Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Poultry in Paradise

A chicken on the Hana Highway, running from a tourist (me) with a camera.

I had heard about the wild chickens on Hawaii’s island of Kauai, but as we planned our trip to the island of Maui, I wondered if we’d see any wild flocks. It was both funny and familiar to hear the egg song on our first morning there, when K opened the window.
            First we heard a crow that sounded like a juvenile cockerel, followed by that familiar bock-bock-bah-gock clucking over an egg’s arrival. Ah, a sweet Hawaiian breeze filtering through the window, carrying scents of plumeria and the tropics…and the sounds of a happy Hawaiian flock. Music to my ears.
            Over the next week, we saw hens, chicks, pullets, and roosters, completely oblivious to the fact that they’d won the chicken life lottery and spent their days roaming all over paradise. Not much in the way of predators other than dogs and… well… tourists.
            I wanted a photo for Coop & Cottage, but rarely had my camera at hand when we saw them. The one time that I did, we were driving along the road to Hana, and had stopped to switch seats (M was feeling a bit queasy on the windy road so I had her sit in front). We pulled into the little leafy widening in the road, and there was a small hen, happily scratching and picking through the leaves under a rainbow eucalyptus tree.
I got out with my camera and said “Hi henny, henny…” she seemed to look over her shoulder, a little like an islander wondering what that crazy tourist wanted. Then she walked faster, and faster, before breaking into a flat out OMG run. I grabbed one shot, and if you look closely you can see her beak open as if in disbelief.
Meanwhile other people in their cars were probably entertained. I know my daughters were.
All week, we saw them in unexpected places. We pulled into the small parking area for Iao Needle (a 1,200-foot tropical outcropping), and the park ranger told us the chickens were probably the most wildlife we’d see. The chickens we saw roaming in town, on beaches and in the upland areas were smaller than our domesticated birds. Most were shades of brown, looking a little like Welsummers or Ameraucanas. L wondered where they lay their eggs (we wondered if we’d come across a clutch, but never did).
            So, why are there so many chickens in Hawaii? On Govisithawaii.com this was one explanation:
            “Most people suggest that the feral chicken population can be traced back to when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992. It’s been reported that the devastating hurricane destroyed a number of chicken farms.  Wikipedia also suggests another possible theory: ‘Others say that sugarcane plantation laborers in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought and raised chickens (for eating and cockfighting) and many got loose over the years and multiplied.’”
            They sound like reasonable explanations. But that’s not to say that all the chickens in Hawaii are wild, of course. At the Maui Swap Meet we went to, the girls were trying to talk me into getting a henna tattoo of a chicken, and the artist who did the tattoos said she has chickens in her yard all the time, but a neighbor owns them. With few predators, many non-feral chickens are able to free range in ways that my hens would only dream about.
            One evening at the house we were renting, I saw a black hen with about eight young chicks following her around along the property edge. I asked L to quickly take the camera and see if she could get some pictures of those wild chickens for me.
            She came back a short while later, trying not to roll her eyes at me. “Mom, those aren’t wild chickens. They live there. They have a coop.”
            The poor hen, looking a bit harassed, shepherded her family back into her yard, no doubt grumbling to her brood about tourists and their cameras.
            Yesterday, we returned home and I checked on our hens and let them out into the yard. It was a pretty nice afternoon, but I knew they had to get their free-ranging done by dark. The wind was picking up, and there were blizzard warnings calling for 10 inches of snow. 

Such is life as a Colorado chicken.
Meanwhile, I thought of those happy Hawaiian chickens foraging among hibiscus and eucalyptus, with mild 80 degree temperatures and soft ocean breezes. Talk about fowl weather.

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