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We've all heard the classic answer to this anti-humorous "joke" where the most common answer is simply, "to get to the other side." Perhaps you've even heard a few more funny versions of it where there's actually a punchline. But in reality, do chickens actually cross the road, or is that just reserved for those pesky squirrels scurrying across the street at the last second?
Well here are 5 scientific explanations for why a chicken would actually want to cross the road (and a couple of jokes at the end!)
Chickens instinctively try to act as normally as possible to avoid being targeted by predators or other members of their flock. Think of sick chickens as young children; they want to fit in or else they'll get bullied. But, like young children, those who feel like they may get bullied also seem to display signs of anti-social behavior. Ill chickens often stay in the coop for longer and stay away from the rest of their flock while eating. If the chickens live near a road, that poor, sick little chick may (accidentally) cross the road to isolate itself even more.
As a quick note, if you have chickens and you see signs of this, don't panic quite yet as it could just be a broody hen. If you forcibly isolate her from the others and she still eats/drinks normally, she's just a bit hormonal.
Chickens, despite only having a peanut-sized brain, are able to enter REM sleep and dream. So from this, there are two sub reasons for crossing the road!
2a) They are dreaming and maybe in their dream, they find themselves stuck on one side of the road away from all their friends. They instinctively run across to rejoin their flock because, ya know, safety in numbers! Or maybe, they had a nightmare and their flock got chased by a hawk. Swept up in the action, they ran across, squawking like maniacs. If you were a chicken, what would you dream of?
2b) Like humans, chickens can be awake and asleep at the same time. Some of us can sleepwalk during this time but there's very little solid research on if chickens could as well. However, there is some anecdotal evidence for that happening so I'll put this down as a potential explanation for a chicken crossing the road - sleepwalking.
While non-domesticated chickens are quite rare in some parts of the United States now, they do exist and they are aggressive. No seriously, during mating season, they are VERY aggressive. You may have seen their cousins, the wild turkey, in the streets in late fall (ironically close to Thanksgiving) pecking at cars. Well, if given the chance wild chickens will also do that. Roosters, in particular, will attack each other and often kill one another during this time. Even domestic roosters ought to be limited to a 1:10 ratio with the hens. So, if wild roosters see their reflection on a stationary car on the road, their tiny little brain thinks they see an opponent and will charge out to attack.
This one may seem a bit weird but chickens, like chinchilla, take dust baths! Since chickens do not like water but still need to cleanse themselves of oils and parasites, they roll around in dust. If the road in question was a dusty, dirt road and the chickens were moving slowly towards it while they ate, you may see them go out into and "dust themselves off!"
Chickens, like many other birds, can navigate using their magnetic compass and the sun. Though this trait is more helpful for wild chickens looking for food/water (potentially crossing a road on the way), modern domesticated chickens also inherited this trait. Domesticated chickens usually use this to return home instead of actually searching for food but still, it's interesting that, even after 800 years of being bred as livestock, they still retained this behavior and ability.