Are There Chickens in the Wild?

Written by Nina Phillips
Published: November 25, 2023
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Colored roosters on the fence

Many chickens in other countries are found running around uncontrolled, but are there actually chickens in the wild in the US?

©Ajiputra081/Shutterstock.com

Chickens are an incredibly popular domesticated animal found throughout the world. In fact, they are the most globally domesticated fowl, even more than pet birds. However, with all of these domesticated chickens around, you may be wondering if there are chickens in the wild. After all, much of the US population has likely never seen a chicken in the wild, leading many to speculate if they exist.

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While you may find a chicken in the wild in certain parts of the world, it might not be the kind of chicken you might expect. Keep reading to learn more about the domestication of chickens and where you can find them in the wild.

Are There Chickens in the Wild?

The answer to this is yes, but not in the way you might think. Like many domesticated animals, the version in the wild isn’t quite the same as the domesticated animal. Domesticated chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) can escape and survive in the wild in many parts of the world.

So technically, there are chickens in the wild. However, some of these wild chickens are feral chickens. They were once domesticated and then went back to being wild.

Domesticated chickens had to come from somewhere, though. The species that eventually came to become a domesticated chicken is still around in certain parts of the world. They look quite a bit like domesticated chickens, though they tend to be a little smaller and more neutral in colors.

What Animal Were Chickens Domesticated From?

Red Junglefowl - Gallus gallus tropical bird in the family Phasianidae. It is the primary progenitor of the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus).

You may be surprised to find that this isn’t a domesticated chicken, but a red junglefowl.

©Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock.com

What we know as chickens now were once red junglefowl (Gallus gallus). Despite thousands of years of domestication between the common chicken and this junglefowl species, the two animals look rather similar.

There are several species of junglefowl. Interestingly, the history behind the domestication of chickens isn’t super clear. Charles Darwin is the one that proposed chickens came specifically from red junglefowl, due to their similarities.

It wasn’t until 2020 that a study of chicken genomes determined that the subspecies of junglefowl known as Gallus gallus spaedicus was the parent of domesticated chickens. This is a species known specifically as the Burmese red junglefowl.

These junglefowl and domesticated chickens are still able to interbreed and create hybrid offspring. These offspring tend to look a lot more like the junglefowl species, to the point that they’re almost indistinguishable.

When Were Chickens First Domesticated?

bones isolated on white background

Where and how bones are buried can reveal a lot of information.

©Palii Oleg/Shutterstock.com

There’s no exact date for when chickens first became domesticated. Based on bones found throughout the world, it was thought that domestication first happened somewhere between 8,000 and 11,000 years ago.

The site of domestication isn’t very exact either. Scientists have narrowed down the area to somewhere in Southeast Asia, somewhere near China and Pakistan. However, bones that can be definitively defined as chicken didn’t appear until around 3,500 years ago, in Thailand.

What is known about domesticated chickens is that they are one of the newest animals domesticated. Most farming animals, and especially cats and dogs, were domesticated much earlier than chickens.

Despite their relatively recent domestication, chickens are one of the most successful tales. There are a variety of different chicken breeds. There are also over 80 billion chickens throughout the world. They can be kept as pets, for eggs, and harvested for meat. Chickens also don’t compete with people for food and don’t take up a lot of space. All of this makes them one of the best-domesticated animals for people and farms.

How Were Chickens First Domesticated?

Since the timeline for domesticated chickens is so vague, it’s also not quite clear how or why chickens were first domesticated. In the bone site in Thailand, it was thought that wild junglefowl were drawn into human civilization by the rice fields.

The birds, finding an easy food source, nested near human civilization and ended up getting used to humans. Over time, they became a part of daily life.

How Domesticated Chickens Spread Throughout the World

King James Bible

Did you know that the Bible can be used to help determine when animals were found in certain countries?

©iStock.com/NathanMerrill

From what scientists can see, domesticated chickens appeared to follow the movement of other popular products. When items like rice, millet, and grains and farming practices for these food sources spread, chickens were sure to be found in the same area.

Based on this information, chickens weren’t actually in China until just about 3,000 years ago. About that same time, they were found in India. Only 200 years or so afterward, chickens spread to the Middle East and Northeastern Africa. This is about the same time that scientists found chicken bones in parts of Italy.

To check this information, scientists looked towards the Bible. The Old Testament never mentioned chickens or any animal that could be confused with a chicken. However, in the New Testament, written a little over 2,000 years ago, there are reports of chickens.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Olesya Andreeva/ via Getty Images


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About the Author

Nina is a writer at A-Z Animals. Her focus is on wildlife, national parks, and the environment. She has been writing on animals for over three years. Nina holds a Bachelor's in Conservation Biology, which she uses when talking about animals and their natural habitats. In her free time, Nina also enjoys working on writing her novels and short stories. As a resident of Colorado, Nina enjoys getting out in nature, traveling, and watching snow hit the mountains from her enclosed porch.

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