Wild Chickens of Hawaii

When I say “Hawaii”, the first thing that you picture is probably sparkling water, big waves, volcanos, and maybe those piña coladas with the strawberries on top. It probably isn’t…wild chickens. However, the more time you spend on the islands the more you probably have noticed them roaming freely across beaches, parks, and even urban areas. At dawn, the feral fowls are especially hard to miss. On our last trip to Hana, the super-abundance of wild chickens made my 10-year old ask, “can you eat wild chickens in Hawaii?”. I immediately responded “no way!” and at the exact same moment my husband blindly asserted, “of course!”. So after I prevailed in the ensuing debate, I was actually curious and looked into it a bit. I am now pleased to share my findings with you, my kind reader(s).

How did wild chickens even get to Hawaii?

So….the story begins with the early Polynesians, who are believed to have introduced the wild ancestors of chickens to the islands. Chickens provided a valuable source of food, feathers, and even spiritual significance within their culture. The birds were well adapted to the island environment, and their presence quickly became part of the Hawaiian landscape and life.  

can you eat wild chickens in hawaii

European settlers in the late 18th century then brought a variety of chicken breeds to the island. As they established plantations and settlements in Hawaii, chickens were often kept for egg production and meat. 

The free-roaming nature of these birds, coupled with natural factors such as hurricanes and other disasters, led to escapees and feral populations. Over time, these feral chickens interbred with the existing Polynesian-introduced chickens, giving rise to the unique wild chicken population that we see today.  As a result, the wild chickens of Hawaii display a diverse array of colors, patterns, and behavioral characteristics and have clearly established themselves as a distinctive part of Hawaiian life.

And why are there…so many?

The chicken population in some places is off the charts. A few key factors have led to this. The first is the absence of natural predators that would typically regulate population growth. Wild chickens face fewer threats from predators, such as foxes, raccoons, or coyotes, which would cull the population on the mainland. The second factor is the availability of easy forage and suitable habitats. The islands provide a variety of natural food sources, including insects, seeds, fruits, and vegetation. And the diverse habitats found in Hawaii, ranging from forests to grasslands and urban areas, offer suitable nesting sites and protective cover. Hawaii’s warm and mild climate also contributes to the year-round availability of food and favorable breeding conditions for wild chickens. And now they are everywhere, so much so that in Honolulu you can call the city to take advantage of its “feral chicken removal service”.

Hella chickens

Cultural and environmental implications

Wild chickens have a cultural significance. In Hawaiian folklore, the rooster is considered a symbol of strength, protection, and good luck. The presence of wild chickens is welcomed by many as a connection to this and to the country life in Hawaii. Some people actively feed and care for them, considering it a form of stewardship, while others view them as a source of income through tourism and the sale of wild chicken merch. But the growing population of wild chickens in Hawaii has a real environmental impact. As prolific foragers, wild chickens can have a significant influence on local ecosystems. They consume a variety of food, including insects, plants, and seeds, which can disrupt native flora and fauna. Their constant scratching can also have an impact on the soil composition and vegetation growth in certain areas. Finally, they compete with native bird species, potentially reducing biodiversity. For these reasons, the Hawaii Legislature is considering a large-scale feral chicken eradication effort.

So…are you allowed to hunt them?

Well…it turns out my husband was sort of right.  The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is responsible for the management and conservation of wildlife resources in Hawaii and has issued regulations regarding the take of wild game (including chickens).  But regulations vary across Hawaii based on factors such as local population density, environmental concerns and land ownership. It is important to be check the regulations that apply to wherever you plan to go chicken hunting and be sure it’s allowed.  Restrictions promote safe and ethical hunting practices while minimizing the impact on other wildlife species and the environment, so always abide by them.

And would you actually want to eat one?

If the opportunity to eat a wild chicken ever presents itself,  it is important to be aware of potential health risks. While wild chickens can offer a…. unique culinary experience…there are some things to consider and steps to take to  help ensure food safety and minimize health risks.

First, consuming wild chickens carries inherent risks due to the environment in which these animals live and their potential exposure to diseases and parasites. Wild chickens roam freely and may come into contact with various sources of contamination including contaminated water sources.

Wild chickens can harbor diseases and parasites that may pose significant health risks to humans. Avian influenza and salmonellosis are among the reasons not to eat a wild chicken.   Parasitic infections, such as internal parasites or external parasites like mites or ticks, can also be present in wild chickens. So you probably won’t see me chasing one around the forest.

Cooking and Food Safety Prerequisites

But…if you are just going to go for it…at least minimize health risks and take some basic food safety precautions:

  1. Proper handling: When hunting or handling wild chickens, it is crucial to use hygienic practices. Wear gloves when coming in contact with the birds to minimize direct contact and reduce the risk of contamination.

  2. (Really) thorough cooking: Wild chickens should be cooked thoroughly to eliminate any potential pathogens. Ensure that the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F (74°C) to ensure the destruction of bacteria and parasites.

  3. Food safety precautions: Follow general food safety guidelines, such as keeping raw and cooked meats separate. Using separate cutting boards and utensils and practicing good hygiene throughout preparation.

My lawyers say that I should also advise you to consult local health authorities for specific guidelines or recommendations regarding the consumption of wild chickens in your area.  

And in conclusion…

I hope that you have learned more than you wanted to know about eating wild chickens in Hawaii, I know I have.  

If you want to go (even) deeper into chickens in Hawaii, check out this in-depth piece in the Atlantic .    Also, someone needs to buy this shirt and send us a pic.

Some of our favorite Hawaiian Food tours…

If you are looking for some other food options in Hawaii (other than wild chickens) here are a few of our favorite culinary experiences…

Big Island: Volcanoes, Waterfalls, & Coffee Farm Day-Trip: It really doesn’t get better than good coffee, waterfalls and volcanos. The morning is filled with guided visits to some of the most majestic waterfalls on the Big Island. The views are stunning at the Waipio Valley lookout, where a dramatic backdrop of lush cliffs drops into the sparkling blue ocean. At the end of the hike you will enjoy a visit to Kona Coffee Farm where you get to stroll through the orchards with your guide and learn about the harvesting and milling process while sampling a warm cup of Kona-grown coffee.

Historical Dinner Cruise Tour to Kealakekua Bay: Seeing the Hawaiian islands from the water truly is the best way to appreciate how spectacular they really are. This sunset dinner cruise allows you to do just that while enjoying some of the incredible traditional food Hawaii has to offer. You will almost always see spectacular wild life including dolphins, whales and turtles.

Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour: This is a spectacular tour that will not disappoint. The tour takes you through the the coffee farms, a lava tube and breathtaking orchards. You get an invaluable lesson on the sacred Hawaiian culture from incredibly passionate and knowledgable guides.

Happy Travels!

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