Hawaii’s Jungle Fowl: They can’t tell morning from midnight

21 Jun

Until this morning, like every other Maui kama’aina (long-time resident), I was convinced that the only really objectionable characteristics of our ubiquitous feral chickens (more correctly known as Red Junglefowl) was that they’re everywhere on the island and they crow (loudly and constantly) at any hour of the night or early morning hours.  Unfortunately, those “sweet little chickens” the malahini (tourists) so love to feed and photograph have turned to crime!

Jungle fowl rooster, hen and two fledged youngsters.

A family portrait: Jungle Fowl rooster, hen and two fledged youngsters: E. Lipoa Road, Kihei, Maui.
(To view a larger version, click on image.)

While shopping at the outdoor farmers market in north Kihei, I noticed a hen and her clutch of eight chicks foraging along the ground amongst some empty fruit and vegetable boxes. Much to the joy of some tourists and other naive adults, the hen suddenly performed a VERY athletic standing broad-jump into a crate of ripe apple bananas, whereupon she proceeded to loudly tear off several individual fruits from their bunches and fling them to the ground in front of the appreciative chicks. The attending clerks were not amused, and they and I had to chase the offending parent bird and her piteously cheeping children out of the banana crate and onto the street.

Red Jungle Fowl, Gallus gallus, run wild on most of the main islands of Hawaii, where they frequently cross-breed with domestic fowl. Jungle Fowl may be the progenitors of modern domesticated chickens. They probably originated in Southeast Asia about 8,000 years ago. The Polynesian colonists brought them to the Hawaiian Islands, along with other domesticated livestock and plants (referred to as “canoe species”), on their large sea-going canoes. Over the years, enough junglefowl escaped and went feral to form a large population on all of the major islands. One popular theory that’s gained street creds locally is that many of the feral birds are the escaped offspring of the hundreds of fighting cocks bred for the ring. Though outlawed in Hawaii, cock fighting is still popular as an underground sport. The presence of so many illegal “backyard” breeders inadvertently loosing track of the offspring may account for the recent spike in the feral birds’ population.

Rooster at kokee park HQ

Rooster standing guard duty at Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua’i.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

The Red Jungle Fowl belongs to the class Aves, order Galliformes, suborder Phasiani and family Phasianidae, which includes pheasants and partridges. It is indigenous (native) to Southwest Yunnan Province (China), Myanmar (AKA Burma), Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, northern Sumatra, the north-western region of the Himalayas and northern India. Subsequently it was introduced to Africa, Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the  Northern Mariana Islands, and the Palau Group, as well as Hawaii, where the birds flourish and breed in large numbers due to the absence of any of their natural predators.

In general, the male bird’s plumage is gold, red, brown, dark maroon, orange, metallic green and gray. Two characteristic white patches shaped like ears appear on either side of the head. These “ear patches”, as well as the greyish skin of their bare legs and feet, distinguish Red Jungle Fowl from other chickens. The male birds can measure up to 70 cm in length. Both sexes have a total of 14 tail feathers, but the rooster’s tail can grow to almost 28 cm in length. Additionally, the female bird tends to be leaner and more compact than her tame barnyard counterparts.Normally, the Red Jungle Fowl is herbivorous and insectivorous: they favor wild and domesticated seeds of any kind they encounter while foraging, while beetles and other earthbound insects fill out their menu.
Hen and rooster greeting visitors to Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua'i.

Hen & rooster greeting visitors to Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua’i.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

Fertile eggs take about 20 days to gestate and hatch. Chicks are fully feathered by the fourth or fifth week, and are sexually mature by their fifth month (female birds mature a bit later than males). In the wild, Gallus gallus can live for as long as ten years, under ideal conditions.
Rooster and chick - Kihei

Rooster and chick, E. Lipoa Road, Kihei, Maui.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

During their mating season, which is usually Spring and Summer (though the Hawaiian birds seem to be “at it” all year long), the male birds announce their presence with the familiar “cock-a-doodle-doo” call. This serves both to attract potential mates and to make other male birds in the area aware of the risk of fighting a breeding competitor. Unlike the myth of the “cock crowing at dawn”, the roosters in my immediate neighborhood start crowing at about 3 or 4 AM and don’t put a sock in it until well after sunrise, usually 8 or 9 AM. I sleep like the dead, and so am not bothered in the least by the morning symphony of 10 or more birds crowing their defiance at one another. However, some of my immediate neighbors are not similarly blessed with the gifts of nocturnal oblivion and tolerance toward poultry, and so have resorted to setting live-traps in strategic locations. Trapped birds are then removed to the outskirts of town or the nearest golf course to live out their lives disturbing someone else’s peace (and putting).

4 Responses to “Hawaii’s Jungle Fowl: They can’t tell morning from midnight”

  1. amandacrusoe at 8:35 AM #

    None of Maui’s feral roosters are jungle fowl. They all are escaped domestic chicken, mostly chicken raised for cock-fighting. The male birds closely resemble the jungle fowl roosters. You’ll have to go to Kauai to see jungle fowl. By the way, it is not illegal to breed fighting chickens in your backyard. It is just illegal to fight them.

    Click to access REJU.pdf

  2. Maria Caruso at 1:41 AM #

    I need to to thank you for this good read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things you post|

  3. It’s hard to come by knowledgeable people in this particular topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  4. barbara Beissert at 7:35 AM #

    2013 COST CO sets traps at night and sends them elsewhere.. The cafetera outside has absolutely NO CHICKEN FOWL … It can be accomplished.

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