If you’ve been to Maui, there’s no missing the huge number of wild chickens on the island. The reason why; hurricanes and storms have freed chickens over the years and there are few predators.
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How Did Chickens Get on Maui?
It’s generally understood and believed that the first Polynesian settlers on Maui brought the Red Junglefowl known locally as ‘Moa’ to the island.
The Red Junglefowl is the closest relative of the domestic chicken we know today. Evidence suggests the domestic chickens were derived from the Red Junglefowl some 8,000 years ago. You can still find this wild bird all over the world though.
The Red Junglefowl would have been introduced to the island as a food source, both for its meat and eggs. We also know that royalty used the colorful feathers of the bird to decorate cloaks and other clothing items.
In later years, more breeds of chickens will have been introduced to the island, as I’m sure some cross-breeding will also have taken place. There aren’t many places on earth where people don’t want eggs, it’s not hard to understand why chickens are present.
Why Are There So Many Chickens in Maui?
Bringing chickens to an island is one thing, having a large number of wild chickens is another.
This is a ‘problem’ most of the islands of Hawaii have, however.
The short answer as to why there are so many wild chickens on Maui and the other islands in Hawaii is largely due to natural disasters like storms freeing chickens. There are very few predators that prey on the chickens, so they keep rising in numbers.
Two of the main storms that caused a lot of chickens to be ‘released’ into the wild are hurricanes Iwa and Iniki.
Hurricane Iwa hit the islands in 1982 and caused massive destruction. Thousands of buildings were destroyed and hundreds of people were left homeless. As a result, hundreds of chickens were left to fend for themselves in the wild.
Then hurricane Iniki hit in 1992. Again, this storm caused some serious devastation across the islands. More chickens that were being kept in backyard coops were set free, and the numbers of wild chickens grew more.
Related - Why Are There So Many Chickens in Kauai?
What Kind of Chickens Are on Maui?
Due to decades of unsupervised cross-breeding, the chickens on Maui are hybrids of Red Junglefowl and other domestic chickens.
A lot of them do look like Red Junglefowl. The Junglefowl has a fairly distinctive appearance. It has a lot of bright colors, such as red, green, white, gold, orange, and brown in its plumage. A lot of the birds I’ve seen roaming in Maui are colorful.
One thing I do know is that the locals do not eat these chickens or their eggs. At least, not as far as I was able to tell. Part of the reason is that it’s against the law to kill native birds (more on that below), I’ve also read that people have tried and it didn’t taste great.
The eggs are edible, there is no reason why they wouldn’t be. But, I don’t know of anything that goes around collecting wild eggs to eat for breakfast.
Lack of Predators and Protection Laws on the Islands
There are a lot of locations where wild chickens wouldn’t be able to sustain and even grow their numbers. Maui is a little different than your typical urban area though.
If you’ve never seen Maui, first of all, I have to say you’re missing out. Much like all of Hawaii, it’s a beautiful, tropical island. This just so happens to be perfect for chickens to live wild, too.
There is plenty of food in the form of berries, plants, and bugs for chickens to eat. Plus, more importantly, there are very few predators to keep the chicken population in check.
This isn’t the only reason why the number of wild chickens keeps on growing. There are laws in Hawaii protecting native birds, of which the Red Junglefowl or ‘Moa’ as it’s called is protected.
Therefore, it’s illegal to remove, cull, or get rid of any Red Junglefowl. The problem is, due to decades of cross-breeding, it’s not always clear if a chicken is ‘native’ to the island.
There have been some efforts over the years by local governments to remove some of the birds. But as far as I can tell, locals do not think it’s been a success or made any real difference to the problem they face with wild chickens.
Related - Why are there so many chickens in Key West?
Now you know, the mystery - which is not so much of a mystery - as to why there are so many chickens in Maui is due to a combination of natural disasters and lack of predators.
Wild chickens in Hawaii have become something of a tourist attraction. There aren’t many places in the world where wild chickens and humans live in such close proximity, it’s really quite interesting to see.
Image credits - Photos by Lisanto 李奕良 and Ayu Debab on Unsplash
Maui - GoHawaii.com