You can’t work for a Zoo for long without realizing that animals are smart.
They sense things we never realize, can learn quickly and often show us their intelligence in unexpected ways.
Everyone knows about the intelligence of apes, parrots, canines and big cats.
But what about chickens?
Chickens?! You may say. What about chickens? Chickens aren’t smart, they’re just, well, chickens.
The main white meat. The root of many jokes (“Guess what? Chicken butt!” You know you’ve said it.) The squawking, strutting, dummy-headed birdbrains of the barnyard, right?
Wrong, my friends, wrong.
I have seen many examples of chicken intelligence at the Zoo, starting, of course, with the ability of our Show Chickens to quickly learn and flawlessly perform their routines.
But this tale really takes the cake.
A little backstory: Our Children’s Zoo chickens often lay eggs on a daily basis. We take these free-range chicken eggs and use them to feed to our other animals. Many of our animals eat scrambled and hard boiled egg and, hey, what better place to get them then right here in our own Zoo barnyard. We know exactly what those chickens are eating, ya’ll! The chickens usually like a soft place to lay their eggs and so generally prefer to lay them on the hay bales in our tack room.
The other day I was heading over to our New Barn to feed the burros and our gal, Bubbles the Dwarf Zebu. As I stood at the gate trying to clumsily unlock the lock with my cold, gloved fingers, three chickens gathered around me and started pecking me on the leg.
This is odd CZ-chicken behavior. Our chickens are usually sweet, old gals, good at strutting around looking for grubs and popcorn. They do not (usually) tend to gang up on and attack their keepers!
“Hey!” I shouted. “Stop that! Get away from me!"
I was laughing too, because it was just so weird.
The three chickens followed at my heels as I entered the barnyard and continued to squawk at me, pecking my ankles.
"What are you guys doing?!” I laughed, trying to walk with my own personal mini-flock surrounding me.
As I reached the door to the tack room where the burro/zebu food is kept the chickens quieted down and just stared at me.
And then it hit me.
They wanted in. These chickens wanted to get into the locked tack room so that they could lay their eggs. They saw me, knew that I could open the tack door and thought that they would alert me to the urgency of their quest.
Sure enough, I opened the door and all three girls sauntered in, settled themselves in the hay and laid three, beautiful, brown eggs.
Amongst all of the visitors (ok, well, it’s winter, so all five of the visitors at the CZ that day) those chickens picked me out as one of their keepers with the ability to let them into that room so that they could lay their eggs.
If that’s not smart, I don’t know what is.
Guess what turns out ain’t so plain?
(ok, I know that was bad.)