The American Poultry Association recognizes several dozen breeds of chickens, with amazing ranges in size, meat and egg productivity, and nature of feathers. All the breeds of chicken have a common ancestor: the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus.
There are four species of Junglefowl, native to a region stretching from India to Southeast Asia. The Red Junglefowl is thought to be the primary ancestor of the domestic chicken, although a few researchers think the Green Junglefowl might also be an ancestor.
Domestication occurred a long time ago, perhaps 8,000 years before the present. It may have occurred in China, but the archaeological record is not conclusive. The chicken reached Europe perhaps 4,000 years ago.
There is one breed of chicken might have reached South America long before Columbus, the Araucana chicken. It seems to have been carried from islands in the Pacific by intrepid Polynesian navigators who reached the west coast of South America.
Some contemporary chicken breeds look remarkably like Red Jungle Fowl, which is a large, attractive bird. All the species of Jungle Fowl inhabit areas with fast increasing human populations, but the Red Jungle Fowl is still plentiful over its large range.
The Junglefowl’s descendants are now the most numerous birds on the planet, some 20 billion. Many of them have been bred for fast growth and might live a few weeks, pale imitations of the vigorous and wary Junglefowl.
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