Posts Tagged ‘Eben J. Gering’

Did you see the Kenneth Chang story about Hawaii’s wild chickens? Tourists love them. Scientists study them. And the guy in the picture below has the job of rehabilitating the ones that are injured or orphaned. (I need to remember Orphaned-Chicken Rehabilitator next time I make a list of unusual jobs.)

“On the island of Kauai, chickens have not just crossed the road,” writes Chang. “They are also crowing in parking lots, hanging out at beaches and flocking in forests.

“ ‘They’re absolutely everywhere,’ said Eben J. Gering, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University who has been studying these truly free-range birds. …

“In a paper published last month in the journal Molecular Ecology, Dr. Gering and his colleagues tried to untangle the genetic history of the Kauai feral chickens, which turn out to be not only a curiosity for tourists, but also a window into how humans domesticated wild animals. …

“Local lore is that many of the Kauai chickens are descendants of birds that escaped when Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and then Hurricane Iniki in 1992 blew open coops. (Feral chickens are found on other Hawaiian islands, but not in overwhelming numbers. Some speculate that Kauai is overrun because mongooses, which like to eat eggs, were never released there. Dr. Gering said another reason could be that the two hurricanes only sideswiped the other islands.) …

“In follow-up research, the scientists would like to observe more of the characteristics of the feral chickens — How many eggs do they lay? How often? Do they grow quickly like the farm breeds? — and then try to connect the genes responsible for the evolution of the hybrids. Dr. Wright is mating chickens and red junglefowl to precisely study how traits and behaviors are passed on.

“Dr. Gering speculated that until recent decades, the Kauai chickens were largely like the ones that the Polynesians brought long ago, living in small parts of the island and modest in number. Then they began mating with the escaped farm chickens or their descendants, with greater fecundity and a wider range of habitats.

“ ‘We think that’s why we’re seeing them now at Walmart and all over the place,’ Dr. Gering said.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Hob Osterlund for The New York Times
Stuart Hollinger, right, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wild chickens on Kauai. 

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