Visitors to Maui spend a lot of time and money looking for sea turtles and humpback whales, but there’s one species that requires very little effort to see: Maui’s wild chicken population.
Wild chickens have made Maui their home, and large numbers of them can be spotted in even the most built-up areas.
To learn more about Maui’s wild chicken population, and if you’re likely to see them on the menu, read this guide.
Does Maui Have Wild Chickens?
Maui is known for picture-perfect beaches, lush tropical scenery, aloha spirit, and a lot of wild chickens.
One of those things is not like the others, but the wild chickens of Maui have become a common, if frustrating, aspect of the island.
Although you might expect to encounter a chicken when you’re driving the Road to Hana, or as you explore the farmlands of the upcountry, you’re likely to have a chicken encounter much earlier on in your trip.
In fact, you might find chickens are some of the first faces you see as you enter Maui.
Chickens: A Pest?
In 2013, Kahului airport found itself a victim of chicken recklessness. One wandering bird got itself into a confrontation with a transformer, accidentally knocking out the power in parts of the airport for up to an hour.
Quite a large impact for such a small bird!
As well as seeing the chickens, you’re likely to hear them. The crows of roosters (at all times of night) have become a problem in some communities. Invest in a pair of earplugs before your trip, and you should be fine.
The local government has made several attempts to cull the population, but with limited success. Growing numbers continue to cause issues for the residents.
Maui isn’t the only Hawaiian island with a chicken problem. Take a trip to Kauai, and you’re likely to see even more of the pesky birds hanging around resorts and condos.
Why Does Maui Have So Many Chickens?
Fowl that were brought to Maui by the original Polynesian settlers were set loose as the result of hurricanes, and a lack of predators have caused the wild chicken population on Maui to explode.
That’s the short story. The long story is a little more complex.
The Red Junglefowl
The original chicken made its way to Maui with the Polynesians who came to the island over a millennium ago.
This bird is the Red Junglefowl, and is called the “moa” by the island residents. The Red Junglefowl can be found across Southeast Asia today, and is widely thought to be the ancestor of the domesticated chicken.
It’s assumed that the Red Junglefowl was brought to Hawaii to provide meat and eggs. In fact, the Red Junglefowl was often taken on sea journeys by Polynesian explorers.
The brightly colored feathers were also used to decorate the clothes and costumes of Maui royalty.
So, that’s how the chicken first came to Maui. But how did we get from that, to the roaming groups found today?
From Domesticated To Free Range
Maui’s residents tend to attribute the huge number of chickens to the aftermath of hurricanes. Large hurricanes destroyed coops, chickens were released, and their numbers have since exploded.
In 1982, hurricane Iwa devastated Maui. The storm battered the island, causing widespread destruction of property. People were left homeless, buildings suffered a massive amount of damage, and the cleanup effort was extensive.
As you can imagine, a chicken coop is no match for a hurricane. Numerous coops were destroyed, and chickens were left to roam free.
Devastation struck again in 1992, when hurricane Iniki hit the island. More chickens were released, increasing the problem.
A Perfect Chicken Storm
The now-free chickens were able to breed with the wild Red Junglefowl, leading to the huge numbers of chickens seen across Maui today.
Having gotten free and found food, a lack of predators contributed to the increasing numbers. Although the local feral cats might take a swipe at the chicks, the adults are often left alone.
One final contributing factor is local laws prohibiting the culling of native birds.
The Red Junglefowl is considered a protected species, even if the majority of wild chickens aren’t. But because of decades of cross-breeding, it isn’t always easy to tell what is “moa”, and what’s a wild chicken with some mixed parentage.
Can You Eat Wild Chickens In Maui?
Chicken is a popular dish on Maui, with the meat being found in everything from tacos to curries. But it’s unlikely to be made from the wild chickens of Maui.
The feral fowl supposedly tastes awful, with none of the delicious poultry flavoring of its farmed friend.
Domesticated chickens have been bred for flavor, and they’re also fed a diet designed to keep them healthy, and the meat delicious.
Wild chickens, on the other hand, have been crossbred with various fowl that lack the nuance of flavor you expect from chicken. Instead, you’re likely to find the bird quite gamey.
Wild Chickens Eat Everything
Plus, the wild chickens of Maui eat whatever they can get their beaks on. This mixed diet has led to a less than pleasant flavor.
Laws ensuring the protection of native Hawaiian birds also make it difficult to devour the wild chickens. It can be tough to distinguish the pests from the protected species.
Overall, we recommend heading to one of Maui’s many restaurants if you get a craving for chicken.
It’s also worth mentioning that the chickens can’t feed you, and you should not feed the chickens. These birds have an uncanny ability to find food sources without the help of others.
They also have a remarkably good memory for previous feeding areas. Feed a chicken once, and they’re likely to return to that spot again and again.
Choose A Restaurant That Serves Chicken Instead
Although you shouldn’t eat the wild chickens, there are plenty of delicious chicken dishes on Maui! Sweet huli-huli chicken is a Hawaiian classic that can be found on the menu at many restaurants. Or try some chicken katsu!
The best versions of this Japanese dish can often be found on food trucks. Prefer the egg to the chicken? Start your morning with Loco Moco, a Maui breakfast staple that’s topped with a fried egg!