Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl

large
Photo By: David Blank

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Phasianidae
  • Genus: Gallas
  • Species: gallas
  • Average Male Length: 2.1-2.5 ft (65-75 cm)
  • Average Female Length: 1.4-1.5 ft (42-46 cm)
  • Average Male Weight: 1.5-3.2 lbs (0.7-1.45 kg)
  • Average Female Weight: 1.1-2.3 lbs (0.5-1.05 kg)
  • Expected Lifespan: 10 years

The red junglefowl is a tropical member of the Pheasant family and is the direct ancestor of all domestic poultry. It is believed that they were first domesticated at least 5,000 years ago in India. Since then, the domesticated form has been taken all around the world as a very productive food source for both meat and eggs, which some breeds have been specifically developed to produce more.

This species is native to Southern Asia, particularly the Indian jungles. Its range stretches from northeast India, where the pure species has been diluted with back-crosses from domestic breeds, eastwards across southern China and down into Malaysia and Indonesia. Throughout its extensive range, the red junglefowl occupies most tropical and subtropical habitats, including mangroves, scrubland, and plantations. Although, it seems that it prefers flat or gently sloping terrain, forest edges, and secondary forest. It has also been recorded being found in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Five subspecies are recognised: the Indian red junglefowl (G. g. murghi) occurs in north and northeast India, adjacent Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh; the Burmese red junglefowl (G. g. spadiceus) in southwest Yunnan (China), east Arunachal Pradesh (India), Myanmar, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia and north Sumatra; the Tonkinese red junglefowl (G. g. jabouillei) in southeast Yunnan and Hainan (China) and north Vietnam; the Cochin-Chinese red junglefowl (G. g. gallus) in east Thailand through central and south Laos, and Cambodia to central and south Vietnam; and the Javan red junglefowl (G. g. bankiva) in south Sumatra, Java and Bali.

Physical Description:

large1
Photo By: David Blank

The red junglefowl’s plumage is gold, red, brown, dark maroon, orange, with a bit of metallic green and gray. There are also some white and olive feathers. Two white patches, shaped like an ear, appear on either side of the head. Its can be distinguish from other chickens not only by these white patches, but also by the grayish feet. An individual will have fourteen tail feathers.

With much hybridisation between pure and domestic stock, the standard criteria of pure wild junglefowl include the tail being carried horizontally in both sexes, the absence of a comb in the female, and dark or slate grey leg colour and an annual eclipse moult in the male.

It is said that the rooster of the red junglefowl is much more brilliantly colored than its tame relative. The vibrant male has long, golden-orange to deep-red crown and neck feathers, and a dark metallic-green tail with a white tuft at the base. The underparts are a dull black while the upperparts are a combination of glossy blue-green, rich dark red, maroon-red, fiery orange, and blackish brown. The colorful cock also has vivid scarlet-red facial skin, throat, two lappets and heavily dented fleshy crest called the comb, and red or white ear patches on the sides of the head. After the summer moult, from June to September, the male develops an ‘eclipse plumage’, in which the golden neck feathers are replaced with dull black feathers, the long tail feathers are lost, and the comb reduces in size and becomes duller in color.

On the other hand, the rather drab female is a dull brown-gold color with a partly naked, pale red face and throat.

The five subspecies vary in the color of the facial lappets, in the size of the combs, and in the length, color and terminal end shape of the neck hackles of males during the breeding season.

Diet:

Red junglefowl is an herbivore and insectivore, foraging on the ground for seeds, fruit, and insects. It will eat corn, soybean, worms, grass, and various grains found on the grain. It use its feet to scratch away the leaf-litter in search for food.

Though it cannot detect sweet tastes, the red junglefowl can detect salt. However, most individuals do not like it.

Behavior:

During non-breeding seasons, – summer, autumn, and winter, – the red junglefowl lives in small mixed flocks. These flocks has very distinctive social system involving a pecking order, with one dominating all, and one submitting to all. There is one pecking order for female and one for male.

The physical action for dominance is to raise the tail and head. Submission is shown when a male red junglefowl lowers his tail and head, crouches, and tilts the head to one side.

 

junglefowl-red-rooster20and20hen-kokee20state20park-kaui-hi-20091023-ps-1-web-m

In the spring, at the onset of the breeding season, each of the stronger cocks maintains a territory with three to five hens. Hens feed safely under the protection of the dominating cock. In order to fight, hens need to go at least ten feet from the dominating cock. When a dominating cock dies, the next higher cock in the pecking order takes charge immediately. The pecking order is introduced to chicks when they are just a week old. An order is accomplished in about seven weeks. The dominating cock’s sphere of influence is about sixty to seventy feet.

Meanwhile, young cocks live isolated in twos and threes.

Hens produce four to seven, typically four to six, eggs per clutch, which are incubated for 18 to 20 days by the female only. Inside the shell, the chick will quickly develop. On the first day, the heart and blood vessels of the chick develop and start to work. At the end of the first day, the head starts to take shape. By the fourth day, all organs of the future chick are present. On the fifth day, external sex structure developed. By the thirteenth day, the skeleton begins to calcify using the calcium from the eggshell. From the time when the egg is laid until hatching, the chick feeds on the yolk that surrounds him. By the third week, the chick will begin to break through its thin shell. This can take anywhere from ten to twenty hours.

By four to five weeks of age, the chicks are normally fully feathered. Their first adult wings’ feather will take another four weeks to grow. When the chicks are twelve weeks old, the mother chases them out of the group. They will then go on to form their own group or join another. At five months old, the chicks reach sexual maturity. The females reach sexual maturity a little later than the males.

Conservation and Threats:

Currently, it is listed as “of least concern” by IUCN. It is generally considered that the red junglefowl is common and widespread despite habitat loss and poaching within its range. The bird is affected relatively little by habitat loss because it can occupy a variety of habitats, including secondary vegetation and man-made habitats, such as rubber and oil-palm plantations and planted fields on forest edges.

red_junglefowl_and_chickfrom_l6o3331sma
Credit: Oriental Bird Club

However, it has recently come to light that genetic contamination through interbreeding with domestic and feral chickens poses the real threat, pushing pure wild junglefowl to the verge of extinction. Eclipse plumage, one of the indicators of pure stock, is now only seen in populations in the western and central regions of the species’ geographic range, and it is therefore feared that the pure form of this colorful bird has disappeared completely from extreme south-east Asia. This suggestion is supported by an intense scientific collection made in 1860. In the 1960’s, studies in north-eastern India revealed a population of red junglefowl exhibiting the eclipse plumage. Due to the high density of the human population, whose domestic chickens could continue to contaminate the red junglefowl genetically, the purity of the species, where it remains, is in constant danger.

With as much hybridisation in captivity as in the wild, both between pure and domestic stock and between the five subspecies, a studbook has now been developed and many breeders are having their birds’ DNA tested for purity. The World Pheasant Association is also undertaking extensive DNA research, but sadly virtually all the birds in captivity in Europe have been found to display hybridised genes.

It seems that its domestic descendents will be the undoing of this unique wild bird, which has been quietly slipping into genetic extinction, before the world was even aware of, and could appropriately respond to, the situation. IUCN acknowledges that the population trend is decreasing, though not enough to approach the thresholds to be classified as vulnerable.

Interesting Facts:

  • The memory of the red junglefowl is very short.
  • These birds are the easiest to maintain and breed in captivity of all the Junglefowl.
  • They are used mainly for eggs and meat production by the locals. Sometimes, they have been used for cock fighting or chicken competitions. Their feathers are frequently used for pillows and mattresses.
  • Molting process for an adult red junglefowl takes about three to four months every year.
  • Red junglefowl regularly bathe in dust to keep just the right balance in their plumage.The dust absorbs extra oil and subsequently falls off.
  • Flight in these birds is almost purely confined to reaching their roosting areas at sunset in trees or any other high and relatively safe places free from ground predators, and for escape from immediate danger through the day.
  • Studies have shown that the offspring of top roosters are more likely to grow up to be leaders than are those of low-ranking males, and that hierarchy may have a genetic component.
  • Experiments have shown that females have the ability to retain or eject sperm, and that they consistently retain the sperm of the one or two dominant roosters in the group and eject that of all others

References + For More Reading:

Arkive: Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus)

ADW: Gallus gallus

Red Junglefowl

Thai National Park: Red Junglefowl

Beauty of Birds: Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus

IUCN: Gallus gallus (Red Junglefowl)

EOL: Gallus gallus

Concerns for the Genetic Integrity and Conservation Status of the Red Junglefowl

Threats to Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus murghi) in Deva Vatala National Park, District Bhimber, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan

Advertisements

One thought on “Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s