Why did the chicken cross the road? Because, on Kauai, there isn’t a road without them.
While Hawaii’s official State bird is the Hawaiian Goose, or Nene, on Kauai everyone jokes that the “official” birds of the Garden Island (aka “Chicken Isle”) are feral chickens (and wild roosters in particular). Chickens and roosters are everywhere: at the airport, in parking lots, at gas stations, in shopping centers, on the golf courses, on the beach and in the woods.
Lovely Kauai, the garden island where you can warm yourself in the sun, while you listen to the waves crashing on the shore, and–Cock-a-doodle-doo–all day long! One of the biggest rooster-related complaints is the 24-7 crowing. Apparently Kauai roosters aren’t concerned about whether it’s morning or night.
Chickens have a long history in the Hawaiian islands, a melding pot for people, plants, and animals. The first arrival of the Polynesian voyagers, ancestors of the Hawaiian people brought everything they needed to survive. Plants like bananas and coconuts, and animals such as chickens (moa), pigs (pua’a), dogs (‘I’ilio), and rats (‘I’ole). These animals were introduced alongside native populations of birds, monk seals, and bats…and they thrived, often to the detriment of native species.
The spectacularly plumed roosters and rainbow-colored spotted hens you see on Kauai now, are descendants of the original Moa (or canoe fowl). But they have strengthened their genetics by co-mingling with traditional white barnyard fowl and fighting cocks (introduced on Kauai by Filipino immigrants during the island’s early plantation days) that were originally housed in pens and chicken coops throughout the island.
Kauai is one of the greatest places in the world to just be a chicken! If you ask why chickens rule the roost on this Hawaiian island, you’ll get a number of different answers. The truth doesn’t lie in any one reason, but in a combination of them all.
The first and most important reason is that Kauai has never had a serious predator to the chicken. Other Hawaiian Islands have escaped this chicken profusion because early sugar growers introduced mongoose to all the islands except Kauai. They believed that mongoose would keep the Polynesian rat from decimating the sugar crop. However, the growers overlooked the fact that mongoose — natural rat killers — are daytime animals, and rats are nocturnal, so the two never engaged in battle. Mongoose also eat bird — and chicken — eggs , thereby greatly reducing bird populations on all islands but Kauai. Local legend has it that a mongoose bit the hand of a Kauai dockworker, who knocked the entire crate of mongoose into the bay, and no more were imported. So the next a rooster awakes you from peaceful slumber, you can thank the plantation bosses who kept the mongoose away from the Garden Isle. The good news is that Kauai, lacking in mongoose, has been able to maintain the population of native and endemic bird species on the island.
Foul weather is another contributor to the abundance of fowl. Some of the chickens are domesticated chickens that get released (on purpose) into the wild and then breed with Hawaiian jungle fowl. But mother nature has played her hand in chicken overpopulation too with various hurricanes, tsunamis, and other weather events that release large populations of domestic birds into the wild. Hurricane Iniki on September 11, 1992 leveled Kauai, and is well known for releasing many domestic birds into the wild. Those in the know about the Kauai chicken population can generally tell if a bird is a domestic, native, or cross-bred chicken. Certain colors, body shapes, and feathers make the moa (wild native jungle fowl) distinct.
The last major contributor to the Kauai chicken population explosion is a jaw-dropper, even to some people who have lived on Kauai all their lives. Kauai’s wild jungle fowl is protected: under state law–like all birds of Hawaii–the moa is protected as an important part of nature on the island. Although the law itself and the repercussions of breaking it, are rarely spoken of, harming wild moa is a crime in the state of Hawaii.
So what are they good for? Well, for one, their adorableness as baby chicks, and their photogenic beauty as adults (the roosters, especially, are one colorful bunch).
You might also look at them with an appreciation for their longstanding place in the Kauai landscape and culture! And, possibly most important, they like to eat bugs, lot of bugs (like the much feared poisonous centipede).
Even Baby Bird found something to crow about. She started the trip rooster-ready with an awesome sun hat (shout out to Tracy of Impwear for finding her LAST rooster hat in Baby Bird’s size–can’t think of a better place to wear it than on Kauai).
Then came the chicken chasing. I mean, truly, if you are a toddler what else could possibly be more fun than chasing chickens. Fortunately (for her), they are faster than she is.
Heck, she even selected the Moa Kane Keiki Kruisers tee-shirt at Magic Dragon Toys & Games in the Princeville Center. She could pick from a whale, a turtle, a pig, a dragon (Puff), dolphin, shark, octopus–yet she chose the chicken. I swear I did not influence her choice. Quite honestly, I was angling for honu (turtle).
Aside from the annoyance and the noise, there is one more (surprising) thing Kauai moa are not good for: eating. You know that expression, “tough old bird?” This defines the culinary category in which the chickens of Kauai fall.
There is an old Hawaiian proverb: 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 (wild chicken). Once the lava rock is done da moa is ready to eat.
Take the road less traveled (but look both ways before you cross), Beth