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The 'clucking code': Humans can understand how a chicken feels from its clucks

A chicken stands watch in a coop at the Quill's End Farm, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Penobscot, Maine. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) A chicken stands watch in a coop at the Quill's End Farm, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Penobscot, Maine. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Humans can discern a chicken's mood by listening to its clucks, according to a new study, which suggests humans have a deep, "intuitive ability" to understand emotions across the species.

In the study released earlier this week, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia asked people of various ages to listen to recordings of clucking chickens and guess if they were happy or distressed.

"We anticipated that people who were experienced with chickens would be able to discern good from bad welfare from (the birds') vocalizations," the study's co-author Clive Phillips wrote in an email to

But, he says, they didn't expect that the general public would be able to do it, too.

Participants in the study listened to a series of clucks made by chickens excitedly anticipating food. They also listened to the chirps of chickens that were later denied a meal.

After listening to an assortment of "fast clucks," "whines" and "gakels," researchers found about seven in 10 participants could identify the chickens' mood from chirps alone.

"This is a remarkable result," said co-author Joerg Henning in a news release. Both Henning and Phillips are professors at the School of Veterinary Science at The University of Queensland.

Click the video below to hear an example of a "gakel" -- a sound you might hear a frustrated chicken make. Video not loading? Click here to open it in a new window.


Research suggests that, while different animals can make wildly different noises, there are a lot of similarities in how creatures express themselves.

Studies on non-human animals have found high arousal -- meaning the animal is very excited, positively or negatively -- is communicated with "harsher, louder, faster and longer" sounds.

In dogs, chimps, and elk, "high-frequency calls are produced in fearful or appeasing contexts, whereas low-frequency calls represent aggressive contexts," as stated in the study.

Animals' ability to understand the calls of other species helps them to avoid danger, it argues. It also serves to decypher the word on the street in hostile areas.

Those situations include "territory disputes, avoidance of predators, social interactions and the survival of newborns," the study reads.

FILE: Chickens are shown at an egg-laying chicken farm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Aleksandra Sagan


Clive says he hopes the research lays the groundwork for new ways to farm. If people take note of their livestock's mood, they may be encouraged to make conditions more comfortable for the animals.

"This may include not farming chickens in very poor housing systems, such as hens in battery cages and meat chickens raised at very high stocking density on the floors of barns," he wrote to

He says chicken sounds could be plugged into an AI system monitoring chicken happiness.

Technology like that could be used on farms anywhere, he says, or by watchdog organizations auditing livestock conditions.

In 2022, Canadian poultry farmers produced 1.37 billion kilograms of chicken. Top Stories

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