The chicken a subspecies of the red junglefowl, is a type of domesticated fowl, originally from Southeastern Asia.
It is perhaps the most widely domesticated fowl, raised worldwide for its meat and eggs.
Domestication of the chicken dates back to at least 2000 BC and their ancestry can be traced back to four species of wild jungle fowl from Southeast Asia.
From ancient India, the chicken spread to Lydia in western Asia Minor, and to Greece by the 5th century BC.
Originally raised for cockfighting or for special ceremonies, chickens were not kept for food until the Hellenistic period (4th–2nd centuries BC).
The domesticated bird spread west-ward from India to Greece, and was later introduced to Western Europe by invading Roman armies. By the Roman era, chickens were used as food, both for their meat and for their eggs. Romans commonly carried them on their ships, as a convenient source of fresh food.
Three possible routes of introduction into Africa around the early first millennium AD could have been through the Egyptian Nile Valley, the East Africa Roman-Greek or Indian trade, or from Carthage and the Berbers, across the Sahara. The earliest known remains are from Mali, Nubia, East Coast, and South Africa and date back to the middle of the first millennium AD.
Chickens were spread by Polynesian seafarers and reached Easter Island in the 12th century AD, where they were the only domestic animal, with the possible exception of the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans).
While it was long assumed that chickens had been brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors, presumably pre-Columbian chickens have been identified at several sites throughout the Americas, most notably at the site of El Arenal-1 in Chile, ca 1350 CE.
Since the wild progenitor of chickens is still living, several studies have been able to examine the behaviors of wild and domestic animals. Domesticated chickens are less active, have fewer social interactions with other chickens, are less aggressive to would-be predators, are less susceptible to stress, and are less likely to go looking for foreign food sources than their wild counterparts. Domestic chickens have increased adult body weight and simplified plumage – domestic chicken egg production starts earlier, is more frequent, and produces larger eggs.
The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century BC. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think — if they were capable of such profound thought — that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for.
Chickens are gregarious birds and live together in flocks. They have a communal approach to the incubation of eggs and raising of young.
Roosters can usually be differentiated from hens by their striking plumage of long flowing tails and shiny, pointed feathers on their necks (hackles) and backs (saddle), which are typically of brighter, bolder colors than those of females of the same breed.
The average chicken may live for 5 to 10 years, depending on the breed. The world’s oldest known chicken was a hen which died of heart failure at the age of 16 years according to the Guinness World Records.
There are more chickens in the world than any other bird.
More than 50 billion chickens are reared annually as a source of meat and eggs. In the United States alone, more than 8 billion chickens are slaughtered each year for meat, and more than 300 million chickens are reared for egg production.
Rooster or cock is a term for an adult male bird. A younger male may be called a cockerel – a male that has been castrated is a capon. The adult female bird is called a hen. “Chicken” was originally a term only foran immature, or at least young, bird, but thanks to its usage on restaurant menus has now become the most common term for the subspecies in general, especially in American English. In older sources common fowl or domestic fowl were typically used for this.
According to Merriam-Webster, the term “rooster” originated in the mid- or late 18th century as a euphemism to avoid the sexual connotation of the original English “cock”, and is widely used throughout North America. “Roosting” is the action of perching aloft to sleep at night, which is done by both sexes.
There are numerous cultural references to chickens – in myth, folklore and religion, and in language and literature.
The first pictures of chickens in Europe are found on Corinthian pottery of the 7th century BC.