Why are there so many kauai chickens?

Rooster in field

When visiting the Garden Island it does not take long to notice that Kauai is a special place. In addition to verdant tropical forests, sharp ridgelines, and magnificent beaches, Kauai’s wildlife is unique even within the Hawaiian Islands. Over generations of isolation, the Hawaiian Islands became home to many native species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. These islands, located centrally in the world’s largest ocean, have become a melding pot for people, plants, and animals. Upon the first arrival of the Polynesian voyagers, these ancestors of the Hawaiian people (kanaka maoli) brought chickens (moa), pigs (pua’a), dogs (‘I’ilio), and rats (‘I’ole). These animals were introduced alongside native populations of birds, monk seals, and bats. Some historians even believe Kauai had a native duck that stood over four feet tall.

By the 1800’s, early voyagers and missionaries from around the globe started to populate this oasis in the middle of the Pacific. With this rise in foreign populations and a landscape rich and abundant in natural resources came the sugar industry, further perpetuating an increase in migrants, animals and plants from around the world. Sugar production, Hawaii’s dominant industry for over two hundred years, brought many of the cultural populations and the plants and animals that still dominate the Hawaiian landscapes of today.

A special attribute any visitor will observe upon stepping foot on Kauai is a wild moa (chicken) population unlike few places on the planet. The most commonly asked question by travelers is….”Why are there so many chickens?”  It’s truly remarkable to any visitor of Kauai!  Everywhere you look chickens roam freely….at the airport, in shopping centers, on the golf course, at gas stations, in the woods, and even in the KFC parking lot! If you fly in at night, don’t worry you won’t miss the chickens. On Kauai, they have no mental alarm clock and crow 24 hours a day! For this reason, you will have to agree Kauai is unlike any place on the planet due to the ridiculously wild and beautiful chicken population. Moa have become a part of Kauai’s cultural identity. Great businesses like Kauai Chicken® have been built around the stoic image of our wild jungle fowl.

Over the years we have heard many ‘stories’ pertaining to the reasons for Kauai’s prolific chicken population.  As this is one of the most commonly asked questions of our tourist community, we at activitykauai.com feel justice should be given to the true reasons contributing to this explosive population of wild chickens. There is no one reason the population is so high; it’s the combination of various events that allow chickens to seemingly outnumber people living on Kauai.

Another primary event that has greatly contributed to Kauai’s prolific chicken population is nature’s release of domestic chickens into the wild, which has resulted in further breeding with Hawaii jungle fowl. Over recorded history, various hurricanes, tsunamis, and other weather events have released large populations of domestic birds into the wild.  Hurricane Iniki on September 11, 1992 leveled Kauai, releasing many domestic birds into the wild. Anyone that knows the Kauai chicken population can recognize the difference between a domestic, native, and cross-bred chicken. Certain colors, body shapes, and feathers make the moa (wild native jungle fowl) distinct.  To the tourist, these wild chickens are distinct by their beautiful, vibrant and varied colors that stand out against any forest or town landscape.The first and most important reason is that Kauai has never had a serious predator to the chicken.   Although the sugar cane industry introduced the mongoose (a small ferret-like animal from India) to help control the Polynesian- introduced rats from eating the stock of this highly valuable crop, the mongoose did not make it to Kauai. They are found on all the major Hawaiian Islands other than Kauai. These fierce little predators known for killing king cobras in Asia make quick work of eggs and young chicks.

The last major contributor to the Kauai chicken population is always a shocker even to people who have lived here all their lives.  Kauai’s wild jungle fowl is protected. Under state law like all birds of Hawaii, the moa is protected as an important part of nature. Although it is seldom spoken of and the law and repercussions for breaking the law is hard to pin down, harming the wild moa is a crime in the state of Hawaii.  Despite this gray area, the state does advocate for removal of non-native chickens within domestic areas, however after generations of cross-breeding it hard to truly say if a chicken is native. We are still looking for the authority on wild jungle fowl! If you are traveling to Kauai, plan on hearing and seeing chickens anywhere you go.

One more thing about the chickens…They’re inedible. After one trip to any Kauai supermarket the average traveler realizes they have to give up an arm or the first born child for a gallon of milk (more expensive than a gallon of gas). After leaving the supermarket with a $100 bag of nothing, wild chickens in the parking lot start to look like a menu item. Even the very best chefs struggle to make a good soup from the domestic chickens.

An old Hawaiian proverb… If you like eat da chicken get two pots of water to a boil. In one pot put da pohaku (lava rock) and in the other put da moa (wild chicken). Once the lava rock is done da moa is ready to eat. Moral of the story; you can’t eat the wild chickens, they are hard as a rock! Enjoy their beauty and their longstanding place in the Kauai landscape and culture!


-Bring ear plugs especially if you don’t want to wake up before dawn!

-If you are lost, follow a chicken to food!

-Don’t feed chickens unless you are going to bring them home with you!

-Locals love watching travelers follow around chickens with their camera downtown!

-Trust us you can’t eat them. There is a reason Kauai only has one KFC!

-No the eggs are not good either!


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