Red junglefowl -- 原鸡 (Gallus gallus)

Male red junglefowl
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Red junglefowl fact file

Red junglefowl description

GenusGallus (1)

Red junglefowl are the wild ancestors of all domestic poultry (3), although the rooster is said to be more brilliantly colored than its tame relative (4). The vibrant male has long, golden-orange to deep-red crown and neck feathers, and a dark metallic-green tail with a white tuft at the base. The underparts are a dull black while the upperparts are a combination of glossy blue-green, rich dark red, maroon-red, fiery orange, rufous and blackish brown (3). The colourful cock also has vivid scarlet-red facial skin, throat, two lappets and heavily dented fleshy crest (comb), and red or white ear patches on the sides of the head (3) (4) (5). The rather drab female is a dull brown-gold colour (6) with a partly naked, pale red face and throat (3). After the summer moult, from June to September, the male develops an ‘eclipse plumage’, in which the golden neck feathers (hackles) are replaced with dull black feathers, the long tail feathers are lost, and the comb reduces in size and becomes duller in colour (3) (4). With much hybridisation between pure and domestic stock, the standard criteria of pure wild junglefowl include the tail being carried horizontally in both sexes, the absence of a comb in the female, and dark or slate grey leg colour and an annual eclipse moult in the male (3) (7).

There are five subspecies, which vary in the colour of the facial lappets, in the size of the combs, and in the length, colour and terminal end shape of the neck hackles of males during the breeding season (2) (8).

Male length: 65 – 75 cm (2)
Female length: 42 – 46 cm (2)
Male weight: 672 – 1450 g (2)
Female weight: 485 – 1050 g (2)

Red junglefowl biology

The red junglefowl lives in small mixed flocks during the non-breeding season - summer, autumn and winter (3). These have a hierarchical social system in which there is a ‘pecking order’ for both males and females (4). In the spring, at the onset of the breeding season, each of the stronger cocks maintains a territory with three to five hens (3). Meanwhile, young cocks live isolated in twos and threes. Studies have shown that the offspring of top roosters are more likely to grow up to be leaders than are those of low-ranking males, and that hierarchy may have a genetic component. Experiments have shown that females have the ability to retain or eject sperm, and that they consistently retain the sperm of the one or two dominant roosters in the group and eject that of all others (10). Hens produce four to seven, typically four to six, eggs per clutch, which are incubated for 18 to 20 days by the female only (2) (4). At twelve weeks of age, the young are chased out of the social group by their mother, and go off to join another group or form their own (4).

Red junglefowl forage on the ground for seeds, fruit and insects, using their feet to scratch away the leaf-litter in search of food (5).


Red junglefowl range

Native to Southern and Southeast Asia (6), from India eastward and south through Indonesia, but the domestic form is found worldwide and hybridisation is widespread (8). Five subspecies are usually recognised: the Indian red junglefowl (G. g. murghi) occurs in north and northeast India, adjacent Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh; the Burmese red junglefowl (G. g. spadiceus) in southwest Yunnan (China) and adjacent east Arunachal Pradesh (India), Myanmar, Thailand (except East), Peninsular Malaysia and north Sumatra; the Tonkinese red junglefowl (G. g. jabouillei) in southeast Yunnan and Hainan (China) and north Vietnam; the Cochin-Chinese red junglefowl (G. g. gallus) in east Thailand through central and south Laos, and Cambodia to central and south Vietnam; and the Javan red junglefowl (G. g. bankiva) in south Sumatra, Java and Bali (2) (8) (9).


Red junglefowl habitat

The red junglefowl occupies most tropical and subtropical habitats throughout its extensive range, including mangroves, scrubland and plantations, although it seems to prefer flat or gently sloping terrain, forest edges and secondary forest (2) (4). It is also found in the foothills of the Himalayas. Found from sea level up to around 2,500 metres (2).


Red junglefowl status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Red junglefowl threats

The red junglefowl is generally considered common and widespread despite habitat loss and poaching within its range (5) (8). The bird is affected relatively little by habitat loss because it can occupy a variety of habitats, including secondary vegetation and man-made habitats, such as rubber and oil-palm plantations and planted fields on forest edges (2) (11). However, it has recently come to light that genetic contamination through interbreeding with domestic and feral chickens poses the real threat, pushing pure wild junglefowl to the verge of extinction (4) (8). Eclipse plumage, one of the indicators of pure stock, is now only seen in populations in the western and central regions of the species' geographic range, and it is therefore feared that the pure form of this colourful bird has disappeared completely from extreme south-east Asia. Due to the high density of the human population, whose domestic chickens could continue to contaminate the red junglefowl genetically, the purity of the species, where it remains, is in constant danger (4) (7) (11).


Red junglefowl conservation

With as much hybridisation in captivity as in the wild, both between pure and domestic stock and between the five subspecies, a studbook has now been developed and many breeders are having their birds’ DNA tested for purity (8). The World Pheasant Association is also undertaking extensive DNA research, but sadly virtually all the birds in captivity in Europe have been found to display hybridised genes (11). It seems that its domestic descendents will be the undoing of this unique wild bird, which has been quietly slipping into genetic extinction, before the world was even aware of, and could appropriately respond to, the situation (7). In the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where local people appear never to have allowed free roaming domestic poultry, due to high numbers of predators such as leopards (Panthera pardus) and leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), junglefowl that retain traditional morphology continue to exist and are currently the subject of considerable research (11).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Junglefowl have been used in the development of a number of medical developments that have benefited mankind. Among these are the first anti-malarial drugs, anti-cobra venom and the chicken genome project.

For more information on the red junglefowl see:


  • del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



Authenticated (23/01/07) by John Corder, Vice President of the World Pheasant Association, and Chairman of the European Conservation Breeding Group of the World Pheasant Association.



The fleshy crest on the heads of certain birds, especially fowl.
Previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
Any of the long, slender, often glossy feathers on the neck of a bird, especially a male domestic fowl.
The process of producing offspring of cross-bred species or subspecies.
Cross-breeding with a different species or subspecies.
Wattle: a fleshy wrinkled and often brightly coloured fold of skin hanging from the neck or throat of certain birds (chickens and turkeys) or lizards.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Delacour, J. (1951) The Pheasants of the World. Country Life Ltd, London.
  4. Animal Diversity Web (August, 2006)
  5. Wild Singapore (August, 2006)
  6. Genome Sequencing Center (August, 2006)
  7. Brisbin, I. (1997) Concerns for the Genetic Integrity and Conservation Status of the Red Junglefowl. SPPA Bulletin, 2(3): 1 - 2.
  8. Dedicated to the Aviculture and Conservation of the World’s Galliformes (August, 2006)
  9. Madge, S. and McGowan, P. (2002) Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse. Helm, London.
  10. 2Can Support Portal Bioinformatics: Gallus gallus (chicken) has long been used by biologists to study how embryos develop (August, 2006)
  11. Corder, J. (2006) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Male red junglefowl  
Male red junglefowl


James Warwick


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