There are hundreds of varieties of chicken.
Some are very fancy and looks as through they are wearing posh hats, snazzy boots or unusual pantaloons.
Every single chicken has about four thousand feathers.

They all have a coloured frill on their heads and under their beaks. They are usually a reddish colour are called combs and wattles. There are nine types of comb in different shapes and sizes.

You can tell if the bird is healthy by looking at the colour of its comb and this is also one of the ways that other Chickens pick a strong partner to flirt and mate with.

Chickens bathe in the dust to clean their feathers and skin. By doing this they keep away mites, keep cool themselves down and scrub away old skin and muck.

bufforpchicken2They enjoy getting together in groups when they have their dustbaths as if they are enjoying a day at the spa.

They are very communicative and use thirty or so sounds that they put together in many different ways, just like we put words together to make sentences, so that they can natter to each other. In fact they are very sociable creatures and they have incredible memories. They can recognise and remember over a hundred different human and animal faces.

Male chickens are called cockerels and they are famous for being early morning alarm clocks because they crow with a cock-a-doodle-doo sound when the sun rises.

Chickens can navigate and tell the time using the magnetic fields of the earth and the sun, which is how they know when to roost, to snuggle down together in a safe space and sleep, and when to wake up.

Because lots of other creatures like to eat chickens they have to be extra careful in watching out for danger.

To do this really well they have developed great ways to be aware of threats and get to safety.

chicken4The right eye of a chicken focuses on things nearby, like food, and the left one focusses on the distance and looking out for danger.

They can see in colour, just like humans, except that their vision is better than ours because they have Ultra Violet sight as well. Because of this the mother hen can spot if her chicks are unwell even before they are hatched.

They have the most excellent ears which help them to avoid being snuck up on by something greedy. As they get older, a chicken’s hearing starts to get weaker, the cells in the part of their head responsible for hearing can regrow so that they can mend themselves and hear every bit as well as they used to.

They can run at nine miles an hour, which is very fast and comes in very useful getting away from hungry creatures who fancy a chicken for supper.

chicken5Chickens’ beaks are super sensitive with a cluster of nerves as the tip. They use their beaks to ruffle around in their feathers and root out irritating insects and dirt, to probe around for bits and pieces of food to eat, to drink through, to defend themselves and their chicks and to suck up blades of grass like spaghetti strands.

eggFemale chickens are called hens. It is the hens that lay the eggs. Only when the cockerel and the hen have mated is the egg fertilised and will hatch into a chick.

The mother hen natters to the chicks before they are hatched. While they are still all curled up in the egg she makes little trills and chirrups to them so that they will recognise her voice after they hatch.

She turns every egg around about fifty times every day so that the chicks inside grow evenly and become big and strong. Because eggs take twenty one days to hatch, that is a lot of work to do.

The tiny hatchling chick has a special sort of spur on its beak to help it crack its way out of the shell. It’s really important that the chick makes its own way out into the world. If we try to help it we interrupt the work that the baby chick has to do and we can hurt it.

The eggs that are not fertilised are the ones that people eat.

Did you know that chickens are the closest living relative to the dinosaurs?

chicken7Their DNA has been ‘sequenced’ that sort of means that scientists have worked out the formula or ingredients that makes a chicken into a chicken. These scientists also did the same thing to a fossilised shard of Tyrannosaurus Rex bone, and found that chickens and ostriches the nearest thing we have to them alive in our world today.




Once I had the opportunity to spend time with the gentleman who looked after the chimpanzees in Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. He had worked closely with the famous signing chimps.

Another time I had a long interview with the Head Keeper of gorillas at Howletts Wildlife Park.

Both of these people talked very clearly about the individuality of the creatures that they cared for. They really knew the beautiful animals and had very humble relationships with them.

My husband once met an elephant face to face. No words were exchanged, but it was plain to see that it was a meaningful moment for both of them. There was some understanding between them as beings sharing time and space.


Since I started to work at Mudchute Park and Farm I have walked past many beautiful animals every day. Gradually I have developed a sense of them as individuals. I began to watch them as I have watched tigers in the zoo and got to know them in the same way I know my cats.

When I asked the Farm staff questions about the animals they spoke in a quite matter of fact way about the creatures they cared for as individuals. They told me how the animals’ bodies and minds worked, what they liked and what they didn’t like, how they communicated and cared for each other.

I realised that these were things that most visitors to Mudchute Farm did not get to hear about the personalities and sentience of other species  and knew that it was exactly these things that would have fascinated my own children most of all. I have never read anything, especially for children, that explained about animals in ways that were as genuinely interesting as these conversations and which were not sentimental or anthropomorphic.

So I started doing some drawings and collecting information to put together a book about these wonderful creatures.


The drawings are not very exact at all. They are playful and lighthearted. I focus more on the world that the creatures experience rather than talking about different breeds or histories of them. There is excellent factual information on the Mudchute website including links to more detailed work about specific breeds.

I hope that you enjoy the glimpses into the lives of these beautiful beings as much as I discovered learning about them and watching them as I drew.

Special thanks to Margaret Tracey for her dedication to the production of this book funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also to Farmer Tom for his enthusiasm, his work and patience with my lack understanding about farming (my experience being mainly based on 60 years of listening to The Archers) for sharing his views on eating the meat of animals that were well reared, local and organically fed and listening to my Vegetarian, and increasingly, Vegan perspective.


I have shared my life with lots of non-human sentient beings who were mostly cats but included the very wonderful Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Mrs Parker. It is these friendships well as more environmental and political convictions that have influenced this book.


EnglishHeritageFundLogoI hope that your visits to the oasis which this farm offers to Tower Hamlets will be made a tiny bit more amazing as you read about the Wonderful Creatures of Mudchute Farm.

Penny Wilson 2020