We see and hear them so much that they almost blend into the surroundings. Some people enjoy them. Others despise them. Many don’t even notice them at all. However, the feral chickens of WCC have quite a history and reputation.
Several articles have been written about them. They have their own page on the University of Hawai‘i’s website (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~richards/Chickens/index.html). WCC counselor Kate Zane even produced a short documentary about them called Feral Fowl of the Ko‘olau.
In the documentary, a few of those interviewed said that they had chickens as pets, which might seem an oddity but may be more common than people think. As a child, I personally had a pet chicken that also mysteriously disappeared just as Zane shared that hers did when she was a kid. Being in a family of boys, however, it was quickly revealed to me that my beloved pet was indeed butchered by my aunties and eaten for dinner. Polaroid photos of the process were even showed to me as proof of the gruesome event.
As an adult, I always looked back on this and found it a bit disturbing, somewhat traumatizing, a tad barbaric and overall a very strange experience. When collecting interviews for this story, I was surprised to learn that many in Hawai‘i, even those without crazy Asian families like mine, had similar experiences growing up. While it taught them how the circle of life works and where our food comes from, like myself a lot of them wondered if they have a soft side for WCC’s chickens because of having had chickens as childhood pets.
Chickens are commonly associated with the Windward side or the country in general. The ancient Polynesians brought chickens to the Hawaiian Islands and in particular the red junglefowl, which is resemblant of many of the roosters seen on campus. However, our WCC chickens are likely a mixture of the junglefowl and European/Asian chicken varieties later brought to the islands.
The feral chickens were here prior to WCC’s establishment in 1972, as they can be seen in photos of the Hawai‘i State Hospital in the 1930s. According to ceramics professor Paul Nash in Zane’s documentary, the mongoose was king of the campus until the arrival of cats in the early 1980s. As the cat population grew, the mongoose became less dominant, allowing for the growth of more chickens, which were generally left alone by the cats. Thus, it’s easy to see how the fowl population at WCC increased over time.
This population explosion, however, brings problems. With more chickens, the overall health of individual chickens declines, possibly due to increased aggression, lack of resources or increased vulnerability to disease. As the flocks get bigger, the birds also become more aggressive when trying to obtain food, especially as they get used to people giving them food. Complaints of them hopping on tables while students are eating are not uncommon.
Student Dasia White admits she feeds the chickens her leftovers about twice a week and said, “It’s fun, and it’s food that would just go to waste anyway.”
White enjoys seeing the chickens and said she will continue to feed them despite opposition from her friend Stephen Joe, who said he does not like the chickens because they are out of control on campus.
“I can appreciate that they eat the cockroaches and centipedes, but they also leave their turd all over everything and can be loud and distracting at times,” Joe said.
Joe, however, also added that he like White would miss the chickens if they were removed or eradicated altogether. He would just like to see them in manageable numbers.
While I could not confirm whether measures have been taken to control the chicken population at WCC, according to an April 2018 story by the Associated Press, steps were taken in Honolulu to advise the feral chicken problem there. But the story reported that at a cost of approximately $108 per chicken killed, the campaign was short-lived and never made its way to the Windward side.
I heard that on occasion people catch and eat the chickens of WCC, however I could not confirm these rumors. I can personally attest that I’ve eaten an egg laid by a WCC chicken, though I’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing something similar.
Student Lou Krahe said he observed a man catching roosters one day who said that the roosters were being caught to be released in Lanikai. He said residents of Lanikai, an upscale community in Kailua, will pay money for the capture of the roosters because of their loud crows. So they are captured in Lanikai and returned to the WCC campus.
Personally, I enjoy the fowl of WCC. The chickens have come to define this campus for me, and the campus wouldn’t be the same without their quirky personalities to interrupt my walks between classes. I definitely see them as our campus mascot.
The average backyard chicken has a lifespan of about 8 to 10 years, however some have been reported to live up to 20 years. Thus, some of WCC’s chickens may be long-time residents of this campus that may have seen my kumus and elders go to school just as they watch me go to school now. I look forward to revisiting campus after I graduate and hope to see the chickens still here.
by Rick Oania-Elam, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter