Chickens' sense of smell

PUBLISHED: 09:34 16 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:34 16 August 2016

P1010001 Strongly scented plants mask the scent of chicken nests

P1010001 Strongly scented plants mask the scent of chicken nests

Archant

A broody hen chooses a herb bed to have her chicks. She might have done so for a reason….

Chickens have a good sense of smell. Not as good as dogs or pigs, but it is suggested that their sense of smell is about as good as our own. They use their sense of smell to identify one another and help make decisions about what is good and bad to eat, but recently I have been wondering if they can use their sense of smell to help them in another way.

One of our chickens, Boules, recently went broody. So far, so good. However, did she choose to go broody in the nice comfy nestbox in the security of the chicken shed? Of course she didn’t. She went broody out in the open, in a flower bed, with no protection at all from predators.

Ground nesting birds are very vulnerable. They can choose the most hidden spot in the world, but they can still be sniffed out. To try and avoid this, the nesting bird will sit motionless. She will move as little as she has to, and instead of passing droppings as she sits as hens normally do, she will leave the nest every few days and pass one enormous dropping away from the nest. All this is done to stop her nest being found by smell, and to an extent, it works quite well. But there is one thing she can do nothing to hide and that is the actual hatching of the eggs. She must continually cluck to the chicks, and as the egg breaks open, it releases a strong smell. Also, the newly hatched chicks are wet, and they also give off a strong scent until they dry. At this time they are most at risk from discovery by foxes.

Boules, however, had not just picked any old flower bed to go broody in. She chose the herb bed, full of lavender, oregano, marjoram and catmint. These are ideal plants to hide a nest in, because they are very strongly scented. Every movement made by her and her hatching chicks would immediately release strong, herby smells that would disguise the smell of Boules and her chicks. Is it possible that Boules actually knew this, or did she choose such a good nest site by pure chance? I just don’t know.

P8140011 Boules and her chicks in the herbsP8140011 Boules and her chicks in the herbs

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