The dramatic colours of biological communication signals raise questions about how animals perceive suprathreshold colour differences, and there are long-standing questions about colour preferences and colour categorization by non-human species. This study investigates preferences of foraging poultry chicks (Gallus gallus) as they peck at coloured objects. Work on colour recognition often deals with responses to monochromatic lights and how animals divide the spectrum. We used complementary colours, where the intermediate is grey, and related the chicks' choices to three models of the factors that may affect the attractiveness. Two models assume that attractiveness is determined by a metric based on the colour discrimination threshold either (i) by chromatic contrast against the background or (ii) relative to an internal standard. An alternative third model is that categorization is important. We tested newly hatched and 9-day-old chicks with four pairs of (avian) complementary colours, which were orange, blue, red and green for humans. Chromatic contrast was more relevant to newly hatched chicks than to 9-day-old birds, but in neither case could contrast alone account for preferences; especially for orange over blue. For older chicks, there is evidence for categorization of complementary colours, with a boundary at grey.