Photograph by MARIE MAGEE
Photograph by MARIE MAGEE

The Surprising Origins of Hawaii's Feral Chickens

Genetic tests reveal where they came from.

This story appears in the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Thousands of feral chickens inhabit Kauai, but their origin was long a mystery. Did they descend from red jungle fowl that Polynesians brought to Hawaii some 1,000 years ago or from farmed birds that flew the coop more recently? According to genetic tests, a mix of both, says biologist Eben Gering. Breeding these feral chickens with domestic ones could add welcome genetic diversity and make farm-raised fowl hardier, he says.