Chickens at the Whitebird Summit Lodge
The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is a domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl. As one of the most common and widespread domestic animals with a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird. Humans keep chickens primarily as a source of food, consuming both their meat and their eggs.
The traditional poultry farming view of the domestication of the chicken is stated in Encyclopædia Britannica (2007): "Humans first domesticated chickens of Indian origin for the purpose of cockfighting in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Very little formal attention was given to egg or meat production... Recent genetic studies have pointed to multiple maternal origins in Southeast, East, and South Asia, but with the clade found in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa originating in the Indian subcontinent. From India the domesticated fowl made its way to the Persianized kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor, and domestic fowl were imported to Greece by the fifth century BC. Fowl had been known in Egypt since the 18th Dynasty, with the "bird that gives birth every day" having come to Egypt from the land between Syria and Shinar, Babylonia, according to the annals of Tutmose III.
In the UK and Ireland adult male chickens over the age of 12 months are primarily known as cocks, whereas in America, Australia and Canada they are more commonly called roosters. Males less than 1 year old are cockerels.castrated roosters are called capons (surgical and chemical castration are now illegal in some parts of the world). Females over a year old are known as hens and younger females as pullets although in the egg-laying industry, a pullet becomes a hen when she begins to lay eggs at 16 to 20 weeks of age. In Australia and New Zealand (also sometimes in Britain), there is a generic term chook (pron.: /tk/) to describe all ages and both sexes. The young are called chicks and the meat is called chicken.
"Chicken" originally referred to chicks, not the species itself. The species as a whole was then called domestic fowl, or just fowl. This use of "chicken" survives in the phrase "Hen and Chickens", sometimes used as a British public house or theatre name, and to name groups of one large and many small rocks or islands in the sea (see for example Hen and Chicken Islands). In the Deep South of the United States chickens are also referred to by the slang term yardbird.
Chickens are omnivores. In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards or young mice. Chickens may live for five to ten years, depending on the breed. The world's oldest chicken, a hen, died of heart failure at the age of 16 according to the Guinness Book of World Records.