Afterthoughts: Chickens Are Taking Over Hawai‘i

I, for one, welcome our new chicken overlords.
Photo: Michael Keany


For years, Kaua‘i has been famous for having an interesting quirk: chickens. Lots of chickens. Chickens everywhere, in fact. Drive through Līhu‘e or Waimea, and you’ll see them in parking lots, on the side of the road, in the middle of the road. Roosters and hens and little chicks, strutting around like they own the place. They kind of do.


There are a lot of theories about how this happened. Some pin the chicken boom on Hurricane ‘Iniki, which busted open a bunch of chicken coops and freed the first generation of feral hens and roosters. Others say it happened more gradually, because, with no mongoose on Kaua‘i, there just wasn’t anything to hold the chicken population in check.


But maybe the real truth is that chickens are, in fact, relentless invaders that will be held back by nothing, destined to overtake the Islands and then the world.


See, I went back to Maui recently, and noticed: a bunch of chickens! Now, it’s not like Maui has never had chickens. I grew up in Upcountry, and woke every morning to a chorus of roosters. But these new sightings were in town, which used to be mainly the territory of smaller birds, mynahs and such. Suddenly, chickens were loitering in the Kahului Safeway parking lot, they were traipsing, uninvited, through my sisters’ Wailuku backyard. And at 4 in the morning? My god, the chorus had grown into a mob. (Roosters, I think, are like cockroaches: For every one you see, there are 100 lurking nearby.)


What’s going on here? Well, turns out I might be one of the last people to actually notice this chicken explosion. Apparently it’s been happening, in slow motion, for years now, not only on Maui, but O‘ahu, too. Talking to friends and co-workers, I hear there have been more chickens hanging around in Kailua and Kāne‘ohe, in Hawai‘i Kai and at the Pali Lookout. I’ve just been, as a townie, oblivious until now. My own neighborhood, McCully, is so far still a chicken-free zone, but who knows how long that’s going to last.


All these years, Hawai‘i has been bracing itself for a coqui invasion, while the real conquering army snuck in right under our noses.


Or maybe I’m thinking of this all backward, and these crowds of chickens are really just new friends in the making.


Hear me out. Did you know that, in Puerto Rico, coqui frogs are not only tolerated, but beloved? They’re a legitimate part of the culture, appearing in petroglyphs and on T-shirts. Their distinctive cry—an ear-shattering nuisance in Hawai‘i—is, over there, considered musical. There have even been news stories lamenting the decline of coqui populations in Puerto Rico, due to environmental changes. It’s the exact opposite of Hawai‘i’s attitude toward the tiny pests.


If Puerto Ricans can embrace coqui frogs, it should be easy for us to play nice with chickens. After all, they’re not nearly as loud as coquis, or even peacocks (which, though beautiful, have a wail piercing enough to make some people want to break out a baseball bat).


All it’ll take is a little attitude change. German film director Werner Herzog famously once referred to chickens as “the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world,” but, c’mon. Herzog must never have had to wade through the flocks of filthy pigeons on Fort Street Mall.


Compared with those disheveled urban scavengers, chickens are downright charming. Seeing a few hens scratching around in the grass is like being transported to the countryside, where everything is homey and laid-back. With a little rebranding and image rehabilitation, chickens could become symbols of Hawai‘i’s easygoing Island lifestyle.


Oh, Hawai‘i already has a state bird? The nēnē? They may have classic good looks, but what have those Hawaiian geese done for us lately? So standoffish, keeping to themselves in protected wildlife preserves. Maybe what we need is a bird for the people, a bird that walks among us, a bird that’s not afraid to hang out with us in the Costco food court. We need the chicken.


Either way, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.


Read More Stories by Michael Keany