Our created feathered friends
Have you ever eaten chicken wings? What’s on your plate doesn’t really show how big the complete wing was, but it does remind us that chickens are grown for food, including their eggs. They are bred to optimize the quality (and quantity, by unnatural accelerated maturing) of their meat, or for egg-laying, sometimes both. To a lesser degree they are kept by fanciers and as pets.
My wife and I have kept chickens for a few years and have observed some interesting chicken facts. And yes, we think their eggs taste better than supermarket eggs!
Domestic chickens are part of the Galliform order together with, for example, turkeys and pheasants—see box.1 The group, typically found at ground level, are accordingly known as ‘landfowl’. However, they can fly, including chickens! Sometimes, main flight feathers are clipped on one side, to prevent them getting proper ‘lift’.
But chickens are usually rather poor, even reluctant, flyers.2 They are capable of covering a moderate distance after lift-off, which helps them avoid ground-dwelling predators. Chickens may even fly larger distances if they start from a high point, by flap-assisted gliding. However, they mostly prefer to keep their feet on solid ground, scratching and pecking around in the dirt. When roosting, they may perch higher up, e.g. in a tree.
Becoming airborne also requires considerable energy, and so also requiring a high metabolic rate and sufficient food intake. Wild “flightless birds have smaller pectoral [breast] muscle and slower metabolic rates than flying birds”.3
Chickens reared for meat are fatter, and usually kept very close together—restricted space saves money. Unable to flap their wings properly due to their environment, the flight muscles grow weaker from lack of exercise. Their ability to fly drops—an ecophenotypic, i.e. not inherited, change.
A study of prairie chickens (Tymp-anuchus cupido), a type of grouse, confirmed that wild ones were better at flying than pen-reared ones. A year after the latter were released into the wild, their flying ability had not yet fully caught up.4
Furthermore, hens bred over many generations for eggs divert more of their energy intake to egg-laying than to flight capacity.
Chickens vary greatly in size, plumage, weight, etc., even among the domestic subspecies (Gallus gallus domesticus).
Chicken fanciers, interested in winning contests with their feathered friends, engage in artificial selection for this reason. A host of fascinating variations on the chicken theme have emerged across the world, many in the 1800s, though some go back much further:5
What causes a hen to prepare a nest? Nesting behaviour is instinctive (genetically programmed).6 Internal motivation arises due to released hormones connected with ovulation.7,8 Given a choice, a domestic chicken prefers to lay her eggs in a nesting box ready-made with straw.
Most reptiles (such as turtles and lizards) dig a hole to bury their eggs and wander off—they don’t support their offspring. How does the mother hen know to sit on her freshly laid eggs? There is no apparent indication that the egg contains her offspring in need of care. It seems to be a created instinct, since many modern commercial breeds have had this instinct ‘bred out’ of them.9
The eggshell’s design10 itself shows the Designer’s care for the chick inside. Features include:
- A porous shell that allows exchange of gases while conserving moisture.
- A mechanism to dissolve it from the inside, providing calcium for the embryo’s bones.
- Sufficient strength for protection, but still breakable when hatching time arrives.
- A coating called ‘bloom’ preventing pathogens from entering.
Various internal features of chicken eggs are equally vital; for instance, its membrane compartments (yolk sac, amnion, and allantois). Could such a marvellous package, with so many ‘eggsacting’ requirements, possibly have originated by evolutionary ‘chance and necessity’?11
Some of these features are not merely nice to have, but essential for survival of the chick; if they weren’t implemented together from the beginning it would mean the end of the chick (likewise for all other species of birds). I marvel at our little chickens laying such sizeable nutritious eggs, sometimes numerous days in a row, but for their Creator God nothing is too complicated.
Chicken eggs have a range of colours, fixed in their genes, due to different pigments ‘added’ to the basic white shell. Brown eggs are laid by most common backyard breeds, e.g. Rhode Island Reds. White eggs are laid by e.g. Leghorns. Blue eggs are laid by e.g. Araucanas, a breed originally from Chile’s Araucanía region. Crossing breeds that are blue egg layers with brown layers can result in greeny-coloured eggs! The shell colour does not affect the nutritional value of the egg.
Have you ever seen a chicken sit or sleep on a branch (roosting)? The chicken expends little effort to wrap its claws around its perch. It has been demonstrated that lowering its centre of gravity into a perched position causes the limb tendons to close the claws automatically—what a grand design.12
People have teeth to chew chunks of food into smaller bits. A chicken lacks teeth so it swallows food whole (or tries to break it by pecking or shaking it before swallowing). To aid digestion, it swallows small stones that descend into the gizzard. This is a muscular organ that grinds the chicken’s food and small stones—called gastroliths—together.13 As the gastroliths become smoother and smaller over time, they will eventually be excreted as waste products. Therefore, continued intake of gravel to replace worn gastroliths is normal.
Did chickens ever have teeth? Some evolutionists say “avian teeth were lost at least 70–80 million years ago” and that “teeth have been independently lost several times” during evolution in other creatures too.14 However, the loss of teeth (or any other feature) by mutation doesn’t explain how they appeared in those creatures in the first place. Rather, it is the opposite of new information arising over time, that neo-Darwinism must explain. In fact, for mutations in general to add useful information is about as rare as hen’s teeth!
Whether toothless birds were created without teeth or lost them, a question for evolutionists to answer is: how did the first bird without teeth know that swallowing stones or gravel would be necessary? And how did the muscular gizzard just happen to evolve at the same time to accommodate them? Clearly, stones are not suitable as nourishment.
Do chickens bathe?
Chickens are observed to lie down and deliberately flick dirt all over their feathers. In fact, they do this to stay clean! Chickens have dust baths to remove excess oil, lice, and mites. Furthermore, it helps to keep their outer feathers water-repellent. Hens in battery cages have been seen to exhibit dustbathing behaviour even without dirt. Even a mutant featherless strain engaged in dustbathing.15 This suggests it is not a learned behaviour, but a hard-wired instinct, and therefore a created design feature.
Who’s the boss?
There is a hierarchy in a chicken flock; a so-called pecking order is established … by pecking. This process can be fierce, especially for the lowest ranking hen which may get pecked by all the others. Once established, however, the chickens know their place and live in harmony. A top hen’s role is not just to be a bully. Often she remains outside till last, ensuring all the other hens are in for the night. If one is missing, she calls her. They are social creatures.
When our lowest ranking hen became sick, the others chased her away from food and water (maybe so the others wouldn’t become sick). To save her life, we tried separating her, but she became more miserable and only wanted to return to the others. That ultimately caused her demise.
A hierarchy is not necessarily a bad thing and could well have existed pre-Fall. That is, it was a design feature but the behaviour became harsher following the corruption of the Curse. On the other hand, chicken death, sickness, harmful pecking—definitely bad things—were certainly not present originally.
Some final thoughts
Mankind was given stewardship over the earth (Genesis 1:28). God gave us permission to eat plants (Genesis 1:29). Only after the Flood was it permissible to eat chickens for food (Genesis 9:3). Chickens can be fascinating and fun to keep. Well-kept chickens are healthy animals, whose good quality meat and tasty eggs are enjoyed by people the world over. And even those birds which have been ‘retired’ after serving their purpose in more intensive egg farms can make excellent pets, as my family and I can testify. It’s fun to watch them loiter and scratch the dirt, and they continue to delight us by laying lovely eggs.
Chickens and the created kind
Most authorities believe domestic chickens descended from the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus)—this is referred to as the monophyletic theory. However, some believe chickens had multiple ancestors—the polyphyletic theory—including the grey jungle fowl (Gallus sonneratii).1
This is an ongoing controversy. In any case, evidence of interspecies hybridizations among these and other chickens (such as the Ceylon jungle fowl—Gallus lafayetii) confirms they all belong to the same created kind, not surprisingly.2 All jungle fowls belong to the same family (Phasianidae) as pheasants, grouse, partridges, quail, peafowl, turkeys, and of course domestic chickens; the created kind likely extends to at least this family level. All these heavy ground-dwellers thus diversified from one type after the Ark. (In fact, the created kind may here even involve the entire galliform order, Galliformes.3)
References and notes
- Eltanany, M. and Distl, O., Genetic diversity and genealogical origins of domestic chicken, World’s Poultry Science Journal 66(4):715–726, 2010.
- Nishibori, M. et al., Molecular evidence for hybridization of species in the genus Gallus except for Gallus varius, Animal Genetics 36(5):367–375, 2005.
- Lightner, J., An initial estimate of avian ark kinds, Answers Research Journal 6:409–466, 2013.
References and notes
- McConnachie, M. and Brophy, T.R., A baraminological analysis of the Landfowl (Aves: Galliformes), Frontiers in Creation Research, Proceedings of the Seventh BSG Conference, Occasional papers of the BSG 11:9–10, 2008. Return to text.
- Some breeds cannot fly at all, e.g. Silkie bantams’ fluffy plumage makes flight impossible. Return to text.
- Ji, Y. and DeWoody, J.A., Relationships among powered flight, metabolic rate, body mass, genome size, and the retrotransposon complement of volant birds, Evolutionary Biology 44:261–272, 2016. Return to text.
- Hess, M. et al., Differences in flight characteristics of pen-reared and wild prairie-chickens, The Journal of Wildlife Management 69(2):650–654, 2005. Return to text.
- Aschwanden, C., Beautiful Chickens: Portraits of Champion Breeds, Frances Lincoln Limited, London, 2011. Return to text.
- Landsberg, G.M. and Denenberg, S., Social behaviour in chickens, msdvetmanual.com, May 2014. Return to text.
- The University of Edinburgh, Chicken behaviour and welfare: nesting and layer behaviour, coursera.org, accessed 26 Jan 2021. Return to text.
- Jacob, J., Normal behaviors of chickens in small and backyard poultry flocks, poultry.extension.org; accessed 28 Jan 2021. Return to text.
- Wiggins, E., What does a hen do with her unfertilised eggs?, independent.co.uk, 14 Mar 2015. Return to text.
- See creation.com/eggshell-design. Return to text.
- See creation.com/whats-in-an-egg. Return to text.
- Vukičević, T. et al., The morphological characteristics of the passive flexor mechanism of birds with different digit layout, Veterinarski Arhiv 88(1):125–138, 2018. Return to text.
- Greek gastēr = stomach, and lithos = stone. Return to text.
- Harris, M. et al., The development of archosaurian first-generation teeth in a chicken mutant, Current Biology 16:371–377, 2006. Return to text.
- Olsson, I. and Keeling, L., Why in earth? Dustbathing behaviour in jungle and domestic fowl reviewed from a Tinbergian and animal welfare perspective, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93(205):259–282, 2005. Return to text.