Purchases at a market in Yuanyang, Yunnan Province, China: a rooster and vegetables in a basket. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
New studies indicate that chickens, or simply fowl, were first domesticated in China about 8000 B.C., descended from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which is still found in the wild in India and Southeast Asia. Later, about 6000 B.C., domestication of the red junglefowl also took place several places in Southeast Asia and in India, where some hybridization with the grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii), living in the southern part of India, may have occurred.
By 3900 B.C., chickens were present in Iran, by about 2400 B.C. in Turkey and Syria, and by 2000 B.C., they had reached Spain. They arrived about 1400 B.C. in Egypt, where they were called “the bird that gives birth every day” – in allusion to the prolific egg-laying of the species. In West Africa, Iron Age cultures in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana were keeping domesticated chickens from about 500 A.D.
From Southeast Asia, sailors brought chickens to the Polynesian islands about 1300 B.C., and in Chile, remains of domesticated chickens, dating from c. 1350 A.D., have been excavated. Before these excavations, it was believed that the first chickens to arrive in the Americas were brought by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. Chickens arrived in Australia with the First Fleet, bringing settlers to the continent in 1788.
Today, the chicken is the most numerous and widespread domestic animal, with a total population of more than 19 billion. Chickens are kept primarily as a source of food, both meat and eggs. For thousands of years, a popular sport in many countries, including India, Indonesia, China, Japan, and Polynesia, was cock fighting, in which two trained cocks – sometimes with metal spurs attached to their natural spurs – were released, fighting until one of the contestants was dead. Cock fighting is still practiced in several countries today.
Some chicken breeds still resemble their wild progenitor a great deal, among others this old Danish breed. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Early in the morning, these chickens in Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal, are still sitting on their night roost – a pile of firewood. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This man is guarding wheat and buckwheat, drying in the sun, but has fallen asleep on his post. This is soon detected by nearby chickens, who take advantage of it to fill their gizzards. – Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chick, a few days old, Denmark. The incubation period of chickens is 21 days. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chickens love dust bathing, which will often rid them of parasites like fleas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chickens are often kept under cruel conditions, as these cage chickens in Palapye, Botswana. Today, an increasing number of consumers buy eggs and chickens of free-running chickens, the feed of which has been grown organically. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chickens for sale at a market near Er Hai Lake, Yunnan Province, China. To prevent them from straying, their feet have been tied together. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Porters, transporting chickens in cages up the Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal, to be sold at various restaurants. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For thousands of years, a popular sport in many countries was cock fighting, seen for instance in this Khmer frieze in Angkor Thom, Cambodia, depicting a fight between cocks, owned by Khmer people, to the left, and Chinese, identified by their pigtail (top). Cock fighting is still practiced in many countries today, as in this picture from Sarawak, Borneo (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This enormous paper lantern, depicting a rooster, is exhibited during the Festival of Lanterns, celebrated during Chinese New Year 2005 (the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac), Tainan, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Almost all domestic ducks are descended from the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). These pictures show a drake, photographed on the islet of Christiansø, Bornholm, Denmark (top), and a female, standing on a fallen log in a pond, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. The bird in the background is a sleeping common teal (Anas crecca). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Almost all domestic ducks are descended from the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), a dabbling duck with a wide distribution across northern Eurasia and North America. The drake is a gorgeous bird in breeding plumage, with grey sides, purple breast, and glossy-green head, with a blue shine from certain angles. The female is a uniform speckled brown.
Mallards were first domesticated at least 4,000 years ago, in Southeast Asia. In Ancient Egypt, ducks were captured in nets and then bred in captivity, and domestic ducks are frequently depicted in Egyptian wall paintings in graves and elsewhere. At an early stage, ducks were also farmed by the Romans. The Beijing duck (formerly called Peking duck), a distinct breed in China, also descended from the mallard.
In many places, white domestic ducks developed, probably being favoured in preference to darker breeds, as they were easy to spot, in case they should stray. Domestic ducks have also lost the territorial behavior of the mallard, being less aggressive. Despite these differences, domestic ducks are still very closely related to the mallard, the two forms producing fertile offspring. These semi-tame ducks, which are often found in city parks, come in all plumages, varying from pure white to ‘almost-wild-mallard-type’.
Ducks are mainly farmed for their meat and eggs, and for their down. In some countries, the blood from slaughtered ducks is used as an ingredient in various dishes. Some breeds have been developed for ornamental reasons and are often exhibited in competitions.
Selling live ducks at a market in Kintamani, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Painting on a house wall, depicting a duck farm with Beijing ducks. – Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Barbecued ducks for sale at a market, Yuanyang, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
One type of domesticated duck, the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata), is not descended from the mallard. The Muscovy, which is heavier than the common domestic duck, is native to Central and South America, from Mexico south to northern Argentina. The name Muscovy duck has nothing to do with the Grand Principality of Moscow, founded in 1283 (in English often called the Muscovy), although the spelling of the duck’s name, with a capital M, could easily lead to this misconception. The name is thought either to be a corruption of musk duck, due to its musky smell, or coming from the Spanish word mosquito, named after the Mosquito Coast in Central America, where Spanish conquistadors first encountered this duck.
The earliest known domestication of the Muscovy duck took place in the Mochica culture, southern Peru, and in coastal Ecuador, by about 50 to 80 A.D. In Bolivia, it is known as a domestic animal from about 600 A.D., and in Central America from about 750 A.D. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, the Muscovy duck was taken to Europe, and from there it has spread around the world. The plumage colour of the domestic Muscovy duck is more variable than in its wild cousin, many of the domestic ducks being pure white.
Feral populations of the Muscovy duck have been established in the United States and southern Canada, as well as in New Zealand, Australia, and various places in Europe.
Muscovy duck, standing on a rock in the Kali Gandaki River, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The greylag goose (Anser anser) is the ancestor of the western form of domestic geese. This picture is from Lake Hornborga, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The swan goose (Anser cygnoides) was first domesticated in China, maybe as early as 1000 B.C., The domesticated form is often called Chinese goose, here photographed with goslings in Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Domestic geese are descended from two species of wild geese, the greylag goose (Anser anser) and the swan goose (Anser cygnoides), the former domesticated in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, the latter in East Asia. The greylag goose is widely distributed across northern Eurasia, while the wild swan goose has a restricted distribution, breeding in Mongolia, northern China, and south-eastern Siberia.
The greylag goose was first domesticated in Egypt, maybe as far back as 1500 B.C., and spread from here to Europe and West Asia. Today, about 80 breeds of this domestic goose are known. The swan goose was first domesticated in China, maybe as early as 1000 B.C., the domesticated form often called Chinese goose, of which about 20 breeds exist. It is readily identified by the large knob at the base of the bill. Today, both forms of domestic geese are found worldwide, and as the greylag goose and the swan goose are rather closely related, hybrids between the two domestic forms often occur.
Domestic geese are kept for meat and eggs, and for their excellent down, used in quilts, down jackets, sleeping bags, and other items.
Goslings of Chinese goose for sale at a market near Er Hai Lake, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
”Old McDonald had a farm…” – These gigantic paper lanterns, depicting a farmer with buffalo cart, geese, and a goat, are exhibited during the Festival of Lanterns, celebrated during Chinese New Year 2005, Tainan, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded September 2017)
(Revised December 2018)