Kauai Chickens: The Unofficial Bird of Kauai
It’s been a long running joke that the unofficial bird of Kauai is the moa or wild chicken. Everywhere you look on the island, Kauai chickens roam free. Along the roads, at the airport, in shopping centers, among the palm tree groves, and even around Chicken in a Barrel, you will find Kauai chickens.
Kauai Chickens are a Part of Kauai
For the most part, the chickens of Kauai are part of what is loved about Kauai. Roaming around the island at will, it’s fun to watch wild chickens interact with each other and hilarious to watch them chase each other around for a piece of food. They have become a big part of Kauai’s charm.
We rather enjoyed all of the Kauai chickens we interacted with. They were underfoot most of the time we ate somewhere outside and always made for great entertainment. Especially when they would eat out of your hand and then chase each other around trying to take that piece of food away from whichever chicken had it. They had us laughing all the time. We especially enjoyed that they reminded us of our own chickens back home.
The Arrival of Chickens to Hawaii
Moa or red jungle fowl were originally brought to Kauai in canoes by the first Polynesian voyagers to be used for food and eggs. With a strengthened genetic make-up by crossbreeding with a common barnyard chicken, the Moa has continued to survive. Certain colors, body shapes, and feathers make the Moa distinct from the domesticated chicken. Unfortunately, the spotted, multi-colored hens and beautifully plumed cocks you see on Kauai today may be descendants of the original Moa, but they are no longer any good for eating.
Why Are There So Many Chickens on Kauai?
Combinations of various events have led to what seems like more wild chickens than people living on Kauai. With no real predators, chickens have thrived on Kauai. The mongoose, a small ferret-like animal from India, was introduced on other Hawaiian Islands in hopes of battling the rat problem in the sugar cane fields. When it was discovered that this wouldn’t help the rat problem, mongoose had already rapidly spread through the islands feasting on birds, like the Moa, and their eggs. However, the mongoose was never introduced to Kauai.
Throughout the years (four since the 50s), hurricanes have made landfall on Kauai with the most recent being Hurricane Iniki. These hurricanes, along with other weather related events have destroyed chicken coops releasing large populations of domesticated hens and roosters bred for cockfighting into the wild. These natural weather events have led to even further breeding of the Hawaiian jungle fowl and larger numbers of wild chickens. Now these brightly feathered chickens inhabit every part of Kauai’s tropical paradise.
A Part of Kauai’s Cultural Identity and Balance
Like all birds of Hawaii, wild chickens are also protected under Hawaiian state law. They are seen as an important part of nature and do contribute to the balance of Hawaii by eating the nasty Hawaiian centipede and many other large bugs. Trust me; you’d rather have a wild chicken around than a Hawaiian centipede.
The Moa has now become a huge part of Kauai’s cultural identity. When on Kauai, you can pretty much guarantee that you will see them everywhere you go and hear them any time of day or night. We didn’t hear any at night on our visits to Kauai and none of the Kauai chickens ever woke us up, but others have said this does happen.
An old Hawaiian proverb to leave you with… If you like eat da chicken get two pots of water to a boil. In one pot put da pohaku (lava rock) and in the other put da moa. Once the pohaku is done da moa is ready to eat. Moral of the story- You can’t eat the wild chickens; they are hard as rocks!
What do you think of Kauai chickens?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2014.