Red junglefowl

The red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) is a tropical bird in the family Phasianidae. They are the primary progenitor of the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) (though genetic evidence strongly suggests some past hybridisation with the grey junglefowl, as well).[2] The red junglefowls were first domesticated at least 5,000 years ago in India. Since then, their domestic form has spread around the world and is kept globally as a very productive food source of both meat and eggs.[3]

Red junglefowl
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Genus: Gallus
G. gallus
Binomial name
Gallus gallus
Red junglefowl range

Phasianus gallus Linnaeus, 1758

Taxonomy and systematics

Numerous wild and domestic subspecies of Gallus gallus exist, including:


The true nominate race of red junglefowl has a mix of feather colours, with orange, brown, red, gold, grey, white, olive and even metallic green plumage. The tail of the male roosters can grow up to 28 centimetres (11 in), and the whole bird may be as long as 70 centimetres (28 in). There are 14 tail feathers. A moult in June changes the bird's plumage to an eclipse pattern, which lasts through October. The male eclipse pattern includes a black feather in the middle of the back, and small red-orange plumes spread across the body. Female eclipse plumage is generally indistinguishable from the plumage at other seasons, but the moulting schedule is the same as males.[4]

Compared to the more familiar domestic chicken, the red junglefowl has a much smaller body mass (around 2¼ lbs (1 kg) in females and 3¼ lbs (1.5kg) in males) and is brighter in coloration.[4] Junglefowl are also behaviourally different from domestic chickens, being naturally very shy of humans compared to the much tamer domesticated subspecies.

Sexual dimorphism

Male junglefowl are significantly larger than females, and have brightly coloured decorative feathers. The male's tail is composed of long, arching feathers that initially look black, but shimmer with blue, purple, and green in bright light. He also has long, golden hackle feathers on his neck and on his back. The female's plumage is typical of this family of birds in being cryptic and adapted for camouflage. She alone looks after the eggs and chicks. She also has a very small comb and wattles (fleshy ornaments on the head that signal good health to rivals and potential mates) compared to the males.

During their mating season, the male birds announce their presence with the well known "cock-a-doodle-doo" call or crowing. Male red junglefowl have a shorter crowing sound than domestic roosters; the call cuts off abruptly at the end.[5] This serves both to attract potential mates and to make other male birds in the area aware of the risk of fighting a breeding competitor. A spur on the lower leg just behind and above the foot serves in such fighting. Their call structure is complex and they have distinctive alarm calls for aerial and ground predators to which others react appropriately.[6][7]

Distribution and habitat

The range of the wild form stretches from India, eastwards across Indochina and southern China and into Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Junglefowl were one of three main animals (along with the domesticated pigs and dogs) carried by early Austronesian peoples from Island Southeast Asia in their voyages to the islands of Oceania in prehistory, starting at around 5,000 BP. Today their ancient descendants are found throughout Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.[8]

Behaviour and ecology

Red junglefowl regularly bathe in dust to keep just the right balance in their plumage. The dust absorbs extra oil and subsequently falls off.[9]

Flight in these birds is almost purely confined to reaching their roosting areas at sunset in trees or any other high and relatively safe places free from ground predators, and for escape from immediate danger through the day.


Males make a food-related display called "tidbitting", performed upon finding food in the presence of a female.[10] The display is composed of coaxing, cluck-like calls, and eye-catching bobbing and twitching motions of the head and neck. During the performance, the male repeatedly picks up and drops the food item with his beak. The display usually ends when the hen takes the food item either from the ground or directly from the male's beak. Mating then sometimes occurs.[11]

The red junglefowl breeds spring through summer, with the bird laying an egg every day. Eggs take 21 days to develop. Chicks fledge in about 4 to 5 weeks, and at 12 weeks old are chased out of the group by their mother at which point they start a new group or join an existing one. Sexual maturity is reached at 5 months, with females taking slightly longer than males to reach maturity. [4]


They are omnivorous and feed on insects, seeds, and fruits, including those that are cultivated such as those of the oil palm.[12]

Relationship to humans

The red junglefowl was domesticated for human use well over 5,000 years ago as subspecies Gallus gallus domesticus. Known as chickens, they are a major source of food for humans. However, undomesticated red junglefowls still represent an important source of meat and eggs in their endemic range. The undomesticated form is sometimes used in cock-fighting.[4]

Timeline of domestication

In 2012, a study examined mitochondrial DNA recovered from ancient bones from Europe, Thailand, the Pacific, and Chile, and from Spanish colonial sites in Florida and the Dominican Republic, in directly dated samples originating in Europe at 1,000 BP and in the Pacific at 3,000 BP. The study showed that chickens were most likely domesticated from wild red junglefowl, though some have suggested possible genetic contributions from other junglefowl species. Domestication occurred at least 7,400 years ago from a common ancestor flock in the bird's natural range, then proceeded in waves both east and west. The earliest undisputed domestic chicken remains are bones associated with a date around 7,400 BP from the Chishan site, in the Hebei province of China. In the Ganges region of India, red junglefowl were being used by humans as early as 7,000 years ago. No domestic chicken remains older than 4,000 years have been identified in the Indus Valley, and the antiquity of chickens recovered from excavations at Mohenjodaro is still debated.[3]

Genomic information
NCBI genome ID111
Number of chromosomes78
Year of completion2012


The other three members of the genus – Sri Lanka junglefowl (G. lafayetii), grey junglefowl (G. sonneratii), and the green junglefowl (G. varius) – do not usually produce fertile hybrids with the red junglefowl, suggesting that this is the domestic chicken's sole ancestor. However, supporting the hypothesis of a hybrid origin, research published in 2008 found that the gene responsible for the yellow skin of the domestic chicken most likely originated from the closely related grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) and not from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus).[2] A culturally significant hybrid between the red junglefowl and the green junglefowl in Indonesia is known as the bekisar.


Purebred red junglefowl are thought to be facing a serious threat of extinction due to hybridisation at the edge of forests, where domesticated free-ranging chickens are common.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]


  1. BirdLife International (2012). "Gallus gallus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. Eriksson, Jonas; Larson, Greger; Gunnarsson, Ulrika; Bed'hom, Bertrand; Tixier-Boichard, Michele; Strömstedt, Lina; Wright, Dominic; Jungerius, Annemieke; et al. (23 January 2008), "Identification of the Yellow Skin Gene Reveals a Hybrid Origin of the Domestic Chicken", PLoS Genetics, PLoS Genet, preprint (2008): e10, doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000010.eor
  3. Storey, A.A.; et al. (2012). "Investigating the global dispersal of chickens in prehistory using ancient mitochondrial DNA signatures". PLoS ONE. 7 (7): e39171. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039171. PMC 3405094. PMID 22848352.
  4. Gautier, Zoe. "Gallus gallus (red junglefowl)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  5. Wild Singapore: Red Junglefowl, updated 9 October, accessed 1 January 2014.
  6. Collias, N. E. (1987), "The vocal repertoire of the red junglefowl: A spectrographic classification and the code of communication", The Condor, 89 (3): 510–524, doi:10.2307/1368641, JSTOR 1368641
  7. Evans, C. S.; Macedonia, J. M.; Marler, P. (1993), "Effects of apparent size and speed on the response of chickens, Gallus gallus, to computer-generated simulations of aerial predators", Animal Behaviour, 46 (1): 1–11, doi:10.1006/anbe.1993.1156
  8. Piper, Philip J. (2017). "The Origins and Arrival of the Earliest Domestic Animals in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia: A Developing Story of Complexity". In Piper, Philip J.; Matsumura, Hirofumi; Bulbeck, David (eds.). New Perspectives in Southeast Asian and Pacific Prehistory. terra australis. 45. ANU Press. ISBN 9781760460945.
  9. Brinkley, Edward S., and Jane Beatson. "Fascinating Feathers ." Birds. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Children's Books, 2000. 15. Print.
  10. Animal Behaviour Lab Dr Chris Evans,, 15 November 2006, archived from the original on 2 May 2009, retrieved 22 April 2009
  11. Home,, archived from the original on 11 December 2008, retrieved 22 April 2009
  12. Arshad MI; M Zakaria; AS Sajap; A Ismail (2000), "Food and feeding habits of Red Junglefowl", Pakistan J. Biol. Sci., 3 (6): 1024–1026, doi:10.3923/pjbs.2000.1024.1026
  13. I. Lehr Brisbin Jr., Concerns for the genetic integrity and conservation status of the red junglefowl, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802 (with permission from SPPA Bulletin, 1997, 2(3):1-2): FeatherSite, retrieved 19 September 2007
  14. Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, archived from the original on 18 September 2007
  15. Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) page & links
  16. Tomas P. Condon, Morphological and Behavioral Characteristics of Genetically Pure Indian Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus murghi, archived from the original on 29 June 2007, retrieved 19 September 2007
  17. Hawkins, W.P. (n.d.). Carolinas/Virginia Pheasant & Waterfowl Society. Red Junglefowl – Pure Strain,, retrieved 19 September 2007
  18. Gautier, Z. 2002. Gallus gallus (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed 19 September 2007,, retrieved 22 April 2009
  19. Genetic invasion threatens red jungle fowl, Wildlife Trust of India, New Delhi, 9 January 2006, archived from the original on 5 November 2007, retrieved 19 September 2007
  20. "Red Junglefowl genetically swamped", Tragopan No. 12, P. 10, World Birdwatch 22 (2), 1 June 2000, retrieved 19 September 2007, According to some scientists, truly wild populations of the red junglefowl Gallus gallus are either extinct or in grave danger of extinction due to introgression of genes from domestic or feral chickens
  21. "Red Junglefowl – Species factsheet: Gallus gallus", BirdLife Species Factsheet, BirdLife International, 2007, retrieved 20 September 2007
  22. Peterson, A.T. & Brisbin, I. L. Jr. (1999), "Genetic endangerment of wild red junglefowl (Gallus gallus)", Bird Conservation International, 9 (4): 387–394, doi:10.1017/s0959270900002148
  23. Brisbin, I. L. Jr. (1969), "Behavioral differentiation of wildness in two strains of Red Junglefowl (abstract)", Am. Zool., 9: 1072
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