Kauai’s Wild Chickens: The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Hawaii’s official State bird is the Hawaiian Goose, or Nene, but on Kauai, everyone jokes that the “official” birds of the Garden Island are feral chickens, especially the wild roosters.

Wild Rooster-Kauai's
Wild Rooster-Kauai’s “Official” Bird

Wikepedia says the “mua” or red jungle fowl were brought to Kauai by the Polynesians as a source of food, thriving on an island where they have no real predators. A clerk at the Koke’e Museum in the Waimea Canyon shared her opinion on why there are so many wild chickens on Kauai these days: “Because tourists feed them!” she responded with a laugh.

Most locals agree that wild chickens proliferated after Hurricane Iniki ripped across Kauai in 1992, destroying chicken coops and releasing domesticated hens, and well as roosters being bred for cockfighting. Now these brilliantly feathered fowl inhabit every part of this tropical paradise, crowing at all hours of the day and night to the delight or dismay of tourists and locals alike.

Hen & Chicks, Lihue
Hen & Chicks, Lihue

For the most part, Kauai’s wild chickens add to the rural environment I enjoy.  But I have to admit, I’ve seen
roosters fighting over a dropped piece of pizza at the Costco food court.  I’ve also watched a hungry chicken peck a toddler munching on a cracker at Hideaways Beach and I’ve seen a mother hen rush an unsuspecting tourist to protect her chicks.

Online postings demonstrate the dichotomy of the love-hate relationship visitors and locals have with Kauai’s now famous, or infamous foul, depending on your point of view. The Wild Chicken blog has readers reacting to photos of roosters, hens and baby chicks with descriptions ranging from “beautiful birds” to “god-awful rats with wings.”

So what’s good about Kauai’s wild chickens?

First of all, they eat bugs, lots of bugs, including the mean and nasty Hawaiian centipedes that can give you a painful bite similar to a hornet or wasp sting, only worse.

And let’s be honest, many tourists get a kick out of Kauai’s wild chickens and consider them part of the island’s charm, even if they suffer from crow-induced insomnia.

Shop owners will tell you that kitschy souvenirs such as chicken-themed coffee mugs, T-shirts printed with Kauai’s “official” bird, and stuffed roosters that crow, fly (pun intended) off the shelves, pumping money into the local economy.

I would guess 99.9% of tourists snap at least one photo of a feral rooster, or a wild hen with her brood of baby chicks. I’ve shot hundreds of photos of both, starting with the rooster I followed around the parking lot of the rental car company the first time I visited Kauai.  –I couldn’t resist the opportunity to capture the beauty of its multi-colored iridescent feathers.

I’m sure my list of the bad things about wild chickens is incomplete, but here’s what I’ve accumulated so far:

“Cock-A-Doodle-Do” doesn’t begin to describe the cacophony wild roosters can make when they start crowing in the middle of the night. My brother, and his wife, recently visited Kauai to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The first morning following their arrival in paradise, Clark told me how the roosters woke them up around 2 a.m. shrieking what sounded to them like an ode to their home state:

“West Vir-GIN-yah!” “West Vir-GIN-yah!” “West Vir-GIN-yah!” …Ad nauseum…

“Aloha!” I responded. “Welcome to Kauai,” I added with a laugh.

Workers at the Limahuli Garden on Kauai’s north shore are trying to figure out a way to keep wild chickens from destroying their new community vegetable garden. Wire mesh fences don’t work because Kauai’s wild chickens can fly, so they’re experimenting with other humane alternatives. When my family and I volunteered to pull weeds, we noticed gardners had spread a fine mesh net on the ground to discourage fowl foraging, but it didn’t seem to be working…

Pat and John of Princeville (last name omitted by request to avoid any potential PETA protests) admit they trap and kill dozens of wild chickens every year. “Because they’re such a nuisance in the yard,” they explained. “Destroying things, digging up plants and and leaving so many unsanitary droppings,” they added.

The Kauai Humane Society used to loan residents free chicken traps, but the demand got so high, they now refer homeowners to RoosterTraps.com to buy one.  KHS charges $5 for chicken pick-up, or trapped feral fowl can be dropped of at their Lihue facility to be euthanized at no charge.

The parking lot of the Koke’e Museum is nearly overrun with Kauai’s ubiquitous fowl.  A posting on the Koke’e Museum’s website tries to help discourage people from feeding the wild chickens with a list of negative impacts of the growing poultry population.

–The unnaturally large flock is bad for native plants.
–Wild chickens carry diseases that kill native Hawaiian birds.
–They leave unsanitary piles of kukae moa (aka: chicken poop)
–It makes for unsafe driving when visitors brake or swerve to avoid them.

Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei
Rooster Roadkill, Hanalei

I could create an entire album of roadkill roosters to show all the wild chickens who’ve tried to cross the road in Kauai and didn’t make it, creating dangerous driving conditions and sometimes gruesome piles of bloody feathers.  This photo shows one of the more sanitized shots of a dead rooster hit mid-stride on his way to another bug buffet on the opposite side of Kuhio Highway.

Joke of the day:  Why do Kauai chickens cross the road?  Answer:  Because they own it!

Not sure if wild chicken stew belongs under the “good” or “bad” category. The few people I’ve met who admit they eat what some call “native” chicken stew, describe it as a little stringy, but tasty.  Locals might share their wild chicken recipe if asked.  Here’s mine:  Put one wild chicken in a pot of boiling water.  Add spices and a lava rock for flavor.  When the rock is tender, the chicken is done.  Version-2:  Put one wild chicken in a pot of boiling water.  Add spices and a lava rock for flavor.  Simmer for several hours.  Discard chicken.  Eat the rock.  Lol…

The ugly side of Kauai’s chickens is the popularity of cockfighting.

Cockfighting was technically banned by Hawaii’s last monarch, King Kalakaua in 1884, but it continues as a popular underground sport on Kauai and other islands.

(I had a video of an actual cockfight, shot on Molokai, posted here, but YouTube blocked it because it was too graphic.)

As recently as 2010, the Hawaii State Legislature considered a proposal that would have recognized cockfighting as a cultural activity.  The resolution was approved by the House Committee on Tourism, Culture and International Affairs with the help of Kauai Representative, Roland Sagum (D-16th District).  The pro-cockfighting resolution was eventually scuttled by the House Judiciary Committee where I assume the conflict with State and Federal laws was a major point of contention.

Hawaii’s cockfighting laws are already some of the most lenient in the nation:  It’s not a crime to attend a cockfight, and it’s only a misdemeanor to use razor-sharp gaffs and gamble on the outcome of the often deadly and bloody battles.

Just a year before the resolution was considered, Kauai P.D. busted a large cockfight in Kapa’a where they confiscated more than a 100 roosters, 240 gaffs and $70,000 in cash.  15-roosters were already dead when police arrived and another 20 had to be euthanized by the Kauai Humane Society, due to injuries described in the Honolulu Advertiser as “horrible.”

I recently drove the same road where the cockfighting took place, and can tell you there’s a large property with multiple individualized cages where roosters are being raised.  Other than breeding and cockfighting, what would these roosters be used for, eh?

The breeding farm happens to be located next door to a meditation center where I went for a deep-tissue massage.  The massage was physically relaxing, but my mind remained alert because I had to listen to the competitive crowing of dozens of Kauai roosters declaring their dominance.  –Er-Er-Er—Er—ERRRRR!

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