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Red Jungle Fowl- Ancestor of Domestic Chicken

Updated on March 5, 2011

Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus Gallus)

can be seem foraging for food near the edge of forests in South East Asia and some parts of East Asia. Its food consists of seeds from wild grasses, small fruits, tender shoots, invertebrates and various insects. The nest is build on concealed ground with luxuriant vegetation, slight depression and laid with fallen leaves and wild grasses.

The important role that Red Jungle Fowl plays in the ecology of its surrounding environment should not be underestimated. It fills an important niche by controlling the population of bugs at ground level. The bird's droppings is a rich source of organic fertilizer.

Common consensus seems to accept that the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus Gallus) as the ancestor of the domestic chicken (Gallus Gallus Domesticus). It has been described as a near-living dinosaur that is the subject of much scientific interests. The bird belongs to the family of Phasianidae, which includes partridge and pheasant. Domestication started some 10,000 years ago around present day Thailand and Vietnam. Most likely, domestication began with the use of the bird for religious ceremonies, followed by cockfighting and eventually; poultry as a source of food. Whether in the wild or domesticated, the bird never fail to arouse deep emotional response from man.

Inspite of being outlawed, long held traditions of cockfighting in many cultures refuse to die out. Secret matches are stll being held, with money changing hands at the outcome of the match. Even up to this day, debate is still going on whether the bird should be allowed to roam freely or cooped up and how densely the birds be squeezed in the cage... Try thinking about these issues when you're chewing on chicken bones next time!

Worldwide, there are up to 150 species of Gallus. The wide diversity of the species is the intended and unintended results of genetic engineering efforts at hybridization, inbreeding and inter-breeding. Although existence of Red Jungle Fowl is in no danger or threat; ironically, threat comes from genetic pollution.

Free ranging domestic chicken in rural villages.
Free ranging domestic chicken in rural villages.

Male Birds fight over competition for territory and mates. This trait is inherited by domestic chicken and abused by man in the form of cockfighting as a sport, providing entertainment at the unnecassary suffering of animals. Cockfighting has been implicated in the spread of bird flu virus. It is now outlawed in many parts of world.

In the rural villages of Malaysia and Indonesia, Red Jungle Fowl is known for fighting with free ranging domestic chicken, known as Ayam Kampung or Village Chicken over competition for a mate. Offsprings from such illicit union between a male Red Jungle Fowl and a domestic hen often grow up to become wild chickens that are capable of escaping to the bushes at the first available opportunity. In a more urban setting, the scene could change to that of a mad man chasing after his chicken down the street!

An adult male Red Jungle Fowl.
An adult male Red Jungle Fowl. | Source
A young male Red Jungle Fowl.
A young male Red Jungle Fowl.
 A female roosting on a branch.
A female roosting on a branch.
Happy family.
Happy family.

As a result of genetic pollution

the layman often mis-identify Red Jungle Fowl as the ordinary domestic chicken. So how is a Red Jungle Fowl distinguished from the chicken? These are the features to look our for:

  • Farm raised domestic chicken is heavier and meatier than wild Red Jungle Fowl.
  • Truncated crow of Red Jungle Fowl sounds strangled at the end. It has been described as like a chicken with a bad sore throat. An unintended mutant form of this crow exists in Indonesia, where it is called Ayam Ketawa, or Laughing Chicken. The crow of a rooster is more melodious, lasts longer and trails off gradually near the end.
  • Male Red Jungle Fowl has white ear patches and whitish rump near its tail. Its tail feathers are carried horizontally, compared to a rooster which has upright tail feathers.
  • Female Red Jungle Fowl has tiny, non visible comb or no comb on her head.
  • Red Jungle Fowl has gray legs while chicken has buff or yellowish legs.
  • Ability to call to the air at will, such as when escaping from its predators or when startled. There are numerous reported sightings of Red Jungle Fowl that fly across the road or steam. The flight can end in a graceful upward swing upon reaching some trees or higher ground. Red Jungle Fowl can often be seen roosting on low branches in the wild. There is even sighting of a Red Jungle Fowl roosting on a 30m tall tree.

Eclipse Plumage on the left picture.  Normal full plumage on the right.
Eclipse Plumage on the left picture. Normal full plumage on the right. | Source
Two males separated by a hen. Eclipse bird is on the right.
Two males separated by a hen. Eclipse bird is on the right. | Source

Post-breeding Appearance and Behaviour.

  • Moulting or molting, occurs soon after breeding season is over, making the bird rather drab looking. The long, bright feathers of the male are lost and replaced by short, round and blackish feathers. Bright feathers at the neck are replaced by dark and short feathers. Moulting is probably nature's way of conserving resources for the bird. The brilliant, colorful and extended feathers of the bird may take a heavy toll on the bird. Besides this, it also can attract unwanted attention from the bird's predators. Moulting occurs to both male and female, although it is less visibly apparent among the female due to sexual dimorphism. The vast difference in appearance between the male and female members of the same species, making them look almost like different species, is known as sexual dimorphism. This often occurs among the birds. Usually it is the male that has a more colorful and extensive plumage that can attract the female during courtship.
  • Crow becomes even shorter and ends abruptly compared to its normal strained crow.
  • The male becomes infertile.
  • Comb and wattles shrink and turn pale.

Red Jungle Fowl bred in a farmyard.
Red Jungle Fowl bred in a farmyard.

Breeding- Reasons and Methods.

In recent years, some attempts have been made at breeding of Red Jungle Fowl in China.

Reasons for breeding of Red Jungle Fowl are:

  • Better adaptability to unfavorable environment and resistance to diseases.
  • Free ranging on forested land, and land near the verge of cultivated plots is possible.
  • Less demand on poultry feed. Ability to feed on all types of crops, supplemented with green vegetable matter.
  • Faster growth rate.
  • Higher rate of survival.

Hmong elder with Red Jungle Fowl in a carrier.
Hmong elder with Red Jungle Fowl in a carrier. | Source

Two methods are available for raising of fully grown chicks; fenced-in and free-ranging.

Fenced-in birds are kept in farm yard with sheds and fed with a diet of poultry feed combined with green vegetable matter. Since Red Jungle Fowl have this habit of roosting on tree branches, the shed should include some form of structure for the birds to hop up and roost there.

Free-ranging birds are bred in orchard, forested land provided with simple structure and roosting shelters. This method has the additional benefit of supplementing poultry feed with the bird foraging on seeds from wild grasses, bugs and pests. It can also greatly improve the commercial qualities of the bird and its value in the market. Pest infestation and plant diseases are reduced to a minimum. Droppings from the bird provide a rice source of organic fertilizer for the crop or trees.

Strangled crow at 0:20 ~ 0:21 again 0:47 ~ 0:48

Breeding- Problems to consider.

In any batch of eggs that are laid, some will inevitably hatch in to male chicks. Raising male birds tend to be problematic. Only one fully grown male bird can be kept in a brood or coop. Male birds have a tendency to fight upon reaching puberty. Questions to be answered before making an attempt at breeding:

  • Does breeding or keeping Red Jungle Fowl as pet violate any local law?
  • What is going to happen to the rest of the male chicks that are hatched?
  • Is neutering of the excess male chicks into capons an option worth considering?
  • Does a capon make a better pet?

Is the Red Jungle Fowl fighting cock, game bird, poultry or pet? You decide!

A flock of Red Jungle Fowl foraging at the beach.
A flock of Red Jungle Fowl foraging at the beach.


Do you consider cockfighting as a form of cruelty to animals?

See results

Strangled crow vs Cock-a-doodle-do.

The Hmong and Red Jungle Fowls


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    • profile image

      Choo Eng 

      5 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      terima kasih

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      wonderful information...thanks

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very informative

    • sgphilgoh profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you for reading my hub and the nice comments.

    • snakebaby profile image

      Sabrina Yuquan Chen (陈玉泉) 

      8 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

      You always have some interesting stuff that I don't have a clue. Great to learn so much about an animal that looks so domestic but not. I didn't know cockfighting has been implicated in the spread of bird flu virus, that makes the fighting even worse.


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