Gray (or Sonnerat's) Junglefowl

Gallus sonneratti


Text by K. Blackwood

The Grey Junglefowl, Gallus sonneratti, is native to evergreen hill forest in southern and western India. Though the species is familiar in captivity it is poorly known in the wild. William Beebe wrote an excellent article about the Grey Junglefowl in his Monograph of the Phasianidae, which any gallinate aviculturist should surely study.

One of the aspects of this species which may make it difficult to house is the tendency for the birds to remain wild and skittish. Grey Junglefowl will benefit from enclosures with solid walls. In Japan, it is not unusual to see small enclosures with junglefowl in them that resemble tall cabinets. The walls are covered in bamboo matting or burlap, leaving only a large rectangular window for viewing. Even the ceilings are so fitted. The floors are generally sand with rocks and evergreen vegetation. Grey Junglefowl will perch as high as possible so make certain the roosts are a good distance from the ceiling where owls or raccoons might attempt to destroy the sleeping birds and pull them through the wire.

In my opinion, sonneratti is a true monogamist. Males will often make dutiful fathers, brooding chicks on or very close to the ground on rainy nights. If the hen is encouraged to set on her own eggs (Belgian Quail bantam eggs could be used in proxy), she will hatch them and rear them up to about nine weeks. The hen will then abandon her brood to her eclipsed mate while she sets on a new clutch of fertile eggs. The sperm storage in this species is quite prolonged.

The diet of Grey Junglefowl should include a mixture of small dog kibble, seasonal pulp seed fruits like pomegranate, pumpkin and hot peppers and a limited portion of a game bird pellet. Feed dishes should be maintained off the ground and no more food than can be eaten in a few hours should ever be left. Mashes should never be used with wild species as they tend to produce the mold spores and dust that act as disease carriers in wild galliforms.

Foraging and defense behaviors are highly ritualized in this species and for these reasons the enclosure should be regularly retrofitted with piles of deciduous leaves, reorganizations of aviary furniture and new perches. It is also helpful to keep other species together with the junglefowl pair. Barbary Rock Partridges, Peacock Pheasants and Peafowl are excellent aviary mates, as are Kalij and Copper pheasants. Guinea pigs are often kept with pheasants and junglefowl. The small mammals do not dig and keep the floor of the enclosures clear of wasted feed stuffs. Their presence also distracts some of the neurotic behaviors of males during nesting season. In the wild, junglefowl and other galliform birds regularly forage with small mammals and other ground birds in what are described as foraging parties. Keeping a pair of birds isolated in captivity may lead to the destruction of the female junglefowl or pheasant when there is a lack of stimulation in the physical and social environments.

This species was nearly extirpated by overcollection for the hackles of the males. The special waxy textured, waterproof plumage was so prized by fly tyers at the turn of the 20th century that hundreds of thousands of pelts were exported to Europe on a yearly basis for decades. Grey Junglefowl are hardy when compared to most species of junglefowl but must be kept in draft proof winter shelters with dense layers of dry straw and wood shavings. If artificial heat is used to warm the winter enclosures make certain that a humidifier is used pragmatically on the coldest nights as this species is native to exceedingly humid regions. Dry dusty air takes its toll on this otherwise hardy and compelling species.

Crosses between Gray Junglefowl and domestic chickens are known as Bengals. There are some pictured below.

Sonnerat's Links:

United Junglefowl Association

D & M Farms

Grey Junglefowl at Roman's Acres

Grey Junglefowl at Texas Peafowl Farm

My pair of Grey Jungle Fowl, "Sonny" and "Honey"

Two shots of a male in eclipse plumage
Photos courtesy of

Another pair of Sonnerat's, with the male in eclipse
Photo courtesy of

Various views of a Grey Junglefowl cock
Photos courtesy of

Another pair of Sonnerat's
Photo courtesy of Clyde Robinson & Avian Empire

Bengals = Hybrids

Bengals: species hybrids between my Grey Jungle Fowl cock "Sonny" and a Silver Phoenix hen (2 cockerels on left) and a Blue OEG bantam hen (3 pullets on right)

"Wild One," on the left, is the Silver Phoenix that was used in the cross, and this is her 1996 F1 daughter by the Gray Junglefowl cock

1996 F1 hybrid hen "Brownie," the Blue OEG bantam cross

In the next generation (an F2 cockerel on the 2 above F1 hens), along with some normal looking birds, I got both a partially frizzled hen and a rumpless cockerel.

In 2003, I am putting this cockerel (the largest out of the above F2/F1 cross) on the two F1 hens and the frizzled hen.

The rest of the F2/F1 cross are penned together:

The flock

The 4 cockerels

The 3 pullets

Other people's Bengals

Toni-Marie Astin's Bengal rooster (GJF x Phoenix)
Photos courtesy of Will Lawrence

Bengal hens (GJF x Phoenix)
Photos courtesy of Will Lawrence



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