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Birds show empathy when chicks are in pain

In amazing news that may have implications on how birds are treated, researchers from the U.K. found that female chickens feel empathy when their chicks are being tormented.

Researchers simulated stress on the chicks by blowing puffs of air at them. The response of the mother hens who could see and smell and the chicks was clear. Their heart rates increased, their body temperatures rose and they made what’s called a maternal vocalization call.

This indicates that even though the hens themselves were not in any pain, they still had an emotional response to the torment felt by the chicks.

An article on MSNBC further explored the ramifications of this finding:

“It’s very fascinating to find out about the emotional lives of animals, but also it’s highly relevant for animal welfare,” said researcher Joanne Edgar of the University of Bristol, in southern England. The finding is important in farming or laboratory situations, where birds and other animals are often exposed to the pain and distress of their co-habitants in tight quarters. If they feel empathy toward their injured coop-mates, they could be put under extra stress.

The researchers are still exploring whether this is simply a motherly reaction or whether chickens have this same response when any other chickens are in pain.

If empathy is a wider feeling in birds, it could put more pressure on chicken farms to change their cruel practices of raising them.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.