# Humans are Gone: Do the Chickens Make It?

Some hundreds of years ago, all humanity was removed from the Americas. In fact, most humans are gone from the world altogether. In the intervening time, nature has overrun the formerly human dominated landscapes of the former United States.

The area in question is immediately west of the Mississippi River as far as Texas, mostly corresponding to Louisiana and Arkansas today. Swampy bayous in the south give way to the forested Ouachita hills in the north. Water is plentiful year round. Due to latent global warming, the winters rarely freeze, and the summers are brutally hot and humid. The perfect conditions for wildlife.

Not only have the native wildlife been expanding over the last hundreds of years, but whatever animals left by humans also had a great opportunity to colonize the Americas. This brings us to the most populous vertebrate of the Americas as of humanity's departure: the humble chicken.

The chicken (or junglefowl, as it prefers to be called) originally hails from the subtropical and tropical forests of India, China, and southeast Asia. In the United States, there isn't much competition in its niche; the only similar birds native to the southeast US are the smaller Ruffled Grouse and the larger Wild Turkey.

On the negative side, there are plenty of predators for these new chickens out there, from bobcats and (formerly) domestic cats, coyotes and (formerly) domestic dogs and the many hybrids that will form between them, to mink, badger, weasels, foxes, and plenty of birds of prey. Also, probably 99% of all chickens are kept in conditions which will result in their swift death as soon as humans are removed. The silver lining there is that the less genetically-engineered-for-the-table free range chickens are the ones that will survive.

So, given the available evidence, will chickens be able to maintain a toehold in the post-human ecosystem of the southeast US? Will chickens make it?

• This... is a surprisingly deep question. – Joe Bloggs Jun 5 '18 at 11:17
• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about feral chickens, competition, and cats vs. chickens has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jun 8 '18 at 14:21
• Gotta love the American perspective. "Americans are gone. Oh, and the rest of the world too." – Jasper Jun 11 '18 at 12:16
• Dogs will not hybridize with mink, or weasels. Definitely will with coyote and wolf. This article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canid_hybrid suggests that foxes won't. – Sherwood Botsford Oct 31 '18 at 14:02

## 14 Answers

I think chickens will duck extinction (pun intended), thanks to their adaptability.

When I was a kid we used to have chickens in our farm (surrounding environment was Maquis shrubland), which were left roaming free during the day. We also had predators in the surrounding (foxes, badgers, weasels, snakes), and, quite surprisingly, they managed to kill chickens only when they could find their way into the hen-house. There the chickens had no way to escape, and were doomed to death.

Those times when some chicken could manage to not be taken back in the hen-house, it was not so uncommon to find it roaming around the next morning, with its fresh eggs laying around. And being in charge of taking them, I can assure they are pretty good at escaping, unless they are induced to chicken and lay on the ground with spread wings, which makes them easy to handle for a human.

This said, I think they will manage to learn living in the open, relying on harvesting food, especially given the environment you describe, which closely resemble the jungle, more than the environment I have experienced the chickens within.

Probably the largest hurdle to overcome will be stopping laying eggs in a continuous way (for the egg chickens), as that is a ludicrous energy expense not rewarding in the wild.

• As we are sharing annecdot, chickens are pretty good tree climber. Making them as safe as bird are when the night comes. And as I'm from a country where Chiken fight is allowed, cat vs chiken ends with a blind or partialy blind cat. – Drag and Drop Jun 5 '18 at 12:48
• Don't have time to look it up, but I think chickens stop laying when they have enough eggs to sit on (same as, I think, geese?) and then don't lay while they're raising chicks. So without someone removing the eggs, it should be no problem. Also the rapid reproduction is a survival trait, sure you can kill some...but there will be LOTS. – user3067860 Jun 5 '18 at 14:43
• I'm afraid this is more of an anecdotal observation. Long term exposure of chickens (and eggs!) to predators may be unsustainable. One fact - all of the places on Earth where chickens went feral are either islands or towns free of predators. No domestic chickens so far have made it in the real wild. On the other hand, I suppose that some chickens, somewhere, will be able to learn nesting on trees and other had to climb places, and so (after most of them are gone during adaptation) the species will be able to survive. – Alexander Jun 5 '18 at 18:01
• And being in charge of taking them, I can assure they are pretty good at escaping At first I thought you were talking about escaping eggs. – JAD Jun 6 '18 at 9:04
• I upvoted as soon as I read the duck pun. The rest of the anwer is nice, too. – xDaizu Jun 8 '18 at 10:58

The cop out answer is Yes*, they will survive in places that the ecosystem allows them to survive in.

There will be some places in the world that Chickens are able to survive because the natural predators are missing, such as in the Hawaii example. While that answerer uses the fact that "Chickens only survive where there aren't Mongeese", is a demonstration of Natural Selection.

Chickens have an advantage of being all over the world.

Why is this an advantage? See the Hawaii example. Somewhere there is an environment where Chickens are going to be able to suitably adapt. The second thing Chickens have in their favor (say, in a zombie apocalypse) is that their is a TON of them. Not only are they spread far and wide throughout the world, there is such a glut of them that the possibility of finding the right combination of genes to evolve is available.

It's worth noting that Turkeys are basically Super-Chickens except even less capable of flying and even dumber; and they roam free in many states in the US despite all kinds of predators. If a Turkey can evolve to survive, Chickens can. Other examples of note: Quail (and other ground-fowl.)

Finally, Chickens are derivative of some kind of Ground-Fowl, which means that in a previous time (without human's help) they existed in some form before being domesticated. This is to say that they certainly evolved to survive before humans, so with the advantages of being across the entire world in huge numbers they are virtually guaranteed to evolve correctly in some variety of habitats.

And final clarification for this all, there are many breeds of chicken; different temperaments, egg production, coloring, etc; so they're well on their way to a diverse genetic pool for finding the appropriate niche for themselves. What's more (as noted in the comments) like the Hawaiian example it is possible that other bird variety nearby are capable of mating, expanding their genetic diversity (and thus their ability to find a niche) that much more.

And a caveat: You can't be sure that when a Chicken evolves that its end state in that environment will be recognizably a chicken. Chickens are basically millions of years of evolution from Raptors (or at least, some kind of dinosaur.) If you asked "Will Velociraptors survive?" and I said "Yes, look here" and you saw the picture below:

You'd probably look at me quizzically and ask me to kindly stop joking.

• +1 for the velociraptor picture! – Quasi_Stomach Jun 5 '18 at 19:20
• +1 for that map! Where is that from? – Roman Jun 5 '18 at 19:55
• This is pretty much what I was going to say, but there is one more part I'd like to see added (but doesn't feel like it's worth a seperate answer on it's own), and that's hybridization. The Hawaii example had chickens surviving because they mated with existing jungle fowl. specifically chickens don't brood (protect) their eggs, it's believed that they feral chickens gained this trait through genes gained from junglefowl hybrids. The point is anywhere other genetically compatible wild fowl exist chickens likely will survive by hybridizing with them to gain necessary traits to survive. – dsollen Jun 6 '18 at 13:04
• @blurry the difference is that the wild species survive in the wild already, they can pass on genetics that provide adaptations for surviving in the wild (like proper brooding of eggs) that another species of domestic chicken doesn't have. It's not just more genetic diversity, it's genetic diversity with a track record of actually being able to survive in the wild in whatever region the species lives in. – dsollen Jun 6 '18 at 16:22
• I feel like there would be problems marketing zombie chickens for the table. – Willtech Jun 9 '18 at 2:03

Probably not.. ☹

Our lab for this experiment is the Hawaiian islands. Wild chickens persist only where there are not mongooses.

On the Island of Kauai in Hawaii, however, live thousands of feral chickens — once-domesticated birds that have reverted to a wild state — that provide a unique look into how domestic animals and their genes respond to the natural environment. Recent research shows that these birds are hybrids of the red junglefowl-like chickens that Polynesians brought to Hawaii and the more modern domesticated chickens introduced to Hawaii by European and U.S. settlers. It's thought that hurricanes that hit the island in 1982 and 1992 released chickens from people's backyards and into the forests, where they met and bred with the remnants of the Polynesian junglefowls (Kauai lacks imported predators like mongooses, which wiped out the ancient birds from the other Hawaiian Islands) https://www.livescience.com/57669-animal-sex-kauai-chickens.html

On the North American continent there are predators which fill the mongoose niche - specifically foxes and coyotes and also mustellids like weasels and mink. Birds of prey are also chicken predators. If mongooses alone could prevent domestic chickens from establishing in Hawaii outside of Kauai I do not think they could establish on the North American continent.

• And don't under-estimate cats and dogs, as well as existing feral animals, escaped pets will be present in large numbers and hungry. – Jack Aidley Jun 5 '18 at 13:48
• I'm not sure if this is a 1-to-1 comparison. The addition of an island creates much faster (and more final) evolutionary pressure than an open plains or woods. Chickens thrive in a vast number of biomes, surely they could (eventually) find one where mustelids/canines/felines didn't reign. – Carduus Jun 5 '18 at 14:42
• Domestic chicken are of the same species as the wild Red Junglefowl; some of them are also very very similar to the wild form. Since the wild chicken thrive in the wild (they are classed as "least concern"), we know that some chicken can live and prosper without human help... – AlexP Jun 5 '18 at 16:45
• I don't know about the Polynesian junglefowl, but I live on one of those other Hawaiian Islands, and the feral chickens are thriving. And we have tons of mongoose and feral cats and dogs – Quasi_Stomach Jun 5 '18 at 19:06
• I think you're misreading your source. Feral chickens are everywhere in Hawaii. In Kauai, the feral chickens interbred with Polynesian junglefowl. There's an interesting story here about genetics, but not predation. – Alex H. Jun 5 '18 at 19:48

Some will and some won't, there is a niche for a chicken-esque creature; a small flying browser/insectivore so chickens will survive and fill that niche in many places where there are stocks of birds that don't have maladaptive breeding and that are kept in conditions where they can survive and escape when the power goes out.

The chickens that are not going to survive are those in battery cages, those in high density feed sheds, and those that are being raised far outside their home climate range; those birds are all going to either starve, overheat, freeze, or die of thirst when the machines that feed, water, heat and/or cool them stop running.

Also probably not going to make it are "boiler" birds, meat breeds that are too heavy to fly; they're often in high density settings anyway and those that aren't will struggle to feed adequately on natural occurring foods due to their high metabolic rate and be relatively easy prey as they can't get off the ground or even run particularly well.

There are a number of breeds that will thrive in some areas but die out elsewhere, for example here in New Zealand a lot of hobby smallholders keep Chinese Silkies which is fine in the lowlands as long as they have really good shelter. In short Silkies are good in cold dry weather but near sea level in New Zealand the climate is generally too wet in the wet months and too hot in the dry ones, of which we're lucky to get two a year. In the wild they usually die because their feathers rot out. In more alpine climates they do much better though, and of course back home in Northern China they'll thrive because they're still well adapted to that climatic setting.

The real hardy generalists will probably survive most places, these tend to older breeds like the Rhode Island Red. Still that is provided they can get out into the wild environment.

Note also that flocks are more stable and successful, not to mention only long term viable, when they have rooster(s) in them. Small farm/lifestyle block flocks are going to be the avenue of survival for the species.

• Chickens do not fly. They can do long jumps flapping wings, but definitely not fly. – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 5 '18 at 12:47
• @L.Dutch My experience with birds that haven't had their wings clipped is that can fly for considerable distances when they feel the need, a bit like Partridge that can fly a hundred metres or so if they're in serious trouble but otherwise prefer to run. – Ash Jun 5 '18 at 12:52
• @L.Dutch The definition of fly is hard for chiken, They do have FLAP Nytro boost. They can stay in the air when tie to a bike with no place to rest using furious Flap for fews minutes long experiment. They do climb in tree using only wings force even if it's a 10 meter vertical climb. But they do not fly. Or summon heavy swarn when hit with a sword to many time. Still for predator they will be pretty much flying. – Drag and Drop Jun 5 '18 at 13:03
• @L.Dutch That depends on the type of chicken and how it was raised. Mine routinely fly up onto the roof for the night, and I had one once who could fly clear over the house without trouble. If she had fifteen feet to get a running start, she could fly close to 50 yards without stopping. Unfortunately she also liked to swim and froze herself to death one March day when it warmed up and then got cold again. :( – Perkins Jun 6 '18 at 8:05

We live in the countryside in northern Germany, and waht always reminds me very much about chicken is the Pheasant. It was originally brought here for feudal hunting parties, but manages to survive quite well on its own.

So I´d say yes, chicken will prevail!

• Chicken are actually members of the Phasianidae family. – AlexP Jun 5 '18 at 16:39

An example in the real world is Key West, Florida. There are a large population of wild chickens - they have been roaming the island for many decades, though who exactly introduced them is unclear. There are also many feral cats on the island; despite this, the chickens are flourishing. In a humanless world, there would be a far lower density of cats than in Key West; the chickens will do fine.

The answers above by L.Dutch, Willk, and Blurry are very good. Some additional evidence, however: there are in fact multiple colonies of feral chickens in the continental United States. My research discovered at least three: two in northern California (Fair Oaks and Yuba City), and one or two in Hollywood, LA. The wikipedia article for feral chickens lists some more, mostly in the US or Florida, though at least some of the Florida ones are on islands. So there are cases where feral chickens already exist and thrive in the continental United States. However, these are mostly restricted to warm climes in California and Florida, and the three I mentioned above (in Northern California and LA) are all based in urban areas where natural predators may be limited. So it is debatable, but as mentioned by others, I think their sheer numbers and genetic similarity to wild junglefowl, which survive quite effectively in the wild, means they would survive and thrive, at least in some regions of the United States, with tropical, subtropical, or Mediterranean climates. It's unclear if they could survive in more northerly or otherwise cold areas.

References:

• Are these strictly urban chickens? Might be be applicable to my situation of wild forest chickens in future Louisiana.... – kingledion Jun 6 '18 at 17:15
• It's hard to say, without having visited these places personally. Fair Oaks appears to be part of metro sacramento, but Yuba City a small town, and Hollywood is obviously urban. I would lean toward saying that the populations are mostly urban. At any rate, they don't appear to have rapidly spread across the wildernesses of rural California. – Anomaly Jun 6 '18 at 18:00

It depends on the numbers of chickens released and large numbers of ecological factors. Since there exist large numbers of chicken in the USA, releasing many of them within your target area will certainly increase their chances as opposed to only releasing a few of them. This is simply because evolution is a stochastic process.

More individuals, means more chances of survival and more chance on gaining (by natural selection) a significant new trait needed for survival. Large numbers of chicken may also learn to cooperate against predators. Most of all the answer will depend on ecological factors.

Biologists have often tried to predict how a species would survive in the wild, but often failed. It was for example thought that introducing rabbits to Australia was a good idea. Even with very advanced computer simulations it is impossible to know the answer to this question without first identifying the key parameters of the ecology. In practice this means, that such computer simulations can only reliably work for already existing fully understood eco-systems. Computer simulations will not accurately predict for not well understood eco-systems that do not even exist yet.

In short it is impossible to predict, but the good news is that no-one can prove you wrong

Here to stories for surviving and extincting chickens.

Surviving: After the big anti-bio-industry revolution, biological chickens were held in people gardens and had escaped in such a large number that vast colonies had already formed in the wild. Huge aggregations of chickens thrived and cooperated in the forests and hills. They were especially aggressive against other competing birds. One might think that wild cats would destroy this population quickly, but they actually maintained it. Because chickens became the main food source for these cats decreasing chicken population would follow by a decreasing cat population which in turn would increase the chicken population. The wild cats hunting for this chicken also were very territorial and thus kept the area clear of other predators.

Extincting: Those few chickens released from bio-industry were very low in genetic diversity. The ecosystem they needed to adapt to was also not similar enough to their original eco-system in China/India. The first hundred years chicken could be occasionally seen. After this their place in the ecosystem was taken over by other birds and rodents gradually. Small relic populations of chickens would survive on earth for at least several thousand years, but not within the Mississippi area.

According to Google the average number of eggs a free range chicken can lay per year is 100.

In comparison, the average number of litters a rat can have per year is 17 (with 10+ babies per litter). So that's upto 170 baby rats per year.

Ofcourse, this all assumes ideal settings for raising young, but it's clear that the chicken can be as numerous as rats when breeding (with the rat coming out on top).

Now, (according to Google) a rat needs about 8 pounds of food per year, and a chicken needs about 78 pounds of food per year.

So while chickens can reproduce very quickly. Their population is greatly limited by the amount of food that population can get. I think the problem here is that the chicken has been bred by humans to grow in weight extremely quickly, and that trait has cost them their ability to survive in the wild without access to a lot of food.

So, I think the answer is no, chicken's wouldn't take over the world, but the rats might. Should there ever be a cross breeds of winged chicken-rats, then we are all doomed.

• Isn't a chicken normally quite a bit larger than a rat? That would explain the food intake differences. – kingledion Jun 6 '18 at 0:45
• @kingledion true, and rats likely need lesser space to find food. I have no idea how much food per square mile there is for a chicken in the wild. 78 pounds just seemed like a lot. If you had 1,000 chickens then that's a lot of food. – Reactgular Jun 6 '18 at 0:48
• As an owner of Chickens, they eat just about anything. Many kinds of plants (and they naturally avoid ones they don't like/are poisonous), bugs, they (ironically given your comment) eat mice, carrion, small snakes, bugs, mushrooms. Chickens are basically bird-goats. – blurry Jun 6 '18 at 15:35
• @blurry True, but rats are not exactly known for their culinary pickiness, either. – corsiKa Jun 6 '18 at 17:36

I'd say yes. Sure most would die out but in the end they would survive. There are just so many different types of chicken breeds in so many different parts of the planet. Some breeds are tougher than others like the Australorp which is a very hardy utility chicken, able to handle the extreme heat of Australia, or the Jersey Giant which is the largest able to handle the very cold, right down to much smaller, faster breeds able to survive eating less.

If some survive to interbreed they would naturally select for wild varieties able to survive in a wide variety of climates. Given that breeders of free range chickens have often already selected a breed to suit their environment prior to their demise some would do okay. The wildfowl that chickens are descended from occurred all over the world 8000 years ago, so in the past they did just fine without us.

Similarly roosters protect their flock as their mission in life outside of breeding and can be very aggressive. I've seen roosters chest bump dogs out of the way when the dog got between them and their hens and often they're the only thing frightening a fox away enough for chickens to escape. Wildfowl roosters would be even more formidable.

i think they'd survive in certain places they're adapted well for. the reason is, in my opinion, that over time the landscape of potential predators would change as well, until it a more-or-less stable chicken/predator equilibrium is reached.

i remember the book "Evolution" by stephen baxter where he posits that cats would not survive in most areas, because they're too dependent on human civilization. this would probably be also true for other domesticated predators like dogs, which could probably survive in certain pockets and change into a wild dog variant (like dingos), but would also face increased competition by other, more human-independent predators like coyotes, wolves and bears. other predators like rats (eggs, chicks) will loose ground with the disappearance of cities and trash as a plentiful food source.

especially the re-emergence of wolves and bears as apex predators might change the landscape of other predators significantly. there's a popular video - https://ethology.eu/how-wolves-change-rivers/ - describing the changes reintroduced wolves bring to an ecology (i.e. they'd kill coyotes, but that creates a new niche for foxes).

so the changed predatory landscape might mean that there might be a better chance of survival for them, as chicken hunters which thrive near human population (this could include mustelidae, i.e. ferrets, weasels, minks, badgers) would face difficulties of their own.

edit: as for the mongoose problem - in a geologically confined area like the hawaiian islands with a predator like the mongoose the chances are massively stacked against the chicken initially. but in the long run there might still be a chance due to neighboring populations. i.e. if the mongoose population rises manage to kill off all chickens the mongoose population itself will vanish as there'd be no readily available food source left to maintain a minimally viable predator population. the chicken could make a comeback from neighboring isles later (which would be easier for them as they're birds; they might be able to survive being blown across neighboring islands by storms while carrying fertilized eggs).

without being geologically confined, i.e. on bigger islands or on the continents, successful populations would spread out, keeping density low - which would limit mongoose/predator density also, preventing the total decimation of the chicken population.

• Welcome to worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. Thanks for this good first answer! – JBH Jun 9 '18 at 14:55

What conditions would be favorable:

• Chickens are poor fliers, although I bet that selection would put a lot of pressure on getting better.
• They can roost in trees.
• They are subject to predation by a bunch of critters.
• They don't fly well enough to migrate.

So look for regions that have a mix of trees/large shrubs and grasslands, that have a climate that is reasonable year round.

While chickens are not noted for their smarts, I will point out that other birds, such as grouse, aren't avian Einsteins and seem to do quite well. Many upland game birds and some ducks nest at ground level, and while they lose a lot of eggs to predators, still manage to make it.

Most of the birds that are successful however are well camouflaged. A female pheasant, duck, grouse is very hard to see when not moving. Varieties that are grey, or speckled will do better than ones that are pure white or red.

I'll support the chicken. But it will be a leaner, smarter, tougher bird than what you get in your supermarket. Think tough old laying hen with attitude.

I'm going to have to say no, while it might be possible, there will need to be a huge number of things to go right, such as the time stuff happens, weather, amount of cover etc.

If it occurs at night time, only 99.9999999% would die after a week or so. while of the ones that survive will likely have spent most of the time outside and can wander back and forth.

But you need to remember alot of places keep the hens and cockerals seperate, so the chances of viable breeding population will be almost nil.

At home, we got chickens, just hens though, we wouldn't want a cockeral as they make so much noise constantly.

• Where did you get your numbers from? – Mołot Jun 5 '18 at 14:39
• Did you mean 99.99999% would die? As written you seem to be implying most chickens would be fine. – Bellerophon Jun 5 '18 at 15:32
• yes it meant to say would die but i got distracted by looking at pictures of my own chickens – IgnisSnowman Jun 6 '18 at 7:47
• Why all the downvotes? – Vincent Jun 8 '18 at 7:18
• because i made a slight mistake in the post and thats against the rules – IgnisSnowman Jun 8 '18 at 13:33

There is high probability that yes. First of all, predators are not humans. They won't go only for chickens. They know the value of balanced diet.

Second the lack of humans would result in boost of predators usually capped by human hunting. Which in turn will turn to prey on other, but smaller, predators. So for example wolves won't go for chicken but for foxes or bobcats or cats/dogs.

Third - chickens are pack animals. Stories where foxes choke all chickens in chickencoop are only because there is chickencoop. In "semi wild" chickens will live on trees and will go down only to look for food.

• Why would wolf try hunting foxes when chickens are around? There is no reason for that. Also, no, predators do not know value of balanced diet and in fact will go after easiest prey. – Mołot Jun 5 '18 at 12:11
• Because wolfs may not be able to digest poultry. For example for dogs the thin bones f chicken can be deadly. Second wolves hunt in pack so they can go for large preys. they won't waste energy on small things that can flap wings and escape. Also wolfs are aphex predators so it's more likely they will feast on tertiary or secondary predators. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 5 '18 at 12:25
• In the wild, wolves don't really hunt other predators for food. They'll kill them to reduce the competition, but actively hunting them as a prey species is not really observed behaviour. Also, chicken bones are only dangerous for dogs once cooked as they turn brittle and shatter into sharp shards. Uncooked they're actually quite good for them. For instance, we feed our two dogs largely on cheap uncooked chicken legs and breasts. It's much healthier for them than canned food (although for different reasons than the presence of bones). – Ynneadwraith Jun 5 '18 at 13:07
• statesmanjournal.com/story/tech/science/environment/2017/03/27/… – user25818 Jun 5 '18 at 19:21