Roosters may be a lot smarter than you think.
According to a study published in the PLOS ONE journal on Wednesday, its proponent, Sonja Hillemacher, who is an animal behavior researcher at Germany’s University of Bonn, together with her colleagues, found out that roosters can recognize themselves in mirrors – something that not every animal can do.
Hillemacher and her team did the study in reference to a previous 1970 experiment by psychologist Gordon Gallup, who housed chimpanzees with mirrors, then marked their faces with red dye.
The chimpanzees did not seem to notice the markings until they could see their reflections. Shortly after, they began inspecting and touching the markings on their faces, suggesting that they recognized themselves in the mirror.
The researchers recreated that experiment by placing a rooster in various rooms where the animal is alone, with its reflection in the mirror, or with other roosters. They then also projected a silhouette of a hawk onto the ceiling of the rooms.
Naturally, roosters would warn other roosters when a predator like a hawk is near. But when they are alone, they just stay silent, so as not to attract more attention.
In the experiment, the rooster that was with another rooster in the room sounded when the former saw the hawk’s silhouette.
Interestingly, the rooster that was just with the mirror and its reflection in the room stayed quiet even after seeing the hawk’s silhouette, suggesting that it can recognize itself in the mirror.
Hillemacher explained their findings. She said that animals that can recognize themselves in the mirror often seemed to have more advanced cognitive abilities, since there was a link to social and emotional intelligence, and self-awareness.
“This ability is a fundamental aspect of consciousness. It is also fundamental for us,” she said. “Our results suggest a level of consciousness [in chickens] that prompts discussions about animal rights and welfare.”