The Feral Chickens of Maui

Chicken Diablo

The Feral Chickens of Maui
- by Dr. Jim Carey

If Disney did chickens, they’d be Maui chickens.

Arrogant, independent, decidedly territorial, and, OK, cocky, Maui’s 20,000 or so chickens –

I can’t imagine who’s counting – Maui’s chickens rank right up there with snorkeling trips and luaus as tourist magnets, and are the scourge of locals wanting to sleep in.

Urban ChickenLike seagulls in cities or rabbits in public parks, these animals thrive in semi-natural environments, making themselves right at home and presenting a multitude of challenges to their human neighbors.

Sophisticated urbanites fresh off the plane or cruise ship cluck over the chickens, pull out their phones and click numerous – numerous! - photos. Perhaps the only chickens they know come with bar codes? Maui chickens are the quintessential, “Hey, Heather, look at that!” moment.

A visiting friend did a double take one night during dinner at the Maui Tropical Plantation.

“That thing’s alive,” he whispered, watching one of the resident chickens scratch around under an adjoining table. “It’s not one of those Disney animatronic things, is it?”

Nope, not a re-creation. Maui chickens do things a Disney chicken wouldn’t consider. The roosters crow all day. The chicks get smashed on the pavement by cars and scooters. They nest in trees, and they, well, drop their business inside your convertible.

I didn’t know all this when I first visited Maui. My sister was teaching high school on the island, and I agreed to visit her in Paia.

There’s some family back-story you should be aware of.

Chicken Crossed the RoadWhen I was a kid my friends went to Band Camp, Baseball Camp, Football Camp, Clown Camp, Tennis Camp, Golf Camp, etc. Since my Mom’s family were farmers in Canada, and my Dad’s family were farmers in Vermont, my sister and I went to Farm Camp.

During the Thanksgiving and Easter holidays we’d go to Canada and help with the harvest and planting, eh? In summer we’d go to Vermont and help out on one or another Uncles’ dairy farms. Wherever we went, kids fed the chickens, rounded up eggs, and fed the other farm ‘critters.

Bringing in the CowsFarm camp in Vermont meant getting up at 4 am and milking the cows, letting them out to pasture, then mucking (cleaning) out the stalls, tossing a bunch of hay around, feeding the chickens, hogs, goats and everything else, and then, around 3 pm, we were allowed to go play in the woods, as long as we were home an hour before sunset and brought the cows with us. After evening milking we were allowed to watch TV, where we usually fell asleep during the first commercial.

Saturdays meant a trip to town after the morning milking, where we’d spend our 25 cent allowance on a movie, popcorn and candy (did I mention this was the 1950’s?). As long as we were home in time to get the cows in for evening milking, we were free all day.

Sundays were pretty free, too. Milking, church, dinner at another farm, and home in time for milking.

Feeding the ChickensSo even though I grew up as a city boy, I was pretty savvy about farm life. By the time I was 12 I learned through eavesdropping that various Uncles were offering up to $40 for me to go to their Farm Camp for the summer, and $25 for my kid sister.

When I heard that my friends’ parents were paying $100 and more for them to go to summer camp, sometimes just for a few weeks, I figured those kids must be pretty lazy. It made me laugh.

Yeah, I was a gullible kid, 'cuz I was only getting a quarter a week for an allowance.

Anyhow, back to Maui.

I arrived on Maui late at night, my sister picked me up at the airport, and when I awoke early the next morning in Paia and walked outside, what should I see but two hens with a bunch of chicks scratching in the front yard!

Well, all those summers on the farm cut in.  Escaped chickens need to be herded back into the pen before the dogs, foxes, or whatever get them. I looked around and deduced there must be a henhouse down the alley between the two homes across the street.

Feral ChickenSo here I am at the crack of dawn in a dead-end lane in Paia, innocently herding chicks and chickens back to their presumed henhouse, when the Devil Rooster From Hell rockets screaming from under the house and attacks me.

Seriously, this rooster was a throwback to prehistoric times, and looked to be more Velociraptor, maybe even Tyrannosaurus Rex, than chicken.

Understand that by the time I was five years old I weren’t ‘fraid a’ no chicken. But this, this, this, THING was so ferocious, so aggressive, so insane that he drove me back.

And halfway up a palm tree.

AND kept attacking with beak, claws and flapping wings!

I looked for a stick. Or a baseball bat. Preferably a club. Better yet, a spear. A BIG spear.

I was limited in my access to weapons, being six feet up a palm tree, kicking off airborne attacks by Pollo Diablo Roostero.

Yes, Amelia, feral chickens can fly. That’s how they spend the night in trees.

So of course that’s when my sister runs out and hollers, “WHAT are you doing???!!! Leave that poor chicken alone!”

The DRFH was squawking and flapping, dogs were barking, hens were clucking and running down the street, and my sister was yelling at me for the first time in 30 years.

“Somebody’s chickens got out,” I hollered, trying to sound calm and collected. “I was trying to get them back to the henhouse when the Dinosaur Rooster From HELL attacked me.”

By this time most of the neighbors had come out, too. The lane was full of people. Hawaiian, Japanese, Samoan, Philippino, Chinese and Anglo. Hawaii’s quite the melting pot, and everyone was chattering in their own lingo. This must be what the Tower of Babel was like. Of course, everybody was pointing and laughing at the dude in the tree, chicken of  the chicken.

Once the neighbors came out, of course the DRFH feigned innocence. And everybody explained the feral chickens of Maui to me. At the same time.

When I finally got back in the house I made myself a four-egg omelet - as revenge.

KC ChickenMy nickname for the remainder of my month-long visit became Haole [howlie] Boi. Not just in the neighborhood. Oh, no! There’s a Coconut Telegraph on Maui. By mid-morning, when my sister and I walked to the beach, people asked her, “Is dat da haole-boi you wit’?”

“Yes-yes,” she’d reply. So much for family loyalty.

Hawaiians refer to their own as Kanakas. Then there are Visitors, who are here for a week or so. The Kamaaina are people that have moved to Hawaii and embraced it as their home. And then there are the Haoles, the outsiders who never fit it. I’d been branded within 12 hours of my arrival.

Branded for life, it turned out.

Two days later we were in Lahaina, an hour’s drive from Paia, and people proclaimed, “Oh, look! It’s Linda da Teacher wit’ ‘er bruddah Haole Boi.”

Then people stopped calling her “Linda da Teacher” and started calling her “Haole Boi’s sistah.”

Linda was so humiliated that she made me buy her house. She moved up-country to Haiku and changed schools during summer break. Three years of being considered Kamaaina had been overturned in one morning by Haole Boi.

That was almost 20 years ago. After a few years I moved to Kihei where I’m rarely recognized anymore. Still, when I go to visit Linda she says, “Please call first so I can meet you out at the main road.” It’s like she’s living in the witness protection program.

When we went walking down our old road in Paia last week, our old neighbor Maka came out of her house, grinned, waved, and called out, “Marialani! Hey! Hey! C’mere! Look! It’s Haole Boi an’ ‘is sistah! Hey, Haole Boi! You catchin’ any mo’ chicken now?”

And THAT is the story of my brush with death with the Feral Chickens of Maui. AND why they call me Haole Boi on the North Shore…

Oh. You can’t eat the damn things, either. They taste terrible, probably because they live on cockroaches and centipedes. Of course, that’s their upside, too.

A Parting Postscript

A devout paniolo (Hawaii cowboy) lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range in upper Kula. Three weeks later, a Maui chicken walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth.

The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the chicken’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed,

“It’s a miracle!”

“Not really,” said the chicken. “Your name is written inside the cover.”

Free Range Chickens

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