Red and Grey Junglefowl are rather dashing tropical pheasants that dwell in the jungles of South East Asia. Though you might find them more recognizable when they are naked, sadly they are not a game filly, they are actually the direct ancestors of an altogether more familiar and rather intriguing old bird; the chicken.
The chook is a bundle of tastiness that was borne from the interbreeding of these two jungle birds. These red and grey jungle fowl may very well be the original chicken, but what came first the chicken or the egg? It’s a question that has foxed people with far too much time on their hands for millennia.
Nearly two and a half thousand years ago Aristotle clearly got confused by the question and concluded that both must always have existed. Over four hundred years later Plutarch neatly dodged the question and dribbled on about it being a bigger question… that of the creation of the world… nice try beardy. Stephen Hawking argues that the egg must come first, assuming the egg was either an egg in general or an egg that hatches into a chicken. If we rather illogically thought that the egg had to be laid by a chicken then we would have to ask ‘What came first the chicken or the chicken’s egg?’ Which is a silly question. So it has to be that the egg that came first! Hurrah! Though after all that cerebral straining I fear I’m about to find out what comes first the nosebleed or the large G & T… hopefully it’s the latter.
Now, enough philosophizing, what of this omnipresent former jungle fowl; the chicken. We’ve seen plenty of fat birds with the deliciousness gene eaten off the planet, from the dodo to the great auk via the passenger pigeon. Though sometimes it works the other way round, we like the species so much we domesticate it, look after it, and reproduce it in incredible numbers, 24 billion in the case of chickens, making it the most abundant bird on the planet… an incredible triumph in evolutionary terms. These delightful creatures also menstruate in handy little packages, and we find these little eggy periods absolutely delicious too! Sounds like something only a Scot would eat I know, but we manage to get through 69 billion a year… no not just us two… I meant mankind. I like to have mine boiled, with toast cut up into soldiers. Of course I think you, being a devilishly clever bunch, know by now what the difference between a slice of toast and the French is.
Of course the story of this scrumptious bird is woven intrinsically into the human story. The first pictures of chicken in Europe are on Corinthian pottery of the 7th Century, though it’s likely they arrived around 3000bc. Ancient Greeks spoke of their qualities of braveness and thought that even the lion was afraid of cocks.
One last thing, I’m sure you know by now that we at the Proceedings like to save the best ‘til last. It seems that the Chicken is the only animal described that managed to live without a head. Yes that’s right a Chicken once lived sans bonce.
Mike was his name, after a farmer in 1940’s Colorado botched lopping his noggin off, he lived through the usually rather fatal wound. The farmer had somehow chopped off the rather important bit of his anatomy while retaining a little bit of the brain stem. Feeling sorry for headless Mike the farmer’s family kept him alive, feeding him with an eyedropper full of milk. Mike became quite the star over his short 18 month life span, appearing in both Time and Life magazines… though it’s unlikely that even fame could get him a lot of chicks.
One final thing about these amazing ancestors of jungle fowl, and that’s the other age old problem ‘Why did the Chicken cross the road?’ Well it turns out that he was French and was simply retreating.
‘But what of that fabulous bird the jungle fowl! This is an article on chickens!’ I hear you cry, well the fowl are smashing creatures, but sadly they are really nothing to write home about. Though I can tell you they do taste a bit like chicken.