Gallus ferrugineas


Gallus ferrugineas.

Jungli moorghi, Hindustani.

"Just like a bantam " is the verdict generally passed on the appearance of honest chanticleer in his wild state, whether the observer be an Anglo-Indian shikari or a lady visiting the London Zoo; and the comparison is apt enough on the whole, for red jungle- fowl, which are simply wild common fowls, have the red-and-black colour in the cock and partridge-brown in the hen, so familiar in many bantams, and are of noticeably small size compared with most tame breeds.

They are over bantam weight, however, cocks averaging about two pounds and hens about half that; and the tail, which is very long in the cock, is carried trailing, not cocked up as in tame fowls. This applies to all kinds of jungle-fowl, none of which strut like the tame bird, and this familiar species has, at any rate in Indian specimens, a particularly slinking gait. Burmese birds have much more the appearance of tame poultry than the Western ones, and are said to be easier to tame; so, unless they are domestic birds run wild, it is probably this particular subspecies that was the ancestor of our farmyard fowls.

To anyone who wants jungle-fowl alive, and wishes to make sure of getting the absolutely real thing, however, I recommend the Indian race, which is characterized by having the ear-lobe (the little skinny flap below the ear) white, and the face flesh-colour, contrasting with the scarlet comb and wattles; the slate-coloured legs are also peculiarly fine. Burmese birds have all the bare skin of the head of the same red, and are certainly not so scared-looking or wild in behaviour, while slightly coarser in form. Of course wherever tame fowls are kept there is a great liability to intermixture with their wild ancestors, so that ill-bred "jungle- fowl " may be expected to turn up anywhere. The fowl also runs wild very readily in the tropics, so that it is really uncertain what its eastern limits are. It does not occur west of India, nor in the south of India itself, neither does it ascend the hills for more than 5,000 feet, and only goes to that level in summer. In the foot-hills it is particularly common, and, generally speaking, it affects hilly country, so long as water is accessible and there is plenty of bamboo or tree-jungle, for it is essentially a woodland bird, though it will come out into the open where there is cultivation in order to feed on the grain. Many of course never see grain all their lives, and live entirely on wild seeds, herbage, insects, &c.

In Burma jungle-fowl are common both in the hills and plains, and extend into Tenasserim and Sumatra. Even if the Burmese and Malayan birds are truly wild, I quite agree with Hume that the genuine aboriginal wildness of the red jungle-fowl found in the East Indies beyond Sumatra is very doubtful. The very distinct green jungle-fowl (Gallus varius) ranges from Java to Flores, and looking to the distribution of jungle-fowl and similar birds generally, it is very unlikely that the red species originally lived alongside this bird.

However, to consider more practical matters. This jungle-fowl may be looked for anywhere in the limits above specified if the country is suitable; it avoids alike deserts and high cultivation, and is generally absent from alluvial land, though quite common in the Sundarbans. Here, however, it is suspected of being an introduced bird, as it certainly is on the Cocos.

The fowl since its domestication by man has added no new note to its vocabulary : cackle, cluck and crow were its original language. But whereas the tame cock is always credited with saying " cock-a-doodle-doo," the wild bird's call is better rendered " cock-a-doodle-don't," given in a shrill, aggressive falsetto. Anyone who has heard a bantam crow knows exactly what I mean for the notes of bantam and wild cock are indistinguishable. Like a bantam-cock, also, the wild bird will live quite happily with a single hen, though this is not universal, and harems are often found ; no doubt, as too often with his betters, polygamy is simply a matter of opportunity with chanticleer, though even in the tame state it is often obvious that he has a particular affection for one hen, as was noticed by Chaucer in his "Nonnes Priestes Tale." Jungle-fowl of this species particularly affect sal jungle where it exists, and in India are seldom found away from it; they roost on trees at night, and take to them in any case rather more readily than pheasants. Their flight is also much like that of pheasants, so that they afford very similar shooting if they can be driven; but they will not rise if they can help it, and in thick cover you cannot even see them as a rale without a dog to put them up. They will readily answer an imitation of their crow— at least I found it so the only time I tried ; and anyone can practise on a bantam-cock, which will probably attack them when he understands the insult !

Jungle-fowl themselves are exceedingly pugnacious, and have regular fighting-places in the jungle; the duels are sometimes to the death, for the birds have enormous spurs. When challenging, or courting a hen, the wild cock erects his tail like a tame one. After the breeding-season, which may be at any time during the first half of the year, but in the north at any rate only during the second quarter, the cock goes into undress, his flaming frill of hackles giving place to a sober short collar of black, and, as he loses his long tail " sickles " at the same time, he hardly looks like the same bird. Young cocks begin to show the male feathering long before they are full sized, and so are easily distinguishable from their sisters. In the autumn these yearling young birds are fat and particularly good eating.

The jungle-hen lays on the ground in thickets, the nest being a mere scrape among dead leaves as a rule, but some make up a nest of hay and stalks, &c. About half a dozen eggs are the usual clutch, and they are cream-coloured and of course smaller than a tame hen's. The chicks are striped with chocolate and cream on a brown ground; the mother looks after them with the greatest care and devoted courage.

Naturally so widespread a bird as this has many names, mostly signifying the same as the English—wild fowl; Bon-kokra in Bengali; Ayam-utan in the Malay States; Tau-kyet in Burma; Natsu-pia among the Bhutias; Pazok-tchi with the Lepchas ; and Beer-seem among the Kols.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Gallus ferrugineas
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Red Jungle Fowl
Red Junglefowl
Gallus gallus
Term name: 

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