When I moved to Oahu, I was surprised to hear the roosters crowing in the morning.
Wild Hawaiian Chickens on Oahu
Tradewinds blow the drapes in the open window of a house in Manoa Valley in the early morning. Before the coffee brews and everyone starts stirring, the sound of song birds sweetly chirping is interrupted by the squawk. . . of a rooster.
I guess I didn't mind so much because I was so in love with Hawaii and wanted to savor every moment of the 5 months that I would be on Oahu. But to many, the roosters scattered throughout the island are becoming a nuisance.
Hens and roosters are found all over Oahu. From Kaneohe and Waimanalo on the Leeward coast to Ewa Beach and neighborhoods up and down the Waianae side. They are found in the central Oahu town of Waipahu, and in areas like Manoa and Kaimuki that are not far from downtown and Waikiki. It is speculated that there are as many as 20,000 fowls roaming the island.
When Did Roosters Come to Hawaii?
There have been hens and roosters on the Hawaiian islands as long as there have been people there. The origins of these birds on the islands goes back to when Polynesian voyagers first came to the area now known as Hawaii around 300 AD, possibly coming from the Marquesas Islands or Tahiti. Along with other animals, they brought with them the original Red Jungle Fowl, native to India or Thailand, as a food source. At first, cattle, wild hogs, chickens, and other creatures would roam freely and there was a nice balance to life. No one is exactly sure when the explosion in the chicken population happened, but it did.
Why Are There So Many Roosters on Oahu?
There are three main reasons why there are so many chickens running around the islands...
- Chickens have few natural predators on the Hawaiian islands, and this has surely lead to their increasing numbers.
- Humans feeding them doesn't help the situation either.
- Another thing that keeps the populations high is that under Hawaii state law, all wild birds are protected. This includes the roosters designated Red Jungle Fowl.
Are All Hawaiian Chickens Protected by Law?
According to a wildlife biologist at the Kauai Division of Forestry and Wildlife, feral (wild) chickens are protected. All wild birds are protected under State law.
Those feral chickens or jungle fowl found wandering in the Kokee area, or any wildland area, are considered "wild" and are protected. However, chickens found roaming around developed areas, such as rural or suburban neighborhoods, are referred to as "free-flying domestic chickens." These are fowl of domestic stock roaming free and are not protected. If they come onto your property, locals are free to take them and put them in the pot.
So Can You Eat Those Wild Hawaiian Chickens?
The problem is that it is nearly impossible to differentiate between pure Red Jungle Fowl (which are protected) and those that have interbred with domestic chickens (which are not).
How can you tell which are all wild and which are part domestic?
In the 1800s, Europeans brought domesticated or barnyard chickens to the islands and they began to intermingle with the Red Jungle Fowl. It's easy to identify the common white barnyard variety, but when they have interbred and are sporting a variety of colors, the only way to tell for sure would be through scientific DNA testing.
Even though there are few, if any, pure ornamental Red Jungle Fowl left, people don't want to run the risk of nabbing a protected bird. So whether they are in a wildland area or a neighbor's yard, it can be difficult to tell which chickens have protected status and which ones fall under regular domesticated classification.
Cockfighting Adds to the Dilemma
Over the years, cockfighting has become a popular "sport" (if you can call it that) and roosters are being bred specifically for that. In Hawaii, the penalty for being caught engaging in cock fighting is only a misdemeanor, whereas in other states it's illegal to even possess a fighting rooster. Due to this lenient penalty, breeding fighting roosters is not strongly discouraged. It seems contradictory that there are strict laws to protect wild birds but the laws regarding cockfighting are very mild.
So we find that the original Ornamental Red Jungle Fowl have been bred intentionally, for fighting and for food, and have also bred with domestic chickens naturally due to the fact that domestic chickens can "fly the coop" and roam free to mate with the wild fowl.
Roosters in Kauai
Although roosters and hens can be found on all of the Hawaiian islands, Kauai is the leader in chicken population, where they are out of control. There are several theories on why they are so prevalent on Kauai as opposed to all the other islands.
Some believe that when Hurricane Iniki battered the island in 1992 that many of the coops were torn up, thus releasing the critters into the wild to become free-range birds. But there was still a disproportionate number on Kauai before that occurrence.
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So looking back further into history, the focus turns to sugar cane. What could this have to do with roosters? In the late 1800s or early 1900s, the owners of sugar plantations were having problems with rats in the fields. Someone had the bright idea of introducing mongooses to control the rat population. (That didn't work—rats are nocturnal and mongooses hunt during the day, so now there's a mongoose problem, too.) The mongooses do keep the chicken and rooster population down because they eat the eggs, thus greatly reducing the populations on the islands. But the story goes that on Kauai, a disgruntled dock worker dumped the shipment of mongooses for that island into Nawiliwili Bay. There was never another shipment for Kauai, thus no mongooses, thus more chickens on Kauai than on the other islands.
But still all of this is speculation because no one knows for sure. One thing that is known is that chickens are here to stay.
Chickens Do Provide Benefits
Insect Control. Although they have a potential for being quite annoying, roosters and hens can be beneficial because they eat a large quantity of insects such as termites, roaches, scorpions, and centipedes which can be problems on the islands because of the tropical climate. Centipedes in the tropics can grow upwards of 7 inches and can pack a wallop of a sting from their two front pincers.
Beauty. Along with being beneficial, roosters can be quite beautiful and handsome with their vibrant mix of colors and their red combs standing at attention as they march along.
Then why do people complain about the chickens?
But even if you like the feathered creatures, you may feel differently if you can't get a good night's sleep because of their crowing. According to an article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the largest daily newspaper of Hawaii,
"Contrary to popular belief, roosters do not crow only at daybreak. They can crow any time of the day, and all night. They crow when they see the moon, when they want to challenge one another, when they're being territorial or to sound a warning, and when they're just plain happy or excited."
Some people have reported that even turning on a light in the middle of the night can cause roosters to crow because they think it's the sun coming up. The roosters have put otherwise friendly neighbors at odds with each other when the crowing can't be controlled.
Are There Solutions for the Rooster Problem?
The Hawaii Humane Society used to handle nuisance calls about barking dogs and crowing chickens, but no longer do. From 2005 to 2013, The Hawaii Game Breeders Association (HGBA) was hired by the city to respond to feral chicken complaints, but In 2014, the city’s program was cut. HGBA says they’re still getting calls for help. Now people are left to call the police, but obviously the police have much more pressing matters to attend to than chicken gangs.
In 2008 Mrs. Elizabeth Royos of the HGBA told the Star-Advertiser that they had captured at least 6,000 chickens over five years. Back when the HGBA was trapping the chickens, healthy birds that were caught were given away to people who were interested in eating the organic, free-range chickens. Chickens that looked ill were taken to the state Department of Agriculture to be tested for avian influenza and Exotic Newcastle disease.
Unless a new contract can be put in place with the HGBA or other arrangements made, it doesn't look like there is much hope in sight for controlling the growing chicken population. But something will have to be done before long—the Aloha Spirit can only go so far, with residents crying "foul fowl."
Common Chicken Questions
Is a rooster a chicken?
Yes. A rooster is a male chicken, while a hen is a female chicken.
Does a hen need a rooster in order to lay eggs?
No. Hens lay eggs with or without a rooster present. The eggs will never be fertilized unless there's a rooster around.
Do all eggs turn into chickens?
No. Only eggs that have been fertilized are capable of producing a chicken. This is where the rooster comes in.
Do all fertilized eggs become chickens?
Not necessarily. The eggs have to be incubated (kept warm) by the hen sitting on the eggs in a nest for a period of approximately 21 days.
Does a hen incubate one egg at a time?
No. She will gather all her eggs (a clutch) and they will all hatch around the same time.