“Don’t count your chickens,” the saying goes, but with SO many of them wandering the island of Kauai, it does beg the question . . . Just how many chickens are there?
Worldwide, chickens outnumber humans about three to one, but on the Garden Isle the number is twice that. Recent tracking suggests as many as 450,000 of these fowl are running amok on Kauai. That’s no paltry amount of poultry. Especially when you consider the population of the island is only around 73,000, meaning that for every local resident there are six chickens. Around here, when something darts out of the tall grass in front of your car, you may want to hit the brakes as it could easily be a mother hen and her trail of fuzzy chicks crossing the road right in front of you.
Which begs another question . . . Why did the chicken cross the road?
Here on Kauai, the answer to this age-old query is simple because chickens are everywhere! They don’t cross the road. They also roam parking lots, hang out by pools, wander restaurant patios, strut their stuff on the beach, and at this point some may have even learned how to surf and mix a mai tai. (But not at the same time. Because that would be weird.)
In short, Kauai is no place to be chicken of chickens.
So where did all these feral feathered friends come from? And for a place whose state fish is the oh-so-fancily-named humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, how is it that the most prevalent bird here is a hen?
Different theories have hatched over the years, but most locals will tell you that the first wave of wild chickens came ashore with the Polynesians over 1000 years ago. Then, in 1982 Hurricane Iwa hit the Hawaiian Island chain, battering Kauai most severely. The winds destroyed most of the island’s coops and blew countless chickens out of farms, scattering them from coast to coast. Taking “free range” to the next level, the chickens began to multiply all over the island. Ten years later, a second massive storm, Hurricane Iniki, flung the fowl further.
For a flightless bird, the Kauai chicken sure has had its share of air travel.
Another rooster-booster theory says that Kauai was the only one of the Hawaiian islands not to release an army of mongoose into the wild in 1883 to control rats in the sugarcane fields. (We could almost call this story Of Mice and Hen . . . but not quite.) These Indian mongoose also fed on chicken eggs, which naturally meant fewer chickens in the greater state of Hawaii. Kauai was apparently lowest in the pecking order of “The Mongoose Project”, so to this day the birds enjoy life here with few predators. Kauai is known for having a small snake population, too, so the only real threats to Kauai’s chickens are cats, dogs, motorcycles and cars. The locals don’t bother eating them as their meat is notoriously tough and much less delicious than that of the juicy poultry bred to make fajitas, coq au vin and chicken parmigiano. As for their eggs, they . . . well . . . lay an egg in the taste department, too, so no one is scrambling to gather and eat them.
Because of all the displacement, Kauai’s wild chickens today are a blend of Jungle Fowl, farm hens, fighter roosters and various other breeds. The hens have brown plumage and subtler features, but the roosters are eggs-trodinarily handsome, sporting brilliant ruby-toned hackles, tall combs and shiny multi-color coats. The Kauai chicken (or “moa” in Hawaiian), is fast, adaptable and sports an air of entitlement. They are free to live as they please due to a state law that prohibits harming them in any way, so they act a little cocky. And though some complain that the Kauai roosters’ early morning alarm clucks (“shaka doodle doos”?) can be annoying, most folks enjoy the quirky presence of these beautiful birds.
And these are no spring chickens either; they are summer, fall and winter, too. In fact, these birds are so ubiquitous, chicken-inspired mugs, dish towels, T-shirts and bumper stickers proliferate Kauai gift shops. They are simply one of the Garden Isle’s (c)lucky charms.
So just how many chickens are there on Kauai? It’s hard to tell but it’s inching towards half a million. And just why did the chicken cross the road? Around here, it was probably for the same reason you did: to get a better look at the glorious South Shore coastline where all god’s creatures live in harmony — and where life is lived sunny side up.
Book your villa at our luxurious resort in Kauai today and see how many chickens you can count. And if by chance a handsome rooster serenades you in the morning, we hope you’ll see it the way the locals do: No harm, no fowl.
— Erica Karlin