These days, keeping chickens in your backyard has become easier than ever before. With such a wealth of information on poultry being easily accessible online, more and more people are considering having a coop of their own.
And while you can keep chickens for the eggs, for the meat, or as pets – did you know that not all chickens are domesticated? Even in the 21st century, you can actually find completely feral hens, providing you know where to look!
And we’re not talking about some faraway exotic land where wild chickens roam. In fact, you can find feral chickens in places like California! If you read up on towns like Fair Oaks and Yuba City, you’ll discover that feral chickens quite literally rule the roost! They even terrorize the local population in these streets, causing a fair bit of poultry inflicted chaos.
Wild Chickens in The United States
In the abovementioned California towns, you can find wild chickens pretty much everywhere. They’ll crow on street corners and run around rampantly. You’ll spot them pecking and scratching someone near a grocery store, or even people sitting outside of coffee houses.
Pardon the cliché – but they may also be seen crossing the road! If you’re wondering how the locals handle them, the answer is – they more or less don’t give them a second thought. Just like places with stray cats and dogs, the people living in these towns view the chickens as very much a part of everyday life.
Weirdly enough – these chickens even provide economic benefits to their surrounding area! No, not in terms of eggs – but by way of tourism. People from all around the country visit such places in hopes of spotting wild chickens on the streets. In fact, so great is this fascination that the chickens of Yuba City even have their own Facebook page!
What Are Wild Chickens?
So, let’s get into the nature of wild chickens. First of all, you’ll most commonly see them referred to as “feral”. If you’re not familiar with the term, “feral” denotes a creature that has not yet been domesticated; a creature that exists in its most natural form, and lives near the wild.
If we’re talking about the kind of wild chickens you’ll encounter, most of them live near cities. These are chickens that have hatched from hens that escaped from nearby farms.
You may have also heard about feral chickens that live around the Hawaiian Islands. These are descended from jungle fowl from Southeast Asia that originally made their onto Hawaii via colonist ships. Upon arriving, the red jungle fowl intermingled and bred with the already domesticated chickens.
When it comes to wild chickens that live around urban areas of California, these are mostly there as a result of negligent rehoming. Or, rather – people sometimes simply grow tired of keeping chickens, letting them loose. These then reproduce in the wild, giving way to more generations of feral fowl.
And in case you were wondering, truly feral chickens roost on tree branches; just like their ancient ancestors did. This is because chickens have an evolutionary instinct to stay away from the ground at night; that’s when most of their predators come out to hunt, with chickens being particularly vulnerable.
Are Feral Chickens A Problem?
Well, it depends – based on their behavior, wild chickens can range from being a threat to a mild nuisance. Many communities all over the country are plagued with the issue of feral chickens, with plenty of causes for concern.
Firstly, there’s the chance that untreated wild chickens may spread their diseases to local domestic chickens. Furthermore, they also do damage to neatly landscaped gardens and yards – and they crow at often undesirable hours!
Plus, seeing as though you can’t control their movement – these chickens are prone to attracting all kinds of fowl predators to any given area; possibly putting your domestic animals or yourself in danger.
If we’re talking about an area with plenty of farmland and no natural predation – like in the Bermudas – wild chickens are known to cause damage to food plantations.
Differentiating Between Free-Range And Feral Chickens
In rural areas, determining the difference between free-range and feral fowl is not always easy. Many keepers in such parts just let their chickens go hunting for seeds and insects, just like a feral member of their species would. This is actually good for the birds, as it makes them content while satisfying their evolutionary instincts.
But the main difference here is that even free-range chickens have some semblance of control from humans. In fact, most states have local regulations that dictate how keepers are supposed to watch over their chickens.
Especially in urban areas, chickens may only free-range for a limited time each day. Once they’re done foraging, their owners use treats to lure them back to their respective coops. Just like a dog owner may not just their furry pal roam wherever and cause a disturbance – it’s the same with chickens.
Also, you may discover that the DNA of domestic chickens is somewhat different to that of wild chickens and their other feral ancestors, although of course this isn’t possible for the lay keeper to determine!
Dealing With Feral Chickens
If you’re having issues with wild chickens and want to be rid of them, you should take a look at the local laws and regulations in your area. For example, there are certain natural preserves in Hawaii where feral chickens are protected by law; so you can’t kill or capture them. Though, this type of protection doesn’t exist in developed areas and on private property. Once you find them there, the State of Hawaii treats them as domestic chickens by law.
Many people who live in areas with wild chickens actually capture and kill them for meat. And this is perfectly legal – state agencies that govern wildlife may even loan you chicken traps to assist you. If you find wild chickens to be a persistent problem in your region, ask around country, city, and state offices to find assistance.
One of the first institutions to contact in case of chicken trouble is Animal Control Services. In places like New Orleans, the local Animal Control department is adept at catching wild chickens, as residents have a lot of trouble with them. Apart from doing the task for you, they can also give you valuable information and advice on the matter for future reference.
These days, you can find plenty of online forums where chicken keepers exchange useful experience. This can be a great resource for people searching for info on trapping feral chickens; some people use treats like oatmeal to lure them in, for example.
Some even speculate that interbreeding domestic fowl with their wild counterparts would be useful, as these feral chickens have pretty resilient genes. This is certainly a compelling theory!
Catching A Wild Chicken
Do you want to catch a wild chicken yourself? This is actually possible if you’ve got all the right information. There are plenty of discussions on this subject online, and you’ll even find guides on building the right traps – as well as hilarious videos of people chasing wild chickens. Smarter chicken-catchers use big nets, or just try to herd them toward a domestic coop.
However, wild chickens are often pretty agile, so they’re not exactly easy to catch. If you want to trap them, you should acquaint yourself with their habits – find out where exactly they forage. After that, lure them using bread, oatmeal, corn, worms, or even commercial scratch.
At first, don’t set any traps. Only set traps once the birds are used to your presence. If you keep feeding them and remain in the area, they’ll be less afraid of you. So, once you attempt to catch them, they won’t be as flighty.
Once you’ve got them, the best thing to do is to bring the wild chicken to animal control. Bar that, you can also find an activist group in your region. These groups work to find new homes for wild chickens.
Also, it’s worth noting that activist groups have been raising awareness about the fact that more and more feral chickens have been appearing in recent years. That’s because more people are keeping chickens in their backyard than ever before; but not all of them are responsible in how they treat their birds.
As you may have gathered, wild chickens can be both a tourist trap and a big nuisance. However, if you wish to get rid of them, don’t do anything before getting reliable information from state, county and city offices that deal with wildlife; there could be some local regulations you don’t know about, and you wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law.