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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007

Something's killing off Kauai chickens

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A hen and three roosters stalk a Lihu'e parking lot. Authorities have noticed clusters of unexplained deaths among flocks of feral chickens in several parts of the island but have not been able to pinpoint the cause. Lab tests may provide the answer next week.

JAN TENBRUGGENCATE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Residents who find dead chickens can call 211 to report their finds, and arrange pickup.

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LIHU'E, Kaua'i —Wild chickens are dying in clutches around Kaua'i, and nobody knows why.

State veterinarian James Foppoli said laboratory samples have been taken from chicken carcasses, and preliminary results may be available as early as next week. But the cause does not appear to be either West Nile Virus or avian flu.

Foppoli and Dr. Becky Rhoades, head of the Kaua'i Humane Society, said they fear someone may have poisoned chickens, but thus far, there is no evidence of it, both said.

If it's inadvertent poisoning, like pesticides used inappropriately, then it is also possible that pets and children could be at risk, Foppoli said.

Rhoades said there have been several cases of clusters of dead chickens, in different parts of the island. The most recent, within the past two weeks, have been a group of 20 dead birds at Wailua, five at Anahola and several at Kapa'a.

"All of these places, we usually see that people have been feeding them," Rhoades said.

If they're not dying of poison, "it could be viral. It could be bacterial. It could be parasites. We don't know," she said.

Kaua'i is undeniably overrun with chickens. The island for generations has had a population of feral — meaning domestic-gone-wild — chickens. But the numbers increased dramatically after Hurricane Iniki, when, according to folk wisdom, a lot of fighting-chicken pens were blown apart and the chickens got out.

The numbers of wild chickens soared. Today they patrol fast-food parking lots, scratch along the roadsides, perch in landscape trees, cruise neighborhoods and generally make a lot of noise.

"We have a lot of feral chickens. Nobody knows how many there are," said Rhoades. The humane society last year received 1,500 trapped chickens from Kaua'i residents who wanted them out of their neighborhoods.

Many visitors are fascinated by the animals, but the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau does not in any way advertise the chicken population.

"You see chicken-related items in stores across the island. Tourists stop at the side of the road to take pictures of them," said bureau chief Sue Kanoho. But the visitors bureau also receives complaints from visitors forced to share the shoreline with aggressive fowl at places like Ke'e Beach, she said.

One problem is that for everyone sick and tired of the cackling and the predawn rooster calling, there seems to be someone feeding the birds. Rhoades said she believes the feeding may be helping cause problems for the chickens — and may be involved in the deaths.

"I do think it's related to people feeding and inflating the population," she said. If they interrupt the feeding, the chickens could be stressed, she said.

Foppoli said he doubts that's the problem, because chickens are so hardy.

"Chickens are pretty good at fending for themselves. They are survivors. Usually, if you have a die-off, the first thing you have to think of is, who's sick and tired of hearing them crow," Foppoli said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.