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Georgia Tech Studies Chickens' Emotions Based On Their Clucks


Any preschooler knows what a chicken sounds like.


SIEGEL: The question is what does all that clucking mean?


Well, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology say they know the tone of what they call chicken speech.

SIEGEL: Wayne Daley is a research engineer there and leads a team that recorded more than a thousand hours of clucks and coos and squawks in order to decipher how a chicken is feeling at any given time.

WAYNE DALEY: If we are able to understand that, then we can do a better job of trying to raise them.

SIEGEL: The idea being, chickens raised better taste better.

BLOCK: This all started four years ago when farmers told Daley they could tell when something was wrong with their chickens by the sounds they were making.

DALEY: They could tell it was different than what they would normally expect even though they couldn't tell us exactly what it is they were pinpointing.

SIEGEL: So Daley's team ran some tests to see if they could pinpoint the differences. And when they put their heads together with poultry experts at the University of Georgia, they could.

DALEY: In the case of sick birds, you probably hear things like coughs (imitates chicken cough). There's a sound they call rails. It's kind of a rattling sound in the throat, you know - ratatatatata (ph).

BLOCK: As opposed to when the birds are happy, they trill or chirp.


SIEGEL: And now Daley and his team have developed algorithms to help farmers detect when their chickens are feeling blue.

DALEY: We have a smartphone app. And some of the people that monitor the animals, they can go set the phone down in the environment, and then we can try to analyze to see if we see anything that would lead them to think things were deviating from normal.

BLOCK: And if it doesn't sound like Daley grew up next to Georgia Tech or UGA, you're not hearing things. He is from Jamaica.

DALEY: As a kid, I grew up in the country with my grandparents, and we had to take care animals and chickens, for example. But I thought my job with them was done at that point.

SIEGEL: And, he says, it's hard to recruit students to help research the birds, but there is an upside for them.

DALEY: When they put it on their resume, they always get an interview because everybody wants to know what in the dickens were you doing?

SIEGEL: What in the dickens?

BLOCK: Chickens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.