We recently received an email from a listener in Hawaii who mentioned that where he lives – on the main island – there are thousands of wild chickens. He said they have eight hens and ten roosters who drop by daily for food!
This intrigued us so much we had to find out more!
In May, Hawaiian TV station KHON reported Honolulu was trying to find a solution because the problem had become so widespread people were complaining. This is in an urban and suburban area.
But where did this exploding population of wild chickens come from? Some people theorize that many of the chickens are descendants of birds that escaped when hurricanes hit and destroyed chicken coops. Annual bird counts done by the Audubon Society confirm the numbers jumped after the hurricanes. Others speculate the birds are wild ancestors of the original chickens brought to Hawaii from the Polynesians and relatives of the Red Junglefowl.
Eben Gering, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University has been studying these birds, specifically the chickens on Kauai Island,an island even more overrun with the birds than the big island, maybe due to the lack of mongooses, a natural predator, on that island. He published his findings in April. Analysis of the birds’ DNA reveals lineages from both our domesticated chickens and wild Red Junglefowl from Asia.
Dr. Gering and his researchers are hoping the interbreeding might help us improve our domestic breeds. They hope that by studying these chickens they can find out how and why an invasive species establishes itself somewhere new and at the same time what happens when a domesticated species goes feral.
Most of the wild chickens look like Red Junglefowl, with striking red, black, and green plumage. Others are speckled with white and reddish-brown, more like most of our domestic breeds. Their feather patterns match their calls: the ones who look like red junglefowl crow like wild birds, while the ones birds with more chicken-like feathers sound like domestic chickens.
But what about the residents of the islands who are complaining about crowing roosters at all hours of the day and night? Legally speaking, the chickens are protected by state law and residents can trap them but can’t kill them.
Apparently the chicken problem has been growing since the early 2000’s. In 2005, the Honolulu Advertiser reported volunteer trappers had captured more than 700 feral chickens around the island. A city contract was granted to The Hawaii Game Breeders Association, paying them $40,000 a year to catch the chickens. Birds that were healthy were given to people interested in eating them. In 2007, there were an estimated 20,000 chickens running loose on Oahu (the “big island” in Hawaii). Then in 2013, the city budget was cut and the program ended.
Meanwhile it’s been suggested that the Game Breeders Association had connections to cockfighting and routinely shipped birds all over the world for both legal and illegal forms of cockfighting.
Since 2013, the problem has gotten worse. This year, Honolulu has $80,000 budgeted to take care of the problem but the city so far can’t find someone to take on the job. In the past few weeks, owners from two condo complexes and an elementary school got together and hired a private exterminator to take care of the problem in their neighborhood.
And as for our listener in Hawaii, he’s planning to build a coop to protect the chickens from the main predators there, mongooses and rats. Apparently, despite all of the wild chickens roaming around, the price of grocery store eggs is six to seven dollars a dozen!
This post was written by Kim Torchy, for those of you who haven’t been in touch with Kim yet here are a few words from her:
“Hi everyone – my name is Kim and I’m lucky enough to be working with John. I’m very excited that’s he’s asked me to write a post! Let me tell you a little about myself: My husband and I moved from NJ to 15 acres in the mountains of NC and decided we needed chickens. We started with a flock of 8 laying hens and, well, one thing led to another (as it so often does). We ended up getting eighteen more plus raising enough meat birds yearly that we completely stopped buying chicken and eggs. I’m also Mom to two daughters, ages 24 and 8, and two beautiful grandchildren, Rylan and Sophia.”