Why Does Kauai Have So Many Wild Chickens?

Kauai Rooster

If you’ve been to Kauai then you’ve probably noticed all the feral chickens. They’re hard to miss. I’d imagine just about everyone who has been to Kauai has vacation photos of the waterfalls, the beaches, beautiful Waimea Canyon, and then there’s the obligatory photo of the chickens.  (Note that the photo above is from our own vacation photo collection.)

So what does Kauai have so many wild chickens?  Most people suggest that the feral chicken population can be traced back to when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992. It’s been reported that the devastating hurricane destroyed a number of chicken farms.  Wikipedia also suggests another possible theory: “Others say that sugarcane plantation laborers in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought and raised chickens (for eating and cockfighting) and many got loose over the years and multiplied.”

The reason could be a combination of the two.  Have you heard any theories on the Kauai chicken population?


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

65 comments

  1. I loved the chickens when we were in Kauai last year! I heard the hurricane story and that there are no wild predators for the chickens either, so they only die naturally or by humans (i.e. getting hit by cars) – so that allows them to mulitply even faster!

    They were so funny!

    • I heard that they were going to introduce the Mongoose to the island but when the crate arived to the island, one of them bit the deck hand and he kicked the crate off the boat, thus keeping the chicken free of predators.

      GO chicken!

  2. We have some pictures in our Kauai Wildlife gallery on our site. Some of the healthiest chickens I’ve ever seen over there :)

    Kauai Wild Life

  3. Lots of chickens in Kaimuki too.
    Aloha,
    Keahi

  4. Hi Sheila,

    Kauai isn’t the only place that is loaded with chickens. Laie, the town I live in, used to have a chicken farm and I think a bunch of them planned a ‘great escape’ about 20 years ago and we have full of them ever since then. My neighbor has set up a chicken trap but that doesn’t seem to put a dent in their population.

    The main problem I face is when I get a call from an important client and then all of sudden you hear a rooster making all kinds of noise in the background. The clients may have originally thought I worked in some big air-conditioned skyscraper cubicle only to hear roosters blow my cover. Then I am forced to admit that I an earth muffin living in the country with a bunch of chickens.

    I do raise rabbits in the backyard but they are very quiet.

    Aloha,

    Chris

  5. Sheila, I have a friend on Kauai that tells me the chickens thrive there because there is no mongoose to eat them. I don’t know if that’s true because I was just on the Big Island and I saw lots of mongoose AND lots of chickens:-) I have also heard the Hurricane Iniki theory, but I remember lots of chickens on Kauai even in the early eighties. Maybe a combination of both? I lived on Maui for many years; we had lots of mongoose and no chickens, so it seems to vary on each island. I was in Laie last year and noticed all the chickens there and the noise as well!

    • I was stationed in Hawaii during Vietnam,mid-sixties and the chickens on Kauai had been there for a few hundred years already. The legend of that time was they were one of the 4 original chicken breeds and like Tilapia had been there since the beginning of recorded story. Interesting how we always think things begin and end with our pitiful little knowledge.

  6. I was going to say that this seems like it would have an obvious answer, as anyone visiting or living there before Iniki would know if there were chicken present or not, and I think Jan confirmed that.

    But I’m sure Iniki did increase the population in the wild. I know when I was on the Big Island this year I saw a bunch of ‘backyard’ chicken farms, probably rooster breeding I assume. I’m sure not for fighting! LOL. I didn’t see any on Kauai, but I bet they’re out there…

  7. This looks like a normal chicken, but it was in Kauai – by Opaeka’a Falls…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/56612889@N00/314375665/

  8. I’m with Jan.

    I think the quantity of chickens on Kauai might have something to due with the Mongoose population.

    The mongoose was introduced in Hawaii in 1883 in a failed effort to control rats that were feeding on sugar cane. The story goes that Kauai was spared the pest because a dock worker, bitten by a caged mongoose bound for the Garden Island, kicked the cage into the water.

    The mongoose decimated all the native ground, nesting birds in Hawaii by eating the eggs except for on Kauai. So I guess Chickens thrive over on Kauai when they probably wouldn’t do very well someplace like Maui or Oahu. Maybe every island would be covered with chickens if it weren’t for the Mongoose. That would be cool. I love Chickens. They make me feel like I’m in the country.

    • Well…..my son just moved to Iwa Beach on Oahu……..when I talk to him on the phone there is a rooster in the background……he says there are alot of wild chickens running all over the open areas…………

  9. Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

    @ Melanie – they are kind of funny. They didn’t bother me, but I could see how living with them day in and day out might get a bit old for a resident. :)

    @ Kauai Wildlife Photos – some very nice cottages you have there on the North Shore!

    @ Keahi – Interesting….I think I had heard that there had been some debate about how to control the chicken population on Oahu.

    @ Chris – LOL – that’s a funny way to have your “cover” blown. But, in todays world of the internet and high speed connections professional businesses can operate from anywhere.

    @ Jan – Hmmm…interesting theory about the absence of the mongoose. There’s an interesting story we’ve heard on why there aren’t any mongoose (or is it mongeese?) in Kauai. The mongoose was introduced to Hawaii to help control the rat population, but they didn’t help the rat problem at all. The mongoose is active in the day while the rat is active at night, so the two never saw each other. I heard that there was a ship enroute to Kauai to introduce the mongoose there, but a mongoose bit the ship’s captain and he got mad and dumped all the mongoose overboard.

    @ Al – yeah, that’s a very good question. about the pre-Iniki population… Inquiring minds want to know. :)

    @ JulieAnn – that’s a nice roster action shot! :) If I remember correctly, we took our photo around one of the Waimea Canyon lookouts.

  10. @ Dave – we must have been commenting at the same time. :) Sounds like we’ve heard very similar stories about why the mongoose never made it to Hawaii.

  11. Because even chickens need a vacation! ;^)

  12. Oh! A speckled bird! I’ll go with the Iniki story. That was quite a day and quite a bit of agony thereafter.

    Birds and people are survivors! :)

  13. Sheila, A funny story from a friend of mine who is quite the Fashion Queen.” While visiting Kauai, she wore her new, glittery, and very expensive shoes to dinner at an upscale restaurant. They had to park
    ” down the road a piece.” and she was quite upset that some chickens were pecking at the baubles on her shoes during her walk to the restaurant Some people have NO sense of humor!

  14. @ Dave – Haha! Yeah, if I was a chicken, I think I would enjoy living in the wild on Kauai.

    @ Evelyn – Iniki sure was quite a storm…category 4 Hurricane. Yikes! Some places that were damaged still haven’t recovered. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the Coco Palms will be restored.

    @ Jan – That’s hilarious! Thanks for sharing that story. Coincidentally, just yesterday I was thinking I should probably write some more detailed posts about what shoes and clothes to pack for Hawaii with more detail than I cover here: http://www.govisithawaii.com/2007/07/23/what-to-pack-for-your-hawaii-vacation/ When I write those posts, I’ll make sure to suggest that you leave the fancy sequined shoes at home. :)

  15. Me and many others call Kauai “Chicken Island” because of all the chickens running loose over there. It’s to the point where you have to wait sometimes for the chicken to actually cross the road! Talking with friends and others on Kauai they say that the large population of chickens is from Hurricane Iniki which set the chickens free into the wild and allowed them to breed and multiply without any control.

    Here’s pics of chickens on “Chicken Island”
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/808talk/tags/chickenisland/

  16. @ VBrown – those are some nice chicken shots.

    Hmm…”Chicken Island”, huh? That’s pretty funny. Well since Kauai is also known as the “Garden Isle” maybe Kauai should have a new nickname combining the two…perhaps “Chicken Salad Island”…just kidding. :-P

  17. Mongoose predation is the main factor keeping chicken numbers low to non-existant on the other islands. Cats also prey on chicks. But they can only eat so many. Double the amount of chickens running around without doubling cats and mongoose and you could have a tipping factor. I wasn’t around to see it but there surely were chickens running around before hurricanes Iwa (’82)and Iniki (’92) and there surely was more that got loose after.

    I’m sure that the plantation workers made good use of them in the past as opposed to today where chickens have a bad rap for being filthy and unsuitable for eating.

    Recently, there have been chicken dieoffs from bacteria infections but as far as I can tell, these dieoffs only occur in extremely high densities where people are feeding the chickens.

    I’ve tried eating them recently and they are healthy with good fat content, taste very good, and were tough in the drumbstick area but that might just be because I overcooked them. All other portions were very tender.

    It’s a classic scenario of overpopulation; nothing new to Hawaii. Just about every feral animal introduced here poses problems with overpopulation because few natural predators exist to keep populations in ballance.

  18. Hi Nicolai- It sounds like there’s many contributing factors for all the feral chickens in Kauai.Thanks for your comment.

  19. You all should check out the “Rooster Blog”. There are some funny blogs, and you can add your own too! I live here in Hawaii, and those chickens can be a real problem if you want to sleep AT ALL, or if you have a baby trying to nap, or if you are trying to concentrate, you know pretty much if you are trying to live a sane life…..

  20. Eduardo Granados

    My wife and I just returned from Kawaii and yes, we were surprised by the number of feral chickens and the stories they tell you about their origin ranged all the way from Captain Cook to Hurricane Iniki. My first thought was about how easy it should be to get some free “organic” eggs to prepare a nice ommelette, but they tell me that it is very difficult to find them.

  21. Hi Eduardo – I’ve not heard of the Captain Cook theory. Interesting! I guess we may never know the real answer. Thanks for your first time comment.

  22. BTW, plural for more than one mongoose IS “mongooses” according to Webster’s among others. Bottom line is Oahu also has a problem with feral chickens and roosters despite the presence of the “diurnal” mongoose(s). Don’t forget, we are talking about the closest living animal to the T-Rex anatomically. And we thought roosters were annoying. LOL

  23. @ swshawaii – mongooses, eh? Sounds funny doesn’t it?

  24. I meant “crowing” T-Rex’s and not roosters. Crichton and Spielberg could only imagine what “Sue” sounded like.

  25. We love Kaua’s chickens. So beautiful and healthy…
    We have a lot of pics.
    This november we are making our 4 trip:)

  26. My husband took me to Hawaii for our 1st anniversary January ’06. We visited Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii, and Maui, respectively. The feral chickens ran rampant on all the islands and I absolutely loved them. I am not a morning person at all and usually wake up cranky and irritable, but I woke up laughing every morning at the crack of dawn as the rooster crows. What better way to ensure you are awake early so you don’t miss a second of your fabulous vacation. (I was exhausted from overbooking and trying not to miss a thing). I was always awake before my husband taking pictures of the sunrise. I begged him to buy me a colorful rooster like the ones they have in Hawaii and he promised he would (anything to improve my morning mood is a done deal :-) We have since moved from Florida to my home state of West Virginia on a 318 acre farm and I am ready for my rooster. DOES ANYBODY KNOW WHAT KIND THEY ARE? I bought my incubator and am ready to buy the eggs. Oh, BTW, the story we were told is that a truck carrying the chickens was in an accident, overturned, and not all the chickens could be recovered. They have since become a popular attraction for tourists and are protected by the State so you can’t kill and eat them (our suggested solution to the problem).

  27. I visited Kauai a week ago and loved those chickens! They were a great surprise and i was so glad that no one told me about them, and let me be surprised by them everywhere!! When my boyfriend and I were sitting in our jeep behind a noodle restaurant eating our shave ice, we saw a woman grab a chicken and kill it, then start to clean it!! We were looking at each other like ‘did we just see that’???? Well at least we know that chicken they serve is fresh. . .

  28. I am keeping a daily blog with out travels to Kauai! I have some chicken info and photos!

  29. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the cars let him! The heck with mongoose predation…let Colonel Sanders’ people loose on the island.

  30. I have my own theory about why there are so many chickens on Kauai… I’ve only seen one KFC. :)

    It is fun watching the chicken everywhere – especially on the well-manicured (and probably expensive) golf courses. There’s also some interesting breeding that must be going on because these are some of the most colorful chickens I’ve ever seen.

  31. @ Zack & Leon – thanks for adding the KFC theory to the mix. There just might be some validity to that theory. ;-)

  32. We visited Kauai for the first time last January (2009). We loved seeing all the chickens; they never bothered us. Love to show people photos of crowded resort beaches and ask “What’s out of place in this picture?”. The guidebook we were using said the Polynesians brought them and the lack of mongoose(es) preserved them. They can’t all be from Iniki since they are definitely not modern commercial breeds. They look more like old “heritage” breeds. Beautiful chickens on a beautiful island! Loved the far southwest corner the best. About as laid back and old-Hawaii as it gets. Sharing the beach with native families and their pickups. Come to think of it, we saw no chickens out there. They probably all get stewed.

  33. I can say most of you are correct… it is certainly true that there were many feral chickens pre Iniki and even pre Ewa. They’ve been around for a very long time. There was in fact a large explosion in their populations after Iniki as many cages/pens were torn apart during the hurricane. Also, Kauai has no mongoose, shich is a good thin as they cannot prey on native bird eggs and therefore, the birds flourish here too. The consequence is the higher chicken population. as far as eating them, I have heard many who say it’s toughmeat, and others say tender. My opinion is to brine, then cook and the are great. I don’t personally eat them regualrly, however. It is great that so many people enjoy them, as the locals are used to them (until they start tearing up gardens and stealing food), but many fresh arrivals complain about them. They are known to start up in the middle of the night. A friend of mine, late one night afte ran ukulele session, said “watch this” and did his own “cock-a-doodle-do”. The few roosaters in the neighborhood immediatley followed suit, with more in the distance following them, and more even further out than that. He started up all the roosters in town… at 1:00 am!!!!!!! Sorry to anyone who lost some sleep that night! Aloha!

  34. I took this picture in the parking lot of Kokee State Park, Kauai on January 6, 2010: http://travel.webshots.com/photo/2703740000035127249pltlci

  35. I just posted a writeup and some pics about the the Kauai Chickens (as well as the adorable red crested cardinals) on my own blog. My sister and I tried to count them on our last visit – basically, there are too many to count :)

    http://silenceoftheclams.com/blog/2010/04/friends-and-chickens/

    They are beautiful, but have no sense of time. If you ran your life by the cocks crow, you’d be up at 4am, or noon, or 2pm, or 3pm….

  36. I’ve recently produced ROOSTER PATCHES that have become a popular souvenir item.
    Anyone wanting a picture of the Rooster Patch or want to purchase one, email me at roosterandgifts@yahoo.com

  37. Just got back from Kauai and the chicken population has exploded. We noticed a lot more from our last visit in 2008 and way, way more than our visit in 2003. Kauai needs more KFCs :)

  38. I visited Kauai a year ago in the Princeville area on the North side of the island. The roosters crowed day and night. Especially very early in the morning, waking me up. Several times they were right outside my bedroom window, which was open, causing me to nearly jump out of my bed from a sound sleep. I go on vacation to get rest and relaxation. Needless to say I won’t be going back to Kauai again. I will stick with Maui in the future.

  39. It is believed that the ancester of all modern chickens today came from Asia somewhere around Thailand. They are believed to be the first bird domesticated by man and were called Red Jungle Fowl. The people who became the Polynesians brought the Red Jungle Fowl with them as they populated the islands of Polynesia.
    When the Polynesians came to Hawaii between 100 to 300 AD, they brought with them the first introduced animals including Red Jungle Fowl. There were no predators in the islands so they escaped into the interior and reproduced. For over 1500 years their bloodline remained intact isolated in the middle of the Pacific. All the Hawaiian Islands were populated with Red Jungle Fowl.
    When the modern world showed up and began growing sugar cane around 1824 they had a problem with rats eating the sweet sugar cane stalk. They introduced the Mongoose to the other Islands except Kauai. The Mongoose love eggs and the Red Jungle population began to decline on the other islands.
    Modern chickens were then introduced and some escaped due to storms such as hurricanes and were blown into the interior where they began to interbreed with the Red Jungle Fowl. Today the number of Red Jungle Fowl have been reduced due to interbreeding. Scientists believe the last remaining somewhat pure blooded Red Jungle Fowl are found deep within Kauai’s interior and they are protected by the Rare and Indangered Species Act. You could be arrested or pay a fine for disturbing the Red Jungle Fowl. One day they will all be gone due to interbreeding.
    One of the unique behavioral traits of Red Jungle Fowl that separates them from domestic chickens is when the Rooster mates with a Hen he will bond for life like some geese. The Rooster will stay with his Hen and help protect and take care of the baby chicks, unlike domestic chickens. If you see a Rooster, Hen and baby chicks staying together this is a trait of Red Jungle Fowl behavior. They also fly very well, much like phesants, they remain on the ground but if they need to take flight they can.
    Most of the chickens you see on Kauai are cross breeds and are not the protected birds. They look similar to Bantams with their coloration but are very different.
    The locals of Kauai Love our chickens it is the new commers that have not learned to adapt and appreciate these wonderful birds.

    • Thank you Tom!

      Do you have any links to share or a book recommendation where I can read more about the chickens of Kauai?

      And my special thanks for calling them “wonderful birds” that they are!

  40. I’m sorry but I just don’t understand why these chickens aren’t eaten by people. “Natural predators”?! We’re called humans. We bred them to be “chickens” and brought them to this isolated Pacific island. Coconut chicken. Yum.

  41. We just got back from Kauai and I have to tell you that I was slightly annoyed with all the chickens. The island is beautiful and I was hoping to see more indigenous bird species(spp) other than morning doves, rock doves(pigeons) and chickens. I work as a biologist in Canada and I am involved in invasive species control. If the chicken was introduced and the population exploded, for what ever reason(i.e., overturned truck or Iniki, etc), then some form of control should be initiated. Counties and Provinces have the ability to up-list species on the control list if they are considered more of a regional problem, and I would assume that up-listing problem species in the US could also be conducted. If the chickens are protected by the state, this would pose a significant problem with ref to population control. I understand from many of your comments that you like to see the chickens, but although they are a beautiful animal, you will lose native species to this invasive(chicken) that will for example compete for insects that may be part the diet of the native toad spp on the island. There needs to be measures put in place now before the chickens displace more of your local wildlife. I observed at Poipu beach, the chickens congregating around the sewer man-hole covers just hammering the bugs exiting the small one inch hole in the metal cover. The feeding frenzy was very entertaining, but I would expect that this species of bug, which looked like a roach, would be better served as a meal for indigenous wildlife. I enjoyed our time on Kauai immensely and I wish them luck on controlling the chicken population.

    • aloha CoreyD:

      Well, I am a transplanted mainlander and I for one enjoy the chickens. There is a joke among the locals in Kauai that I once heard….If you see island chicken on the menu in a restaurant, then you are in for a rare organic treat for dinner. We islanders get used to things here…it is all part of the aloha. The chickens keep the bug population down and don’t hurt anyone.
      Some people like myself adopt strays that wander in and care for them like our pets. They stay and provide eggs and meat if we so desire to consume our own chickens like that. City folk don’t like their sleep disturbed by the roosters that crow on EST. But I would rather hear a rooster crowing than sirens of police cars or helicopters. All is right with the world with the rooster heralding and keeping vigil throughout the night.

      Additionally, if the economy of the world goes belly up and shipped goods become astronomically expensive, those island chickens will start to look mighty good for dinner. We grow our own vegetables and talapia for food, why not those wonderfully easy to reproduce chickens.

      Aloha for listening to my two cents worth

      • aloha Stephanie,
        I have heard conflicting stories on how they taste, but would love to come back and try it. They never woke me once while I was there, even still I grew up on a farm and in a small town where we had chickens and enjoyed the crowing. We had this one Bantom that could never finish his crow, it sounded like er er er er ehhh. Hilarious sound! Bug control is a good point, I was just hoping for more indigenous birds and expect those bug meals would help to maintain other species. I have some really beautiful pics of the chickens and will still remember our visit fondly. Thanks for your comments.

        • aloha Corey:

          Mahalo for your cute stories. Chickens can be an endless source of amusement. I never realized until I had my own. When we moved to the Big Island, one Big Yellow polynesian banty walked in one day and adopted us. Soon after we were gifted with a sweet Brown Hen named Goldie. Well Goldie and Mr. Rooster consummated their immediate marriage under our jaguar. Goldie started laying those wonderful brown eggs immediately. Eventually, she hid herself away sitting on a nest. 21 days later, out she marched with her babies in tow. Our life has not been the same since. We have 3 or 4 laying hens now and I have had to weed out several roosters. Too many of those and the girls get fought over. Not conducive to a peaceful clutch of eggs. So Kahuna, Goldie and her teenage daughters, Nutmeg, Pepper and their children march around all day merrily picking and scratching for bugs and tilling soil for us and waiting for their daily treats of grain and corn and papaya. They are curious and smart and have memories like elephants.

          Hope you get to visit the islands again soon.

          Aloha oe
          Stephanie

        • Hi Stephanie,
          I would love to come back and bring my mom and four kids, just very expensive to fly there. Maybe if we do we will come see your brood, Kahuna, Goldie and young!
          Aloha
          Corey D

        • aloha CoreyD: you bet. When I counted beaks this morning, there were 11 including four babies. And they are laying eggs in peculiar places. Adds to the drama.

          Aloha Oe.

  42. I was over there recently and saw many wild chickens on both Oahu and The Big Island. I met a local guy who had been breeding fighting chickens for the last 30 years, I was amazed how openly he talked about it!

  43. I was visiting Kauai in the mid 80′s and I don’t remember any chickens running around too much. When visiting in 2004, I was astounded to find the fowl population all over and quite at home on the beaches around people. My son in law had never seen such a sight and we all enjoyed them. I am sure post Iniki chicken population must have tripled and relocated in the windy turmoil of the storm. I live on Big Island now and have free range chickens of my own that are fairly tame to a degree. They enjoy their daily handout and happily give me eggs and babies to enjoy.

    hawaiianchickenmama

  44. After a little research on this curious question….. why so many chickens in Kauai???
    The chickens where cute at first then annoying after a couple of days.
    From my curious question I found…the chickens population started in the 70′s when cock roaches infested the island. A friend was on the island when she was young,1975, and she remembers the nasty bug in and around hotels and when leaving the island at the airport the employees were fogging her suitcase for cock roachs, not to bring them back into the big states.
    Chickens love to eat “Bugs”. So the chicken where invited in to take care of the “bugs”. Now the chickens are over populated.
    The goverment did that in other states too. Goverment brought in the little Asian beetle to eat other bugs here… now to many beetles. Same thing..

  45. Omg I hate the stupid roosters!! This is my first time to the island and we are renting a house on the south shore. They never stop cock a doodle doing !! Keep me up all night at about 1 or 4 am and continue throughout the entire night and day. I would not come back- I can’t get a relaxful sleep whatsoever!! Kill the roosters!!!

  46. We were on a beach in Kauai a couple of years ago, and a group of teenagers came along and set up a charcoal grill and were getting ready to fire it up. In my conversation with them I asked them what they had brought with them to cook. They looked at me like ai was crazy. “Man, you don’t have to bring anything with you. They are already here!”

  47. They are used as a disaster food source like if a hurricane or tsunami hit they would eat the chickens to survive.

  48. We just got back from Kauai and I thought it was awesome seeing all the chickens! There were cats too but the chickens far outnumbered the cats. Wonder why the cats weren’t chasing the chickens though! lol

    • Cats won’t chase a chicken because the roosters have LARGE spurs on their legs,, just above the feet. These get sharp and dangerous,, it’s what they cock fight with,, those spurs. A chicken may chase you,, and you may think it’s funny,, but if it gets a hold of you with those spurs,, the fun is over,, and quick.

  49. I really dont understand what the issue is. Free chicken, people. FREE CHICKEN.

    • Nick — I don’t think most people think it’s an issue. Most tourists find these feral chickens to be quirky and funny, with the exception of the folks that are woken at dawn by a crowing chicken. :-)

      I asked a local Kauai resident about the chickens and if they ever catch them for cooking. He said that the feral ones don’t taste very good.

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