The other day I was at a talk about chickens and my friend came up to me afterwards, asking what the average flock size of red junglefowl is. See, red junglefowl are thought to be one of the wild ancestors of the modern domestic chicken, and so us keeping chickens in group sizes that are different from their ‘natural’ group size may lead to the development of welfare problems. Anyway, I didn’t know the answer, and whenever someone asks me anything about wildlife and I don’t have an answer, I store that animal away for a blog entry. So today’s animal will be the red jungle fowl, a very chicken-like
Red junglefowl are native to southeast Asia – they range from India to the Philippines and Indonesia. As their name suggests, red junglefowl like to live in jungles. At night, they roost in trees, while during the day they are ground birds, foraging in clearings or open areas of the jungle.
Unsurprisingly, red junglefowl look a lot like chickens. The males have big red wattles and combs on their head, as well as quite beautiful and regal colouring. Golden feathers make a nice mane for the male, and dark feathers form a long tail that shines blue, purple and green in the light. Females, on the other hand, are boring, and are pretty much brown all over.
To answer the question of the day: red junglefowl generally live in flock sizes of ten or less birds, though flocks of up to twenty birds have been observed. Each flock has two distinct pecking orders, one for males and one for females. The dominant cock has control over the whole flock; if females want to fight they must do it at least ten feet away from the dominant cock.
Chicks are born in the summer, with development inside the egg taking 21 days. Once the chicks have hatched, they must learn the flock’s pecking order; this is usually done in the chick’s first week of life. Within seven weeks the chicks have their own place in the pecking order, which is usually pretty low. They are fully feathered at five weeks of age, and get their adult wing feathers at nine weeks of age. When they are twelve weeks old, they are chased out of the flock to go start their lives on their own. Poor little chicks.
With their similarities to chickens, red junglefowl are at risk of losing themselves to hybridization with free ranging domestic chickens. Hopefully the junglefowl up their standards and stop breeding with the lowly domestic chicken. We need to start training junglefowl to discriminate against chickens. Should be easy enough.