Most people consider chickens (Gallus domesticus) domestic poultry and can’t imagine that some live in the wild. There are two options when seeing a wild chicken outdoors. It was born in nature or escaped from a nearby flock.
All chickens are descendants of Gallus gallus, the wild red junglefowl that originated in Southeast Asia. You can still find them in a few countries worldwide, giving you the answer to the question of where do wild chickens live. Let’s take a look.
Can Chickens Live in the Wild?
Even though it sounds strange, most chickens can live in the wild when necessary. Some heritage breeds live that way all their life. You can recognize three chicken types according to the place of living. Two live in nature, while tame ones depend on people.
- Domesticated chickens – Birds that live with humans as pets or people keep them for eggs and meat.
- Feral chickens – These previously domestic chickens became stray for some reason and started living in the wild. Although it is not their common lifestyle and their offspring have all characteristics of domestic poultry, they are actually wild.
- Wild chickens (junglefowl) – Chickens that naturally live in the wild.
The difference between the two wild types is evident. Domestic chickens are used to living with humans and have problems surviving and caring for themselves after accidentally ending up in nature. However, some make it and even have offspring if the environment is friendly, with plenty of water and food, and without predators.
On the other hand, wild chickens have lived in the wild from birth and have never been domesticated. They are entirely adapted to their lifestyle and can survive without help. Such poultry is often careful when meeting people and can even be aggressive.
1. Domestic chickens (Gallus Gallus domesticus)
Humans probably domesticated wild chickens at least 7,000 years ago as the first of all poultry, before geese, turkeys, and ducks. The first records confirmed their cohabitation with humans were dated in 5,000 BC in India, Pakistan, Egypt, and China.
Scientists believe domestic chickens kept at farms worldwide are descendants of wild chickens but with several changes in their genetic material. For instance, they are less sizable than their wild ancestors and more often have feathered legs. These tame birds are also rarely cannibals except in extraordinary circumstances.
Such long-lasting domestication made most chickens live with people, and only rare flocks are entirely wild. Modern domestic chickens are almost wholly dependent on humans nowadays. They live freely within small family farms or confined in large professional poultry farms, supplying owners with eggs, meat, and feathers.
2. Wild chickens, Red junglefowl (Gallus Gallus)
Believe it or not, real wild chickens still exist, but they are different from those you have in your yard. Humans have never domesticated them, and they live freely in some parts of the world.
Huge flocks (broods) of the wild red junglefowl typically live in Southeast Asia, primarily China, some islands, Australia, and some parts of the US, particularly Hawaii.
However, human settlement establishment and heavy trade introduced those wild birds to many other world parts. They are omnivorous, feeding on seeds, insects, and fruit. Centuries of living in the wild have taught them to survive and keep themselves safe from predators.
Red junglefowl is attractive with gold and bright red plumage. Roosters have long, imposing tails, while their heads are decorated by casque (fleshy protuberance), crucial for attracting hens.
3. Feral chickens
Sometimes, domesticated chickens escape their farms and enclosures and form wild flocks. Those so-called feral chickens become wild again and find a way to live without human supervision in regions with enough water and food.
In such a case, these birds quickly learn to reach low tree branches and roost in bushes, staying safe from predators.
A single chicken has fewer chances to survive in nature, but wild flocks can live for years in such conditions. They are typically well-organized and more prepared to escape when some animal tries to attack.
Nowadays, they are considered pests on some islands because of their high breeding rate and lack of predators to keep their numbers under control. They destroy local native plants necessary for feeding native animals and are disease carriers.
Wild Chickens Preferred Environments Worldwide
Red junglefowl chickens are native to southeastern Asia, and you can find them in several countries, including:
- Bangladesh and Thailand
- China, Vietnam, and Cambodia
- Bermuda and Nepal
- Indonesia and Singapore
- Pakistan and Malaysia
Preferable habitats these wild chickens choose include:
- Forest edges
- Bamboo forests
- Open space with tall grass
- Shrubby areas
- Meadows and grasslands
- Wetlands, like bogs and marshes
- Desert regions
However, they rarely stick to a particular habitat but often roam freely between the two areas while looking for food sources. They often choose naturally or artificially disturbed habitats.
The best example is locations burnt to encourage better bamboo growth. Since they like bamboo seeds, easy access to this feed enables them to move to new habitats.
Wild chickens are hardy birds that can handle various climates, including tropical and subtropical zones (savannas). You can find their flocks living freely in a few other countries outside Asia, such as:
- Australia, Fiji, and Palau
- Europe (Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal)
- The United States (California, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana)
- Hawaii (the island of Kauai)
- Canada ( British Columbia and Ontario)
- Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Jamaica)
- Central America (Costa Rica)
- South America (Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru)
- Africa (Morocco and Senegal)
A common thing for regions inhabited by wild chickens is that they are free of predators feeding on these birds. That makes these places a friendly environment, allowing them to survive for centuries.
Wild Chickens Preferred Environments in the US
There is an open and pretty controversial question about chicken species living in the Americas. Some genetic studies provide hints of multiple origins, so some of these wild birds may have lived in the New World longer than assumed.
An American archaeologist found ancient chicken bones on Chile’s coast in 2007. Such a discovery confirms wild chickens’ existence in that area before the medieval Spanish conquered South America in the 16th century.
Subsequent DNA studies of these bones showed that they contain a haplogroup identified at Easter Island. Since Polynesians founded settlements on this island around 1200 CE, it seems their sailors brought wild chickens to American soil.
A few States fulfill the basic requirements wild and feral chickens have. Their flocks effortlessly survive when the weather conditions are right and there are appropriate shelters and enough water and food sources.
Since they are not a native breed in most of these regions, only rare predators consider them food. That allows chickens to breed, thrive, and enlarge their flocks.
The most sizable wild red junglefowl flocks outside Asia occupy Hawaii, primarily the island of Kauai. They are not native to this region, but settlers brought them at some point. It is a perfect place for these birds, thanks to excellent living conditions and favorable temperatures.
Additionally, hurricanes Iniki and Iwa caused domesticated chickens to relocate into forests and mix with existing red junglefowl flocks. That way, the feral chicken population skyrocketed and remained stable until now.
Feral chickens found their home on Vineyard Avenue, near the Hollywood Freeway to LA, in 1970. The first birds came from the overturned poultry truck and started breeding there. After forming a famous Hollywood freeway chicken flock, they became an attraction.
After a while, the flock split, and some chickens walked 2 miles (3.2 km) away until they settled near the Burbank ramp. Local farmers adopted some of them, but there are enough left to reproduce unhindered, form a flock, and survive until now.
An interesting thing happened in Florida. After banning cockfighting, many poultry owners got rid of their birds by releasing them in the wild. Since Key West chickens are now protected by law, it is impossible to kill them, and they keep breeding and increasing their flocks.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated three Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana. After this natural disaster, local chickens were displaced into the wild, and it quickly became impossible to capture them.
Despite numerous chickens being sent to surrounding farms, the rest created flocks of feral birds. They cause numerous problems for the local population, primarily because they are incredibly loud.
Texas has a Historic Chicken Sanctuary, 1,500 feet (460 m) long Farm Street, where these birds lived freely under legal protection for almost ten years. Unfortunately, the flock’s overpopulation resulted in dozens of birds leaving the area boundaries and settling between the train tracks.
Besides these naughty birds that will probably end up in the local ZOO, coastal Texas is a home for highly endangered Attwater’s prairie chickens. They are subspecies of the Greater prairie chicken native to Texas that live in the wild.
Even though most people believe chickens are domesticated poultry, many wild birds exist worldwide. Moreover, modern chickens’ ancestors are wild junglefowl living primarily in Asia. They can effortlessly survive when protected from predators, and you can also see them in Australia and even in some parts of the US, particularly Hawaii.