Are chickens music fans? Michelle Dunn investigates…

A friend of mine told me she had bought her chickens a xylophone. I thought at first I had misheard her – but no, she’d seen a video online of chickens playing a xylophone and decided that her birds deserved a chance to express their inner musical talent as well.

‘Playing’ a xylophone? Actually playing it? I had a look online and found there were plenty of entries for ‘Chicken Xylophone’. Generally, a wooden xylophone with brightly coloured metal keys is hung on the cage wall, and the chickens peck at it. Is it possible that the chickens are genuinely making music, and appreciating the sounds they make?

One of the videos seemed to show two particularly talented chickens, but after I had watched the video several times I started to notice a few odd things. Firstly, no matter where the chickens pecked the keys, the note played appeared to be suspiciously clean and pure. I then realised that if you looked closely you could see that the chickens’ pecking movements and the musical notes were not always in synch. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that that particular video was being ‘enhanced’ by someone with another xylophone playing the note that the chickens were pecking at. Technically, this is just helping the chickens achieve what they were trying to do anyway, but it does take a bit of the sparkle out of the performance for me.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that chickens do respond to music. Studies on day-old chicks have found that they prefer music to random noise. A study was conducted by Bristol university in which they played pop, rock, classical or silence in nestboxes and monitored the laying chickens’ preferences. They found that the chickens were much more likely to lay in the ‘musical boxes’, and that they had a slight preference for the classical music.

A few years ago I experimented with playing music to see if my own chickens were attracted to the sound, but concluded that they although were initially attracted by the noise, they soon became bored and wandered off again. Free-range chickens, it seems, are just not that into music. However, if your chickens are kept in coops or enclosures, then providing a bit of extra entertainment for them can only be a good idea. I’d be fascinated to hear from anyone who has tried it!

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