When you think of Hawaii, you probably think of beautiful white-sand beaches and clear blue water. Or maybe you think of big luaus with pig roast. You probably don’t think of chickens.
But on the island of Kauai, chickens are part of the landscape. Thousands of feral chickens roam the streets, scavenging for food and running underfoot. They can be a delight for tourists, but they can also be quite a nuisance for locals.
Chickens arrived on the Hawaiian Islands when humans did. Over a thousand years ago, Polynesians sailed to the islands and brought Indonesian red junglefowl with them. Centuries later, Europeans brought domestic chickens to the islands, and escaped chickens interbred with the red junglefowl. Today’s feral chickens are their descendants.
Other Hawaiian islands have some feral chickens, but on Kauai, the population keeps getting bigger and bigger. There are no natural predators on Kauai to keep the population in check, and wildlife protection laws make it mostly illegal for locals to kill the birds. As a result, chickens live in urban areas, get in the way on the roads, and flock around discarded food. In neighborhoods, they destroy gardens and keep people awake with their constant crowing.
Kauai locals are understandably bothered by these birds. But they also recognize the benefits of living with their feathery neighbors. For one, chickens are a natural pest control for some of Hawaii’s big, nasty bugs. For another, the tourists love the chickens!
Tourists like to lure the chickens close, feed them, and get pictures with them. Kauai businesses make and sell chicken-themed souvenirs, such as t-shirts and mugs. People may even choose to visit Kauai, rather than other Hawaiian Islands, in order to see these birds. The locals sometimes think tourists are weird for paying any attention to the chickens, but that doesn’t stop the cameras or the fascination.
For better or for worse, the chickens are there to stay on Kauai. The locals have learned to live with them, and the tourist economy thrives with the birds’ help. The next time you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, consider going to Kauai and seeing the chickens for yourself! Maybe you’ll want a few souvenir pictures of your own.