This was one of our most popular articles, so we thought we’d repost!
I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but the mercury in New Hampshire is plummeting into minus degrees like a dart from a blow gun. Let’s mix things up. I’ll get my ukulele while you grab a pineapple smoothie and your fleece-lined flip-flops and we’ll talk chicken; tropical style.
If you have ever traveled to the Hawaiian Islands, you’re sure to have seen a rambling chicken or two, or twenty. The majority of chickens in Hawaii are not found on farms or in backyard flocks. From the Big Island to Kauai, it is the wild chicken – thousands of them, who calls the Aloha State home.
The story begins with the earliest Polynesian settlers, the Marquesans, who included chickens in their supply of settlement provisions. Over the years came other explorers with their own breeds of hens and roosters. For generations since, the “moa” (the Hawaiian word for hen or rooster) has been an integral source of meat and eggs to Hawaiian locals. Hawaii has a long history of cockfighting which in itself continues to support a healthy chicken population, but the blame for the seemingly unstoppable problem of feral chickens may rest solely on a nasty storm.
Hurricane Iniki hit the Hawaiian Islands in 1992 devastating chicken farms across the state, setting free to flourish in the wild, a poultry party with no immediate end in sight. On Kauai alone, the number of wild chickens has reached the 20,000 range, and without the usual list of predators that mainland chickens contend with, this number continues to climb. You might think that people would catch the readily available birds, but even the locals themselves won’t eat them. They joke that the meat of these renegade chickens is so tough, that if you were to boil one in a lava rock, the rock would be tenderer.
The background noise created by the voluminous number of feral chickens is giving domestic chickens a bad name and increasing tension within growing communities. Neighbor pitted against neighbor – one side seeking to eradicate all poultry within residential areas, and the other fighting to maintain the right to keep a small backyard flock. On Oahu, current law allows each home two chickens in any combination of hen or rooster. Some residents view the law as outdated with the development of bedroom communities. Others view the ability to keep chickens as a cultural right that should not be tampered with. Overpopulation is clear even to unknowing tourists as wild chickens roam free in Hawaii’s city parks, parking lots, roadside snack shacks – even under the palm trees that line her pristine beaches.
The Hawaii Game Breeders Association (HGBA) was awarded a city contract and is working in Oahu to solve the problem. The HGBA is charged with settling disputes between rooster owners and their neighbors by teaching chicken enthusiasts ways to keep their birds quiet during early morning and evening hours. They have also set about the task of teaching locals how to catch wild chickens in and about their neighborhoods by supplying cages and instructions for capture. Once a flock of feral chickens has been caught, the HGBA picks them up and relocates healthy birds to poultry farms and locals in rural communities looking to own one or two backyard chickens. Time will tell if this initiative works.
So, if you find yourself on a Hawaiian vacation, and someone offers to take your picture in front of a banyan tree holding a cone of shave ice, don’t be surprised if the photographer turns out to be a chicken in disguise. Mahalo.