When you think about it, chickens are amazing birds with impressive physiologies. Chickens are especially known for their remarkably keen eyesight, able to detect the slightest movement in their immediate environment.
But there is a question that has long been debated by farmers and poultry enthusiasts alike. Can chickens see at night?
No, chickens are almost entirely blind at night or in conditions of very low light. Their instinctive behaviors regarding darkness influence every facet of their lives.
Chickens will try to roost before last light, and will only resume their usual activities during daylight hours.
The full answer, however, is not as straightforward as one might think. In general, chickens can see well during the day, but their vision does deteriorate dramatically in low light.
However, the providing them plenty of light to help them see at night is the wrong move. Keep reading to learn why.
Chickens Have Remarkably Good Eyesight…
During the day, chickens have very good vision. In fact, their eyesight is in some ways better than ours. Chickens can see color tones, light spectrums, and detail that we cannot.
They also have a very wide field of view, able to see nearly 300 degrees around them without moving their head.
Even better, their eyes are specially adapted to allow them to detect the smallest, subtlest movement in the area around them. This allows them to spot food, prey or predators quickly and take evasive action if necessary.
But Terrible Night Vision
While chickens have excellent vision during the day, they are almost entirely blind at night or in conditions of very low light. This is because their eyes lack a structure called the tapetum lucidum.
This layer of tissue reflects light back through the retina a second time, dramatically increasing the amount of light that reaches the photoreceptors and improving night vision.
Speaking of photoreceptors, chickens lack the quantity of such cells needed for acute night vision.
Even humans see better at night than chickens, and our night vision is pretty terrible! It is thought that chickens start losing clarity and color recognition pretty quickly once light levels start fading.
Because chickens do not have this reflective layer or many special photoreceptor cells, their night vision is abysmal to totally nonexistent. Chickens are entirely wired, biologically, to live in the daytime.
Because of this, the opposite is true, too: chickens will essentially shut down at night. Ideally they will be roosted and asleep, but if not, they usually stop where they are, even if they are in danger.
Poor Night Vision Means Vulnerability to Predators
The most obvious problem with having terrible night vision, if you are a chicken, is that it makes you very vulnerable to nocturnal predators.
Chickens are instinctively fearful of the dark for this reason, and will often go to great lengths to avoid being out in the open at night.
Foxes, coyotes, cats, and other such animals are all major threats to chickens, and just so happen to be well-adapted to hunting at night.
All will take advantage of any opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting chicken from the coop or any other area.
This is why it is so important to make sure all your chickens are inside the coop at sundown, and that your coop is securely closed up at night.
Chickens Always Seek to Roost before Nightfall
Your chickens, assuming they are adapted to their home and coop, will instinctively head toward the coop when the sun starts getting low in the sky.
Fading light levels signal to chickens that they need to get home, and quick!
This is the time of day when most predators are starting to hunt, and chickens know they need to be in a safe place before nightfall.
If you have ever seen your chickens start to group up before sundown, this is why! They are trying to get back to the coop as fast as possible so they can roost for the night.
Once they are on the roost, they will sleep soundly (usually) until morning comes again.
Should You Provide Light for Chickens After Dark?
That’s a tough question. Generally, no. Bright light sources can keep chickens awake inside their coop. In fact, they are so keenly sensitive to light that even artificial light can disrupt their sleep patterns (the same as us).
On the other hand, a dim light might give birds comfort or allow them to see enough to move around when needed inside the coop.
Chicks in particular seem to respond well to a nightlight, and it can help them feel secure.
Also, keep in mind a light also helps you see your chickens when checking on them at night, which can be important.
Just don’t use anything too bright, or you might end up with some very sleepy birds the next morning!
Chickens Need a Period of Darkness to Sleep and Recuperate
Contrary to popular belief, chickens generally won’t be up and down all night inside their coop. If they can, they will sleep all through the night just like any other animal.
Chickens need about 8 hours of sleep every night in order to stay healthy, again, just like you and me.
This is why it is important for chickens to have a period of darkness in their coop at night, even though they are nearly helpless in the dark.
If there is artificial light inside, or light pollution coming in from outside, they may not sleep as soundly or as long as they need to.
This can lead to all sorts of health problems, so try to keep light sources to a minimum in your chicken coop at night.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.