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Why Are There So Many Chickens in Maui, HI?

Tourists in Maui spend much of their time and money searching for sea whales and turtles. However, one local species requires only a tiny bit of effort to spot. Which one, you may ask? The wild Maui chickens. These chickens can be seen everywhere on the island, even in the densest areas. Obviously, from the tourist perspective, this raises some eyebrows and questions. Why are there so many chickens in Maui? How did they even get there? Let’s explore the reasons behind the vast number of chickens on the Hawaiian islands, including why they are allowed to roam free.

How Did Chickens Get to Maui?

red junglefowl
Red Junglefowl

Being that Hawaii is out in the Pacific ocean, the fact that there are chickens on the islands at all may come as a surprise. However, like most chickens in the world, the ones in Hawaii are not native. The chickens are descendants of escapees from backyard coops and farms and trace back to the time of the Polynesians who brought red junglefowl with them when they settled on the island around 1,000 years ago. The arrival of European explorers to Hawaii, starting with Captain James Cook in 1778, brought further changes to the chicken population.  After Captain Cook’s arrival, crossbreeding between domestic chickens and red junglefowl took place, resulting in the population you see when vacationing in Maui today.

Why Are There So Many Chickens in Maui?

There are several reasons why there are so many chickens in Maui, including:

  • Historical Origins: Polynesian settlers who arrived on the Hawaiian islands centuries ago had brought chickens with them.
  • Cultural Significance: Chickens hold cultural significance in Hawaiian folklore and traditions. In Hawaiian mythology, the rooster is believed to have protective qualities and is associated with the god Kū, the god of war and male fertility.
  • Natural Catastrophes: The abundance of wild chickens in Maui can be attributed to natural catastrophes such as storms and hurricanes that set domestic chickens free. Hurricanes Iwa (1982) and Iniki (1992) are notable events that contributed to the release of chickens into the wild. Additionally, the breeding of roosters and domesticated chickens for cockfighting after Hurricane Iniki caused a surge in the chicken population.
  • Lack of Natural Predators: Maui’s chicken population thrives in part due to the absence of natural predators that would typically control their numbers. Since there are no large mammalian predators on the island, such as foxes or wolves, chickens face fewer threats to their survival.
  • Favorable Climate and Environment: The island’s mild weather, abundant vegetation, and availability of food sources, including insects and fruits, support the growth and reproduction of the chicken population.

What Kind of Chickens Live in Maui?

hawaii's feral roosters
Hawaii’s Feral Roosters

Maui chickens are recognized as hybrids due to the unsupervised crossbreeding between red junglefowl and other domestic breeds. The red junglefowl, also known as “moa” by locals, is the most prominent breed on the island. These birds have vibrant feathers in colors such as red, white, orange, brown, and gold. As mentioned earlier, the red junglefowl was initially brought to Hawaii by the Polynesian explorers as a source of eggs, meat, and decorative feathers for Maui’s royals.

The other type of chickens found on Maui are Hawaii’s wild chickens, which are a genetic mix of jungle fowl, fighting birds, and other domestic breeds (like Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, and Plymouth Rock). The domestic and fighting chickens were able to interbreed with the junglefowl due to the reasons listed above, as well as a lack of confinement. Being that the chickens roamed free, they eventually came into contact with the junglefowl. They resemble jungle fowl with small combs and a variety of colors. The distinction between native “moa” and wild chickens with mixed parentage can be challenging due to unsupervised crossbreeding, particularly in chickens that were designed for cockfighting.

The Upsides and Downsides of Feral Chickens in Hawaii

feral rooster male chicken hawaii park

Now, you may be wondering whether this overwhelming population of chickens in Maui is considered a nuisance. The truth is that there are upsides and downsides to having such a large number of chickens on the island. Here are some of the advantages:

  • Pest Control: Feral chickens play a crucial role in keeping the population of destructive insects and bugs in check. They also aid in controlling mosquitoes. By consuming mosquito larvae and adults, the chickens help reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
  • Unique Cultural Experience: Since chickens are part of Hawaiian lore and make for an interesting sight when spotted out in the wild, tourists can delight in some culture and take pictures of the Hawaiian chickens while on vacation.

Now for the disadvantages:

  • Noise and Disturbance: The constant crowing of roosters can be a nuisance, particularly for residents living in close proximity to feral chicken populations. The noise can disrupt sleep and cause annoyance.
  • Damage to Vegetation: Feral chickens can cause damage to gardens, farms, and native vegetation. Their scratching behavior and foraging can uproot plants and disturb the soil.
  • Disease Transmission: Feral chickens can carry diseases such as avian flu and Newcastle disease. This poses a potential health risk to humans and other bird populations. The chickens also have a tendency to poo everywhere they go.
  • Road Hazards: Chickens roaming freely on roads can increase the risk of car accidents, especially when they dart across traffic unexpectedly.

Can You Hunt and Eat The Wild Chickens of Maui?

Hunting wild chickens on Maui is regulated by local laws and regulations. According to the Hawaii Administrative Rules and Regulations, the chickens roaming on the island are protected species. It is generally illegal to hunt any native or non-native bird species, including chickens, without a permit. However, if you possess a valid hunting license and have obtained permission from the landowner, there may be circumstances where hunting wild chickens on Maui is allowed. It is important to adhere to the specific regulations and seek proper authorization before engaging in any hunting activities.

As for eating the wild chickens, you won’t find that Hawaiians utilize the meat that often. Despite chicken being a popular protein in Maui, that chicken is not from the wild ones on the island. Reportedly, the wild chicken tastes…foul (get it?). Keep in mind that wild chickens are not bred and raised on the best diets. Since they eat whatever they can find, their meat tends to be tougher and carries with it a less than favorable flavor. On the other hand, domesticated chickens eat foods that are meant to be healthy while adding flavor to the meat.

In short, you will not be hunting and eating the wild chickens of Maui.

However, these chickens are trusting because they are used to living among people. Therefore, they are easily caught. In this video, you can see how a woman did it by feeding a couple of birds. Separately, we note that we do not support such behavior.

Final Thoughts on Chickens in Maui

Why are there so many chickens in Maui? The presence of so many chickens is a combination of factors, including trade, natural catastrophes, and the absence of significant predators. The island’s chicken population comprises hybrids resulting from crossbreeding between red junglefowl and domestic breeds. Despite being a nuisance to some, the wild chickens have become an integral part of Maui’s charm, attracting the attention of tourists and serving as a reminder of the island’s history and unique ecosystem.