A Little Moa about Kauai.

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.

Taylor watches a Kauai chicken cross the road back in 2007.

Taylor watches a Kauai chicken cross the road back in 2007.

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.

We saw this hen and her half-grown pullets near the Marriott property at Poipu Beach.

We saw this hen and her half-grown pullets near the Marriott property at Poipu Beach.

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!

This wild rooster is safer in the wild in Hawaii.

This wild rooster is safer in the wild in Hawaii.

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.

This feral cat kept his distance from a nearby flock of chickens guarded by a wary rooster.

This feral cat kept his distance from a nearby flock of chickens guarded by a wary rooster.

She's a pretty hen but a no-go for coq-au-vin.

She’s a pretty hen but a no-go for coq-au-vin.

This chick appeared to be just a few days old.

This chick appeared to be just a few days old.

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:

I couldn't persuade the CE to buy this hat. Maybe on a return trip...

I couldn’t persuade the CE to buy this hat. Maybe on a return trip…

One of a collection of chicken-themed cards I found at the Lihue airport features a rooster with surfboard in tow boarding a flight to Kauai.

One of a collection of chicken-themed cards I found at the Lihue airport features a rooster with surfboard in tow boarding a flight to Kauai.

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!

I brought a little "moa" home from Kauai to hang near our coop.

I brought a little “moa” home from Kauai to hang near our coop.

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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4 Responses to A Little Moa about Kauai.

  1. dizzyguy says:

    The Kauai wild chickens certainly add character to the beautiful landscapes of the islands. They strut around in the certainty that they are now an accepted part of the scene. Cannot imagine them not being there and I think the residents have come to feel the same way. Also, the time honored question has been at least partially answered: To get out of the way of the oncoming hurricane Iniki.

  2. tdevir says:

    Very cute post. Love the baby chick pic. (Why must they grow up so fast?) And the chicken souvenir will look great in the coop! Xo

  3. Katherine says:

    ahhh – I don’t know what I enjoy the most about this post – the title, Taylor’s 2007 flip-phone, the gorgeous friendly-appearing-yet-feral cat, or the baby chick! NOW I know why you love Hawaii so much. All this talk about sun and relaxation and food, but the truth will out – it’s the chickens. (I should have seen that coming. After all, there has been a lot of foreshadowing in this epic story.)

  4. Mrs. G says:

    You really HAVE found the perfect island!

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