Where Did The Wild Chickens Go? {With Pictures}

Are there wild chickens? What do they look like? Where can we find them?

We know chickens primarily as common domestic animals (Gallus domesticus). We use them for their meat and eggs and sometimes keep them just as pets or to exhibit in poultry hows too.

But very few people have ever seen a wild chicken. In fact, many people just assume the wild chicken is some long-extinct creature.

The chickens that we know and love today are actually descendants of the wild red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) which is native to southeast Asia.

They were most likely further crossbred with the gray junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) and all of this took place some 8,000 years ago.

These wild birds, the wild ancestors of the modern chicken, can actually still be found in several places around the world today.

Pictures

 Wild red junglefowl rooster in profile, standing in the forest.
Wild red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), is one of the two originators of the domesticated chicken. Photo used with permission (attribution): Francesco Veronesi
 Wild red junglefowl rooster in profile, standing in the forest.
Red Junglefowl Rooster. Used with permission, photo credit and attribution: Jason Thompson

The above photos show the stunningly colorful and beautiful wild red junglefowl rooster, what about the females, the hens?

 Wild red junglefowl hen in profile, standing in the forest.
A wild red junglefowl hen in India. Much plainer than the colorful roosters. Photo used with permission: Brian Gratwicke
 Wild red junglefowl hen in profile, standing in the forest.
Another red junglefowl hen. Photo used with permission: Melissa McMasters
the grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii). Photo used with permission (attribution:) Arshad Ameen.
hot oThe wild grey junglefowl hen (Gallus sonneratii). Photo used with permission: Dr. Raju Kasambe.

Where To Find Them 

Today, wild red junglefowl live in India and spread eastwards across Indochina and southern China, into Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Grey junglefowl are endemic to India and that is where they are mostly still found today.

True wild chickens like the red junglefowl, originally came from Southeast Asia, but they have now been introduced to many other parts of the world through trade and human settlement.

The red junglefowl is a beautiful bird with bright red and gold plumage and a long tail. Males also have a large, fleshy protuberance on their heads, called a casque, used to attract mates.

Along with many not knowing wild chickens exist, you may also not be aware that domesticated chickens have very often escaped (or been abandoned) and formed feral chicken populations or gangs as I like to think of them.

You can find these feral chickens around the world today and they have truly resorted back to their wilder counterparts in terms of behavior and survival instinct.

In North America, you’ll find these feral animals in Hawaii and some parts of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

In Central and South America, you can find these birds in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Argentina.

And finally, if you find yourself in Africa or Europe, keep your eyes peeled for feral chickens in Senegal, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and the United Kingdom. (So, like we noted, almost everywhere)!

One of the most common spots to find wild, feral chickens though is Hawaii.

These birds are so prevalent on the islands that they are considered pests by many people. The state even has a website dedicated to helping people control the feral chicken population.

Feral chickens can decimate local native plants that are necessary for other native animals to survive.

While Hawaii may be the most well-known place for feral chickens, they are also found in masses in other parts of the world.

In Florida, for example, there is a large population of feral chickens that live in the Everglades. These birds have been known to carry diseases like bird flu, which can be dangerous to other birds and even occasionally humans.

There are also populations of wild chickens in various Canadian Provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia, that are often seen near farms and other rural areas.

Where Did Wild (Feral) Chickens Come From?

Most wild chickens are not true “wild” chickens. They are feral chickens.

Feral chickens are domesticated chickens that have been released or escaped into the wild and reverted to their wild state.

The breeds of wild chickens vary, depending on the area and if the chickens reproduce once in the wild. 

bresse rooster and hen up in trees
My crazy Bresse rooster preferred roosting in trees just like his wild counterparts.

Are Wild Chickens Comparable to Domestic Chickens?

While domesticated chickens and feral chickens may look similar, they are very different.

For one, feral chickens are much more aggressive than their domesticated counterparts; they are also better at flying, foraging, and climbing.

In addition, feral chickens typically have a shorter lifespan than domesticated birds; this is because they face much harsher survival conditions and predator issues.

One of the most interesting things about wild chickens is their social behavior.

These birds typically live in large flocks of up to 30 individuals, and they have a complex social hierarchy. Within a flock, there is usually one dominant male bird who will mate with the majority of the females. The rest of the flock typically consists of younger males and females and some older adult birds who have been ejected from the dominant flock due to injury or old age.

In terms of diet, wild chickens and hens are omnivores and will eat seeds, insects, nuts, fruits, and berries. They are also fairly intelligent birds. They can remember where food sources are and have been observed using tools to obtain their food.

Domestic chickens, however, are not typically as intelligent or as aggressive, and they are selectively bred for their meat and egg-laying capabilities.

Wild chickens and hens, on the other hand, roost in trees. They typically build their nests on the ground and will lay between 8 and 15 eggs per clutch.

a black and white hen in flight

So, Who Domesticated The Chicken?

The jury is still out on this one.

That tends to be the case when something occurred thousand of years ago.

It is said that our ancestors observed the wild chickens gorging on bamboo seeds and the result was that they would lay many eggs. Delicious, nutritious, and prized eggs.

The chicken was likely the first bird to be domesticated too.

Much earlier than ducks or geese.

Two debates in chicken history remain unresolved: The first being the early presence of domestic chickens in China, prior to the known dates from southeast Asia; the second is whether there were pre-Columbian chicken species in the Americas.

Genetic studies initially hinted at multiple origins of domestication. Which makes logical sense.

The earliest archaeological evidence was from China about 5400 BCE However, these findings remain controversial and unproven.

Regarding the pre-Columbian Americas, In 2007 an American archaeologist found what was to be later identified as chicken bones at the site of El-Arenal 1 on Chile’s coast. These were dated to well before the 16th-century medieval Spanish colonization.

This incredible discovery is considered evidence of pre-Columbian contact of South America by Polynesian sailors, but this again remains a controversial notion in American archaeology.

But DNA studies have provided genetic support to this theory as the chicken bones contain a haplogroup which has been identified at Easter Island, which was founded by Polynesians around 1200 CE.

My Splash English Orpington as a young pullet, foraging for plants and insects like her wild counterparts and ancestors.

Final Thoughts

Wild, feral chickens do exist and came to be partly due to humans and partly due to the chickens themselves.

Domesticated chickens were first introduced to North America by European settlers in the 1500s.

These birds quickly became popular because they were a great source of food. However, they were also quite difficult to keep contained; chickens naturally tend to wander, and they are very good at escaping from enclosures.

As a result, it’s estimated that there are now tens of millions of feral chickens living all over the world, with many being in warmer parts of the United States.

No matter where you are in the world, you’ll find wild chickens (if you’re lucky) in their habitats in the forests, farmlands, and even in the cities and suburban areas on occasion.

They are fascinating birds with a long and interesting history, and they continue to thrive in many different parts of the world today.

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

The Ultimate Guide to Homestead & Backyard Chicken Keeping 

Learn More About Chickens

Browse ALL The Chicken Articles ➳

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for all of your brilliant and enlightening information. We are citified, western people and only went out to a ranch yesterday and bought 3 dozen free range eggs. I never knew all the different colors of these many breeds. I looked up so many of the different breeds of chickens that we saw on her ranch. After reading your articles it answered so many questions and gave us a new perspective and appreciation for the free range, ranch chicken eggs. The colors are delightful!
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.