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Newly-hatched chicks have skills that even three-year-olds fail to match

Study shows poultry to be capable of numeracy, self-control and engineering feats that it can take humans up to four years to achieve

Newly-hatched chickens are capable of skills that it can take human babies months or even years to master, new research has revealed.

Fields of intelligence ranging from structural engineering to self-control appear to come more naturally to chicks than toddlers, and professor of animal welfare Christine Nichol said we should no longer think of chickens as stupid.

In one test, the birds were allowed access to more food the longer they waited to start eating. While 93 per cent of hens were able to grasp this skill, comparable studies have suggested many humans cannot exhibit this kind of self-control until the age of four.

The study, supported by the Happy Egg Co., suggested that chicks are born with the ability to keep track of numbers up to five - preferring larger groups of eggs - a skill which babies need to be taught.

Chickens also reportedly have an instinctive ability to recognise structurally sound objects, favouring these over ones which seem dubious or inconsistent.

And they show awareness of objects which fall out of sight, keeping track of them in a way that is alien to babies up to the age of about one.

Professor Nichol, who reviewed 20 years of research on the topic for the University of Bristol, said: "Despite their familiarity, few people think of domesticated chickens as intelligent birds.

"Chickens may not be about to make a significant mathematical, scientific or literary contribution to the world, but the study shows that chickens have the capacity to master skills and develop abilities that a human child can take months and years to accomplish."