Scientists found that the baby animals could distinguish between two and three and in tests consistently picked the higher figure.
The researchers, from the University of Trento, in Italy, claim that the knowledge seems partly innate as the chicks were just three or four days old and had had no coaching.
The counting ability of the animals was "impressive", they said.
In tests the chicks were shown a set of objects, in this case identical small balls, in groups of either two or three.
In one of the experiments the chicks choose consistently to walk towards a group of three balls rather than a group of two.
When the ball were hidden behind a screen, but one of the balls could be seen being passed from the larger group to the smaller one, the chicks were still able to identify which group now contained three objects.
"The results of the experiments showed that, in the absence of any specific training, chicks spontaneously discriminated between two and three, in both cases preferring the larger set," according to the study.
"Chicks behaviour (also) seemed to indicate an ability to perform additions," it added.
The researchers also note that previous studies have suggested that human infants lose their ability to recognise the size of groups if their parts number above three.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.