The Mystery of the Hawaiian Chickens

That there is a feral chicken, roaming the beach in Kauai. I took a lot of photos when I was on Kauai last month, of beaches, sunsets, coastline, fish, and jungly stuff. But if you want a pic that captures the essence of the island, it has to have a chicken in it.

It had been twelve or thirteen years since I’d been to Kauai, and I didn’t remember seeing chickens the last time. But this time we noticed them right away.

At first we made a game of it, saying “chicken!” when we saw one on the side of the road. Then that got too commonplace, so we started counting them. But on  the sides of the some roads we easily counted 20 or so. Finally we stopped mentioning them, except for an occasional comment like, “Damn, this island has a lot of wild chickens.”

There are so many that the Hawaiian visitor’s bureau even has a page answering the question, “Why Does Kauai Have So Many Wild Chickens?”

Two theories: the Hawaii site cites wikipedia, which suggests that “sugarcane plantation laborers in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought and raised chickens (for eating and cockfighting) and many got loose over the years and multiplied.” (The entry has since been changed. Don’t you just love chicken scholarship?)

The other is that when Hurricane Iniki walloped the island in 1992, it destroyed a number of chicken farms.

Since I don’t remember them on the island in 1990, I’ m going with the hurricane theory.

No matter. Go to Kauai. Because there are zillions of ways to enjoy it that are chicken-free. Like this: (image via wikipedia)

3 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Hawaiian Chickens

  1. I’d go just to see the wild chickens. Last time I was in Hawaii I was a little freaked out at night because hundreds of huge ugly cockroaches would come out and creep through the grass. Hopefully chickens kill those things, along with the giant biting centipedes. The islands need chickens 🙂

  2. My niece and nephew-in-law went to the islands for their honeymoon in 1985 and they never saw a chicken except on their dinner plate in a restaurant. Sounds to us that hurricane Iliki was the culprit that turned loose some farmyard poultry that are seen as feral today. If there is a multitude of different heritage breeds that interbreed, then a variety of landrace chickens in all colors and patterns will emerge much like the vari-colored landrace chickens of the Scandinavian countries, i.e. the Swedish Flower Hen, the Icelandic, the Hedemora, etc. Chickens are omnivores so let’s hope the plants, insects and rodents they ingest are not rare protected species indigenous to the islands. Otherwise fowl are terrific at pest control – spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, worms, caterpillars, moths, grubs, snails, earwigs, mosquitoes, flies, maggots, termites, ants, mice, moles, small snakes or snake eggs, etc, etc, etc. Another great advantage is fowl droppings are excellent fertilizer that doesn’t burn foliage.

  3. there is no mystery. the chickens were there long before iniki. the Polynesians carried them to the islands a thousand years ago. technically the polynesian chicken (moa) is a red jungle fowl. Kauai is perfect habitat for jungle fowl and (along with Niihau) as the only of the main Hawaiian Islands without mongoose they do very well there—mongoose all but wiped them out on the other islands. most all of the wild chickens on Kauai look like red junglefowl, but you will see some variety especially around Lehue—these are result of breeding with domestic stock from Iniki and other escapees. however on the North Shore and high up in the mountains there is still a population considered to be pure-bred Polynesian Moa. the windward and North Shore of Oahu has plenty of hybrid junglefowl as well.

    it is irrefutable that they have been there for a millenium despite what people say. my theory is that with the lack of major predation coupled the increase in human population and thus food, the chicken population has increased in the past 30 years. plus, they are also protected.

    from the Bishop Museum:

    “Red Junglefowl, the ancestral species to modern day poultry, is native to the
    Himalayan region, se.Asia, and Indonesia (AOU 1998). Polynesians and other peoples
    have long recognized the value of Red Junglefowl as a food resource, have domesticated
    them around the world, and have transported them to most islands of the Pacific (Ball
    1933, Long 1981, Lever 1987, Marchant & Higgins 1993). In the Southeastern Hawaiian
    Islands wild populations of Red Junglefowl were formerly present on most or all islands,
    but they have become extirpated or integrated into populations of domestic chickens
    (other variants of Gallus gallus) on all islands except Kaua’i (the only Southeastern
    Island without mongoose) and, perhaps, Ni’ihau.”

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