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The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is a domesticated junglefowl species, with attributes of wild species such as the grey and the Ceylon junglefowl[1] that are originally from Southeast Asia. Rooster and cock are terms for adult male birds, and a younger male may be called a cockerel. A male that has been castrated is a capon. An adult female bird is called a hen, and a sexually immature female is called a pullet. Humans keep chickens primarily as a source of food (consuming both their meat and eggs) or as pets. Traditionally they were also bred for cockfighting, which is still practiced in some places. Chickens domesticated for meat are broilers and for eggs are layers.


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Genetic studies have pointed to multiple maternal origin theories of within South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia,[3] but the clade found in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa originated from the Indian subcontinent. From ancient India, the chicken spread to the Eastern Mediterranean. They appear in ancient Egypt in the mid-15th century BC, with the "bird that gives birth every day" having come from the land between Syria and Shinar, Babylonia, according to the annals of Thutmose III.[4][5][6] They are known in ancient Greece from the 5th century BC.[7][8]

Chicken may also mean a chick .mw-parser-output div.crossreferencepadding-left:0(see for example Hen and Chicken Islands).[20] In fact, chicken was originally a term only for an immature, or at least young, bird.[when?] In older sources, chicken as a species were typically referred to as common fowl or domestic fowl.[21][page needed][failed verification]

In Australian vernacular English the word chook provides the generic term for the species (e.g. "a cooked chook" or "she keeps chooks"); which enables chicken to commonly retain its original sense of a young or recently hatched bird. Chick is then rarely used to mean chicken, but is mainly used in Merriam-Webster's "Sense 1b" viz. the young of any bird.

An early domestication of chickens in Southeast Asia is probable, since the word for domestic chicken (*manuk) is part of the reconstructed Proto-Austronesian language (see Austronesian languages). Chickens, together with dogs and pigs, were the domestic animals of the Lapita culture,[26] the first Neolithic culture of Oceania.[27]

Chickens were spread by Polynesian seafarers and reached Easter Island in the 12th century AD, where they were the only domestic animal, with the possible exception of the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans). They were housed in chicken coops built from stone, which was first reported as such to Linton Palmer in 1868, who also "expressed his doubts about this".[30]

Roosters can usually be differentiated from hens by their striking plumage of long flowing tails and shiny, pointed feathers on their necks (hackles) and backs (saddle), which are typically of brighter, bolder colours than those of females of the same breed. However, in some breeds, such as the Sebright chicken, the rooster has only slightly pointed neck feathers, the same colour as the hen's. The identification can be made by looking at the comb, or eventually from the development of spurs on the male's legs (in a few breeds and in certain hybrids, the male and female chicks may be differentiated by colour).

Adult chickens have a fleshy crest on their heads called a comb, or cockscomb, and hanging flaps of skin either side under their beaks called wattles. Collectively, these and other fleshy protuberances on the head and throat are called caruncles. Both the adult male and female have wattles and combs, but in most breeds these are more prominent in males. A 'muff' or 'beard' is a mutation found in several chicken breeds which causes extra feathering under the chicken's face, giving the appearance of a beard.[36]

Domestic chickens are not capable of long-distance flight, although lighter chickens are generally capable of flying for short distances, such as over fences or into trees (where they would naturally roost). Chickens may occasionally fly briefly to explore their surroundings but generally do so only to flee perceived danger.

Chickens are gregarious birds and live together in flocks. They have a communal approach to the incubation of eggs and raising of young. Individual chickens in a flock will dominate others, establishing a pecking order, with dominant individuals having priority for food access and nesting locations. Removing hens or roosters from a flock causes a temporary disruption to this social order until a new pecking order is established. Adding hens, especially younger birds, to an existing flock can lead to fighting and injury.[citation needed]

Chickens may occasionally gang up on a weak or inexperienced predator. At least one credible report exists of a young fox killed by hens.[37][38][39] A group of hens have been recorded in attacking a hawk that had entered their coop.[40] If a chicken is threatened by predators, stress, or is sick, it may puff up its feathers.[41]

When a rooster finds food, he may call other chickens to eat first. He does this by clucking in a high pitch as well as picking up and dropping the food. This behaviour may also be observed in mother hens to call their chicks and encourage them to eat.

Hens will often try to lay in nests that already contain eggs and have been known to move eggs from neighbouring nests into their own. The result of this behaviour is that a flock will use only a few preferred locations, rather than having a different nest for every bird. Hens will often express a preference to lay in the same location. Two or more hens may try to share the same nest at the same time. If the nest is small or one of the hens is particularly determined, this may result in chickens trying to lay on top of each other. There is evidence that individual hens prefer to be either solitary or gregarious nesters.[47]

Fertile chicken eggs hatch at the end of the incubation period, about 21 days.[45] Development of the chick starts only when incubation begins, so all chicks hatch within a day or two of each other, despite perhaps being laid over a period of two weeks or so. Before hatching, the hen can hear the chicks peeping inside the eggs and will gently cluck to stimulate them to break out of their shells. The chick begins by pipping: pecking a breathing hole with its egg tooth towards the blunt end of the egg, usually on the upper side. The chick then rests for some hours, absorbing the remaining egg yolk and withdrawing the blood supply from the membrane beneath the shell (used earlier for breathing through the shell). The chick then enlarges the hole, gradually turning round as it goes, and eventually severing the blunt end of the shell completely to make a lid. The chick crawls out of the remaining shell, and the wet down dries out in the warmth of the nest.

Chicken embryos have long been used as model organisms to study developing embryos. Large numbers of embryos can be provided by commercial chicken farmers who sell fertilized eggs which can be easily opened and used to observe the developing embryo. Equally important, embryologists can carry out experiments on such embryos, close the egg again and study the effect later on. For instance, many important discoveries in the area of limb development have been made using chicken embryos, such as the discovery of the apical ectodermal ridge and the zone of polarizing activity by John W. Saunders.[51]

In 2006, scientists researching the ancestry of birds "turned on" a chicken recessive gene, talpid2, and found that the embryo jaws initiated formation of teeth, like those found in ancient bird fossils. John Fallon, the overseer of the project, stated that chickens have "...retained the ability to make teeth, under certain conditions... ."[52]

Given its eminent role in farming, meat production, but also research, the house chicken was the first bird genome to be sequenced.[53] At 1.21 Gb, the chicken genome is considerably smaller than other vertebrate genomes, such as the human genome (3 Gb). The final gene set contained 26,640 genes (including noncoding genes and pseudogenes), with a total of 19,119 protein-coding genes in annotation release 103 (2017), a similar number of protein-coding genes as in the human genome.[54]

Populations of chickens from high-altitude regions like Tibet have special physiological adaptations that result in a higher hatching rate in low oxygen environments. When eggs are placed in a hypoxic environment, chicken embryos from these populations express much more hemoglobin than embryos from other chicken populations. This hemoglobin also has a greater affinity for oxygen, allowing hemoglobin to bind to oxygen more readily.[55]

According to one early study, a single domestication event of the red junglefowl in present-day Thailand gave rise to the modern chicken with minor transitions separating the modern breeds.[62] The red junglefowl is well adapted to take advantage of the vast quantities of seed produced during the end of the multi-decade bamboo seeding cycle, to boost its own reproduction.[63] In domesticating the chicken, humans took advantage of this predisposition for prolific reproduction of the red junglefowl when exposed to large amounts of food.[64]

Exactly when and where the chicken was domesticated remains a controversial issue. Genomic studies estimate that the chicken was domesticated 8,000 years ago[60] in Southeast Asia and spread to China and India 2,000 to 3,000 years later. Archaeological evidence supports domestic chickens in Southeast Asia well before 6000 BC, China by 6000 BC and India by 2000 BC.[60][65][66] A landmark 2020 Nature study that fully sequenced 863 chickens across the world suggests that all domestic chickens originate from a single domestication event of red junglefowl whose present-day distribution is predominantly in southwestern China, northern Thailand and Myanmar. These domesticated chickens spread across Southeast and South Asia where they interbred with local wild species of junglefowl, forming genetically and geographically distinct groups. Analysis of the most popular commercial breed shows that the White Leghorn breed possesses a mosaic of divergent ancestries inherited from subspecies of red junglefowl.[67][68][69] 041b061a72


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