By Kimberly Willis, Robert T. Ludlow

Being called a birdbrain is supposed to indicate that you’re not very smart. Bird brains may be organized more like reptile brains than mammal brains, but plenty of evidence indicates that birds, including chickens, are pretty smart.

Scientists have recently discovered that while the “thinking” area of a bird’s brain may look different from the same part of a mammal’s brain, birds are capable of thought processes that even some species of mammals can’t achieve. And chickens’ brains are able to repair a considerable amount of damage, something mammal brains can’t do.

Birds, including chickens, understand the concept of counting and can be trained to count items to achieve an award. Most mammals who are said to count are actually responding to signals from the trainer. Birds also trick or deceive other birds, and even other animals, which means they must be able to understand the outcome of a future or planned action.

Some birds also mimic the sounds of other birds and animals; few other animals mimic sounds. Chickens, however, cannot be taught to talk as some bird species can, and they don’t mimic other animals. Chickens probably fall about midrange on the intelligence scale of birds.

Chicken brains have a large optic area because vision is very important to their survival. A chicken can spot a hawk or hawklike object from a good distance away, and the brain immediately tells the chicken to run for cover or freeze, whichever will be most effective. They also learn to spot and avoid other predators quite quickly.

Chicken eyes are also adept at spotting the tiniest seed or the slightest movement of a bug. While human eyes can miss an expertly camouflaged tomato hornworm, even a big fat one, beady chicken eyes quickly spot it.