How Do Chickens See?
Updated: Jul 8
I remember spending time out in the coop one day. Well, this is most days for me. I love to sit and watch my girls scratch around and see who can find the best snacks. They are silly little birds, and there’s never a dull moment. It also gives me a good opportunity to check them all over to make sure they’re healthy and happy.
As I was sitting back, thinking how wonderful it was to have these chickens... I saw it. One of my Barred Rocks had what almost looked like a blind eye. I quickly picked her up and tried to analyze the strange way her one eye looked. When all of a sudden, her eye slipped back to normal! This had me intrigued. I gently set her down and quickly made my way to the house to do some research. It was then that I found out chickens have incredible eyesight, they have 3 eyelids and can see way more and way better than humans! There are some interesting scientific articles out there on chicken eyesight. My goal is to break this down and make it a little easier to understand.
How Do Chickens See?
Chickens see much the same way humans do. The light comes in through the cornea and iris and triggers nerve endings in the retina. Chickens actually are able to see more on the color spectrum than humans. Humans have tri-chromatic vision while chickens have tetra-chromatic vision. Which just means that along with humans, chickens can see wavelengths (green, blue, and red), but they can also see (ultraviolet). Fascinating right? So, essentially, chickens can see much more vibrantly in color than we can. They also have a larger range of vision and can make out objects and movements better than us. It makes it pretty hard to sneak up on a chicken in the daylight hours! Believe me I’ve tried! Haha
Did You Know Chickens Have 3 Eyelids?
This brings me to that day out in the coop. I was relieved when her eye went back to normal, but I was concerned she had something else going on. After some research, I learned that chickens have a nictitating membrane. That’s just a fancy word for a third eyelid. It's a see-through eyelid that operates on its own. Chickens will use this eyelid to protect their eyes from dirt and dust while dust bathing and clean them if something gets in their eye. It swipes horizontally from front to back and honestly looks a little creepy when they use them! Chickens will also use this eyelid while sleeping sometimes. They can rest but also watch for predators. Chickens can also sleep with one eye completely open. That brings new meaning to that term doesn’t it?
Can Chickens See in the Dark?
The short and final answer is no. They can’t see a thing in darkness. In fact, they can’t see if things are almost dark either. That’s why your flock will put itself to bed every night. They know that when the sun is heading to bed, they’d better go to bed too! This is also a good reminder that when you are just starting with baby chicks to provide a small light 24/7. Baby chicks sleep a lot, but they eat and drink a lot as well. Providing food and water is essential to their survival in the first weeks of life. And, a huge part of this is that they’re able to see it to find it!
Seeing my chicken's third eyelid that day was startling, but I’m glad it happened! I’ve seen a lot since then as well. I was relieved to learn that this was just another normal part of everyday chicken life I just didn’t know about yet. That’s one thing about raising backyard chickens, it’s always an adventure! I feel like I learn new things each week and it never gets boring!
Chickens use their keen eyesight to watch out for each other, watch for predators, find bugs and other special treats and of course to spy me across the yard so they can come running for some extra attention! And, if you think you’re going sneak up on that one who just won’t obey, good luck. They are quick little stinkers and can see you coming from a mile away!
Until next time,
--The Wing Lady
Other helpful sources on chicken eyesight: