The red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) is one of four Asian species in the genus Gallus. It is the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken.1 Previouslyan endangered species,2 today the red junglefowl is commonly sighted across Singapore, in areas such as Tanjong Pagar, Pasir Ris3 and even the Istana.4
All members of the Gallus genus are known as junglefowl. This genus belongs to the family Phasianidae.5 Other commonly known members of the Phasianidae include the peacock, pheasant, grouse, partridge and quail.6 The domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is descended from the red junglefowl.7 Having been domesticated for over 4,000 years, there are now many breeds of domestic chickens. Mass production of chicken eggs and meat began in the 1800s.8
The adult red junglefowl is 41 to 46 cm (female) or 65 to 78 cm (male) long. The head of the cock has ear wattles and a red comb. The neck is yellow, with a bright reddish back. The underparts are dark with grey feet, while the arched tail and wing feathers are a glossy green. A distinguishing feature of the red junglefowl is the white patch at its rump. In Singapore and Malaysia, another distinguishing feature is the white ear wattles. Hens are dull brown with streaked pale-yellow necks and light-brown vents. Hen tails are erect and fan-shaped. Unlike its domestic counterpart, the red junglefowl is a wary creature.9 It is also able to fly for short distances, and roost in trees to avoid predators.10 The cock’s call is similar to the domestic chicken, though with the last note missing: “a ka ka deedl”. The hen’s cackle has a higher pitch than that of the domesticated variety.11
Junglefowls are polygynous with a typical family consisting of one cock, multiple hens and chicks. However, hens incubate and brood their young alone. The creamy-white eggs are laid in a shallow depression scraped in the ground. A typical clutch has between five to seven eggs. Cocks begin their crowing in January, while chicks have been recorded as late as November.12 The red junglefowl may interbreed with other junglefowl species and domestic chickens.13
Junglefowls are omnivorous by nature. Their staple diet comprises insects, especially termites and winged ants that emerge at dawn and dusk. They also rake the ground in search of invertebrates, roots, fruits and seeds. They forage in large parties that may consist of multiple family groups.14
Habitat and range
Junglefowls are mostly found in areas with a mix of both open ground and dense vegetation, and may also travel through forests to other clearings or food sources. The species is present from the western Himalayas to southern China and throughout Southeast Asia.15
The red junglefowl was included in the first Resident of Singapore William Farquhar’s collection of natural-history drawings, indicating their presence in the Malay Peninsula in the early 19th century.16 In Singapore, wild populations of the red junglefowl have been recorded in Pulau Ubin since the 1980s.17 In the ’90s, junglefowls were spotted on the mainland – at Poyan Reservoir, Loyang and Changi. It is unclear if these arrived naturally from the wild or were escaped or released birds.18
Domestic chickens are commonly raised for their eggs and meat, and feather dusters are commonly made of chicken feathers.19 The blood of chickens is used in medicinal and mystical preparations. Black chickens are believed to have curative properties. Cockfighting used to be a popular sport worldwide.20
In 2007, the red junglefowl was listed as nationally vulnerable.21 The main threat to the red junglefowl is through habitat loss due to urban development, and through interbreeding with the domestic variety of free-ranging chickens, which leads to the gradual replacement of the species with hybrids. In some areas of Singapore, both the red junglefowl and the domestic chicken can be found, increasing the possibility of hybridisation.22
Common name: red junglefowl
Scientific name: Gallus gallus
Malay names: ayam hutan (forest chicken),23 ayam borga/beroga, ayam děnak24
Chinese names: 原鸡 (yuanji) (literally “original chicken”)25
1. Encyclopedia Britannica “Jungle Fowl,” accessed 15 April 2019; “Gallus Gallus,” Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, 2020.
2. Choi Yook Sau, “On the Trail of the Red Junglefowl,” NParks Buzz 2, no. 3 (2010).
3. Grace Chua, “If You See This Chicken, Please Don’t Cook It,” Straits Times, 25 December 2010, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. James Gan Wan Meng and Aileen Tan Boon, Birds Seen at the Istana (Singapore: Suntree Media, 2019), 27. (Call no. RSING 598.095957 GAN)
5. Encyclopedia Britannica “Jungle Fowl.”
6. Encyclopedia Britannica “Phasianidae,” n.d.
7. I. H. Burkill, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, vol. 1 (London: Crown Agents, 1935), 1047 (Call no. RCLOS 634.909595 BUR); Encyclopedia Britannica “Jungle Fowl.”
8. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 4 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002), 908. (Call no. R q031 NEW)
9. Peter K.L. Ng, Richard T. Corlett and Hugh T.W. Tan, eds., Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011), 429. (Call no. RSING 333.95095957 SIN)
10. Choi, “On the Trail of the Red Junglefowl.”
11. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, “Gallus Gallus”; David R. Wells, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, vol. 1 (San Diego: Academic Press, 1999), 11–12 (Call no. RSING 598.0959 WEL); Birds of South-East Asia (London: Christopher Helm, 2015), 277. (Call no. RSING 598.0959 ROB)
12. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 12.
13. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1048.
14. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 12; Choi, “On the Trail of the Red Junglefowl.”
15. Choi, “On the Trail of the Red Junglefowl”; Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 11–12.
16. William Farquhar, et al., Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula, 1803–1818 (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Museum of Singapore, 2105), 203. (Call no. RSING 759.959 NAT)
17. Choi, “On the Trail of the Red Junglefowl.”
18. Wang Luan Keng and Christopher J Hails, “An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore,” Raffles Bulletin of Zoology no. 15 (April 2007): 37.
19. Encyclopedia Britannica “Chicken,” accessed 31 January 2020; Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1052.
20. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1048.
21. Wang and Hails, “Annotated Checklist of the Birds,” 37.
22. Wang and Hails, “Annotated Checklist of the Birds,” 37; Chua, “If You See This Chicken.”
23. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1047.
24. A. G. Glenister, The Birds of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and Penang (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1971), 118. (Call no. RSING 598.29595 GLE)
25. John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps, A Field Guide to the Birds of China (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 46. (Call no. R 598.0951 MAC)
Allen Jeyarajasingam, A Field Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). (Call no. RSING 598.095951 JEY)
Audrey Tan, “AVA Culls Chickens ‘Only as Last Resort’,” Straits Times, 21 February 2017, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
Audrey Tan, “No Ordinary Singapore Chicken,” Straits Times, 20 June 2020. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
Lim Kim Seng, Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore (Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, 1997). (Call no. RSING 598.095957 LIM)
The information in this article is valid as at March 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.