Kauai Chickens are one of the signature symbols of Kauai. They are everywhere on the island, from the moment you step out of the airport to the morning wake up call at your accommodations. So what’s up with all these chickens, and why are some more colorful than others?
If you’ve traveled around the island of Kauai you may have noticed that some moa (chickens) in the mountains of the Kokee State Park area are more colorful than chickens found in more urban areas. These Red Jungle Fowl chickens are descendants of the original birds brought to Hawaii by early Polynesian settlers approximately 800-1000 years ago. Originally native to Southeast Asia, the unique birds were prevalent on all of the Hawaiian Islands when Captain Cook arrived in 1778. Today, the moa are found throughout the island of Kauai, but particularly in the Kokee area and other outlying areas. They can be identified by their beautiful plumages of red, gold, orange, white, black and green metallic.
After Captain Cook’s discovery and subsequent colonization of the islands, the moa interbred with imported chickens from around the world. The interbreeding has resulted in a variety of chickens to be found around the island, with the isolated moa of the Kokee area retaining more of their Red Jungle Fowl DNA. Unfortunately, the Red Jungle Fowl is slowly losing its genetic identity as interbreeding continues, an issue not only on Kauai but also in its native Asian habitat.
As a key component of a rural island lifestyle, chickens were common on all of the Hawaiian Islands in the 1800s and into the early 1900s. However, mongooses were brought to the other islands (except for Kauai) in the late 1800s to control rat populations in the sugar cane fields. The invasive mongoose devastated the chicken populations by eating their eggs. When a crate of mongooses was sent to Kauai, so the legend goes, a mongoose bit a dock person and they were subsequently drowned out of anger. Without a natural predator, the chickens on Kauai continued to flourish.
(There are perhaps a few mongooses on Kauai, but they are hunted with a vengeance. According to the Kauai Invasive Species Committee (KISC) several mongoose have been found on the island over the last 50 years. Mongooses are not only harmful to chicken populations, but also to native birds on the island including the nene, layson albatross and wedge-tailed shearwater seabirds. Sightings of mongoose should be reported immediately to KISC.)
In 1992, Hurricane Iniki released thousands of domesticated chickens into the wild, contributing to the wild chicken population on Kauai. However, the hurricane is not the main reason for the prevalence of chickens on Kauai as is often reported.
Despite the urbanization and interbreeding, Kauai’s Jungle Fowl still maintain survival instincts their fellow barnyard chickens have lost. The moa are monogamous and the roosters help tend to the chicks, unlike domesticated chickens. They forage for insects, bugs, fruit and seeds in the early morning and late afternoon hours, while spending the rest of their days hanging out. But that doesn’t stop them from congregating at favorite tourist spots such as the Kokee Lodge and Haena Beach Park to beg for handouts.
Though some see the Kauai Chickens as an endearing part of a Kauai visit, more than a few business owners are not so pleased with the chickens stealing their customers’ fries or waking up their resort hotel guests at sunrise. Over the last couple of years, more businesses have been taking a proactive approach by trapping chickens on their properties and releasing them into the wild at remote locations. Likewise, we’re hearing incidental comments that people are finding less Kauai Chickens on their visits to the island. Nevertheless, there will be more than enough chickens to see on your visit to Kauai!