You didn’t really think I would say aloha to Kauai without squawking about their chickens, did you?
Chickens have thrived on the island ever since they were brought as “canoe fowl” by Polynesian voyagers as early as 1000 A.D. We first noticed them in the summer of 2007, our first return trip after Hurricane Iniki swamped the island in 1992. Residents released much of Kauai’s chicken population as Iniki bore down on the island, which gave rise to the prolific feral population of chickens that thrives there today.
Known as “moa” (or alternately, mua, per some sources) the red jungle fowl are as ubiquitous as the mynas, sparrows and zebra doves that populate the island. They are shy of humans and run surprisingly fast, so it’s not easy to snap photos of them, but on any given day we probably saw a few dozen of them as we walked or drove.
Back in 2007 the chickens of Kauai were a novelty to us, but now, as full-fledged chicken nerds, we view them as extended family to our own little flock. I’m not sure who has it better, our girls who enjoy room service in their coop, or the Kauaian chickens who free-range across the predator-free island (if you don’t count humans or cars) and feast upon all manner of exotic plants and bugs.
Not everyone is as delighted with the chickens as we are. Locals and visitors alike are known to deplore the rooster wake-up calls that disturb pre-dawn sleep. Some people don’t think it’s cute when chickens wander through the shops of Old Koloa Town, where one tongue-in-cheek store proprietor has actually painted a brightly-colored line of chicken tracks across the floor. Others fret, unnecessarily, about Avian influenza. For the record, Avian flu is exponentially more likely to occur in conditions where thousands of birds are crowded in battery farm conditions, not in small, open-air wild or domestic flocks.
There were no chickens on the property where we stayed. Technically, the wild jungle fowl are protected, but trapping and “removal” is routinely permitted. I, for one, celebrate the spirit of the free-ranging fowl, especially since learning that many of them were (and apparently continue to be) kept on the island to be used in a widespread underground cockfighting tradition that was originally promoted by Filipino immigrants during the island’s early plantation days. As everywhere else in the United States, cockfighting is illegal in Hawaii, but the state ranks 47th out of 50 for the efficacy of laws pertaining to the practice. For instance, it is legal in Hawaii to possess cocks for fighting (illegal in 37 states) and legal to be a spectator at a cockfight (illegal in 42 states). While cockfighting is a felony in 40 states, it is only a misdemeanor in Hawaii. And only if you get caught in the act. Come on, Hawaii, you’re better than that!
Everywhere we went, all around the island, it was a chick-chick here and a chick-chick there. We saw them foraging alongside cattle egrets and mynas and tending their various-aged flocks throughout parks and condominium developments. They even seem to co-exist peacefully with the substantial feral cat population. The cats, like anyone else considering an on-the-hoof chicken dinner, must have heard the longstanding island lore which states that if you boil a lava rock and an island chicken together, the lava rock will become tender sooner (as in never) than the chicken.
I hope the Hawaiians continue to hang loose regarding their hens, which in some circles are referred to as the “state bird”. A number of enterprising locals have feathered their nests by selling poultry-related merchandise:
A few tourists grumble that the chickens detract from a perfect vacation, but, overall, most seem charmed by Kauai’s signature flocks. I, for one, can’t wait to return to the Garden Island, where, as birds go, I say moa is better!