Humans first domesticated the red junglefowl of southern Asia roughly 6,000 to 8,000 years ago and, over the millennia, have developed hundreds of different breeds. Domestic chickens serve many purposes, from the billions raised annually for commercial food production (primarily white leghorns) to specialty breeds raised by fanciers. Some of these are the Orpington buff chicken, the Plymouth rock barred chicken, and the Rhode Island red.
Chickens belong to a group of heavy-bodied birds adapted for running and scratching on the ground for food. Their relatives include the turkey, grouse, quail, partridge, pheasant, peafowl, and curassow. After you’ve had a chance to meet the chickens at Muriel’s Ranch, take the time to visit their wild relatives in the South America section of the Zoo, the blue-billed curassows. On the way, you might even cross paths with our resident free-ranging peacocks, another one of the chicken’s wild relations!
Domesticated chickens live on farms and in backyards. Chickens need a coop, usually a wooden building to protect them from predators, and an outdoor area to forage for food.
Junglefowl are omnivores, consuming a wide range of food items, including seeds, insects, lizards, and small mice. Domestic chickens usually eat poultry feed, which provides a balance of nutrients.
Adult chickens body average between eight and 20 inches in body length. They typically weigh four to 10 pounds. A chicken’s average lifespan is five to 10 years. Both the wild junglefowl and domestic chickens (as with their pheasant and peafowl relatives) are sexually dimorphic. Roosters are often larger with more elaborate plumage plus prominent combs and wattles on their heads.