Animals are trying t communicate with us, but we don’t know how to interpret their sounds. For instance, chickens can’t speak, but they can definitely make themselves heard. Most people who have visited a poultry farm will recall chicken vocalization–the technical term for clucking and squawking–as a memorable part of the experience.
Researchers now believe that such avian expressiveness may be more than idle chatter. They are investigating whether the birds’ volubility can provide clues to how healthy and comfortable they are.
And that could be valuable information, because chickens lead the economy in many states, such as Georgia, where poultry is the top agricultural product with an estimated annual impact of nearly $20 billion statewide.
Researcher Wayne Daley says, "Many poultry professionals swear they can walk into a grow-out house and tell whether a flock is happy or stressed just by listening to the birds vocalize. The trouble is, it has proved hard for these pros to pinpoint for us exactly what it is that they’re hearing." Like many other scientists, he is convinced that poultry farmers are detecting something real.
To decode mass poultry vocalizing, computer scientist David Anderson is extracting particular features of the sound, such as speed, volume, pitch and other qualities. Then he’s utilizing machine learning–in which computers recognize complex patterns in data and make decisions based on those patterns–to analyze the extracted features and determine which characteristics may convey specific meanings. He says, "By listening to the flock we can accurately tell when the birds are experiencing particular kinds of stress, such as significant temperature changes."