buff Cochin, Partridge Rock, and Plymouth Rock chickens, along with wild Red Jungle Fowl.
Home on the Farm
The Zoo’s chickens live in the chicken house. This red-and-green building contains roosts and nest boxes. It also houses areas where eggs are hatched into chicks. In warm weather, hens, roosters, and chicks peck in the dirt of the fenced-in yard.
Inside the Chicken House, there’s a kid-sized roosting area to play in. Kids can crawl through a coop and play in jumbo nest boxes. Cutouts in the walls allow kids to poke their heads out and smile for the camera.
Care at the Zoo
Every morning, newly laid eggs are taken from nest boxes to the incubator, a warm environment.
Eggs are generally incubated (kept in that warm place) for 18 days. Next, eggs are placed in a hatcher, where most will hatch at 21 days. Any unhatched eggs are removed and discarded.
When hatching, a chick uses a sharp projection at the top of its beak, called an egg tooth, to make a hole, or pip, in the shell. After making the pip, a chick rests for 3-8 hours. Then it breaks the shell all around and pushes its feet against the small end of the shell. In about 40 minutes, a chick can work its way free from the shell.
Young chicks move into the brooder. This area is designed to keep chicks warm and dry, while giving them easy access to food and water. Chicks in the brooder range in age from two days to one week.
Zoo staff sometimes allow visitors to pet chicks. To pet a chick, gently run one finger along the animal’s back.
- Unlike people, chickens can’t have a “sweet tooth.” While they can taste salt, they can’t tell which foods are sweet. Besides, chickens have no teeth!
- Before clocks were widely used, many people relied on roosters to wake them up in the morning.
- A rooster’s morning greeting—cock-a-doodle-doo in English—ischicchirichí in Italian, ko-ke-kok-ko-o in Japanese, and ‘o’o’o in Mandarin Chinese.
- Chickens are smarter than you might think. Studies prove that if you show a chicken an object, and then hide it, the chicken realizes that the object still exists—something human toddlers aren’t always able to understand.