Green Junglefowl

a.k.a. Fork Tail

Gallus varius

A Green Junglefowl cock
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

Text by K. Blackwood

The Fork Tail, or Green Javanese Junglefowl, Gallus varius inhabits the mysterious island of Java, where it is curiously absent from much of the western side of the country. Varius is also found in varying numbers on any number of smaller islands like Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo and surrounding islets. Green Junglefowl inhabit coastal regions and semiarid cliff habitat near estuaries where they forage in mangrove swamps, along beaches, in rice paddies and deep inside subterranean sea caves. Green Junglefowl are one of only a handful of species of gallinaceous birds capable of sustained flight over open water. There are many documented cases of the species flying over the sea between islets. The most extensive flights include movements of an ever fluctuating population of this species that regularly moves between the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores. The winds are quite powerful there and it is a wonder the birds remain in the air without being dashed against the cliffs! When the tide is out, these fowl may be seen in large flocks of twenty or more birds of all ages or in small family units hunting for marine life trapped in littoral pools. The Green Junglefowl's primary foods include species of semiterrestrial crustaceans called copepods or sand fleas, small crabs and marine insects that reproduce in beach-stranded kelp. The species has also been documented consuming jellyfish, starfish, marine and freshwater snails, cactus fruit, termites, ants and the larvae of cave insects.

In captivity, the diet should include nutritious fruits with oil soluble vitamins, like the North American paw paw, dried cranberries and pomegranates where available. These fruits are invaluable as they contain condensed tannins called proanthocyanidins that prevent E. coli bacteria from attaching to cells in the digestive tract. Green Junglefowl are particularly vulnerable to Marek's disease, mycoplasma, pseudomonas and a host of other ailments that attack the digestive tract and leave the birds paralyzed. It cannot be overemphasized how important these specific types of fruits are for subtropical galliform species. Fruits high in sugar and low in nutritional content, like green grapes, pears and apples, should be avoided. Commercial poultry feeds should also be avoided as they will often contain ground up poultry byproducts like feathers, legs and heads from mass production poultry houses. The big production stock are fed antibiotics to fend off the mycoplasmas and other common poultry diseases. Feeding the poultry feed to wild galliforms will often lead to the birds developing antibiotic resistant ailments. Soybean and alfalfa should not be fed to Green Junglefowl, for their phytoestrogen contents throw off the hormonal cycles. Most grains like millet, corn, wheat and barley are harmful to Green Junglefowl. A lamb and rice dog kibble is preferable. The subadult junglefowl have special problems associated with their dietary requirements and growth stages. Too much crude protein will curl the toes and legs. Not enough animal protein will stress the birds with high mortality being one consequence. It is possible to locate freeze-dried shrimps/krill over the internet and in pet stores. These are a valuable avicultural tool. Nekton reptile supplements are sprinkled liberally over the krill and fed out once a week as treats for juvenile and subadult birds. This will also be invaluable for breeding pairs and individuals in molt. The reptile supplements contain all the trace minerals and vitamins the birds need during the periods of the year when they are most vulnerable.

In nature, pairs remain together indefinitely and there is an extended relationship with both parents and their chicks of successive years. Unlike some subtropical galliform species, Green Junglefowl have exceedingly complex social behaviors. They are highly sociable with signal enhancing motions which make them fascinating to observe in nature and in naturalistic aviaries. The vivid hues of the male's comb and gular lappet are employed as subtle signal flags reminiscent of the anole lizards. Age groups stratify in such a manner that juveniles and subadults will more often than not be moving about in aggregations above the adult social group. This may occur on rock ledges overlooking foraging areas or in tree canopies above a favorite dusting or sunning area. In captivity, it will be important to recreate an appropriate social environment that will stimulate the birds and keep them engaged in nonaggressive behaviors. We have found Green Junglefowl to be ideal aviary mates with turtles and tortoises (free from salmonella), small perching ducks, plovers, bustards, cormorants, ibis and peafowl. They can also be kept easily with Bar-tailed Pheasants, Crestless Firebacks, Salvadoris and other pheasants with stationary wing whirring behaviors. While they are very warm hardy, they will not tolerate much cold and are susceptible to frostbite.

Green Junglefowl should be kept in tall aviaries with multiple layers of wall, loftlike structures and plenty of climbing space. The birds appear to prefer to travel by climbing along arboreal walkways than walking on the ground. Both sexes perform beautiful flight displays and you may want to keep this in mind when designing a space for them.

The eggs are tinted off-white with a tinge of yellow or grey. Incubations is 21--24 days. The chicks should be raised by their own parents or under a surrogate, disease free, bantam that has been thoroughly deloused and wormed before incubation. The chicks require a more specialized diet than other junglefowl. Nekton reptile supplements are highly beneficial as the powder can be added to any gamebird chick starter or powdered on crickets to insure the birds receive the right trace minerals and vitamins from the start.

Green Junglefowl and their hybrids are very susceptible to common domestic chicken diseases. There are several extremely contagious diseases which, though fairly harmless and often symptomless in domestic fowl, prove fatal for wild junglefowl. Amongst these are Marek's Syndrome, the chicken herpes virus, marble spleen disease, pseudomonas and mycoplasma. Populations of captive wild junglefowl are vulnerable due in part to the small number of founders of each species and the close proximity and disease vectors of domestic fowl. For example, brooding hens gainfully employed by unwitting aviculturists or poultiers that have not been blood tested by avian veterinarians could pass on any concealed illness to the foster chicks. Those chicks that survive will become carriers. Diseases of domestic fowl sterilize and kill wild junglefowl and could easily destroy the captive breeding nucleus of these wild species in short order. For these reasons it is not adviseable to house wild junglefowl with domestic fowl.

Green Junglefowl have been hybridised with domestic fowl to produce the Ayam Bekisar.


Green Junglefowl Links:

United Junglefowl Association

The Junglefowl Pages


A closer shot of a Green Junglefowl cock


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