Ayam Bekisar

Ayam Bekisar

An Ayam Bekisar male
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

Text by K. Blackwood

The Ayam Bekisar is a male hybrid between Green Junglefowl (Gallus varius) roosters and domestic bankivoid game hens. They contributed some small but integral package of genes to the ancestry of the archaic Oceanic island breeds. Ayam Bekisars were originally used as the original Foghorn Leghorn by boat cultures who used the vociferous hybrids to literally stay in vocal distance from one another when separated by the frequent tropical squalls that one experiences in these seas. To this day one finds Bekisars in Java and Komodo contentedly perched in their bamboo cages hoisted above the fishing boats crowing or rather roaring their terribly long songs. (Anyone interested in the Ayam Bekisar would do well to read William Beebe's Monograph of the Phasianidae. He set aside an entire chapter on the subject as an after note to his chapter on Green Junglefowl.) Tropical downpours and horrific winds do not seem to bother either the wild species or the Bekisar. Like the wild populations of G. varius on some of the tiny desert islets surrounding Komodo and Flores, feral Ayam Bekisars appear to thrive without access to fresh water during the dry season when precipitation is unlikely for months. They appear to take their water requirement from copepods and marine life stranded in littoral pools.

One of the most common Bekisar morphs encountered are those with black tissue, organs and even marrow. Only the bare facial skin and comb will belie the varius sire by shape and size.

The outrigger canoe mascots of this type were integral to early seafarers as their long crows can be heard for several miles. The residents of Madura and Kangea, Flores and Komodo continue to have contests to determine the most beautiful and long crowing of these seafarer fowl. The Bekisar roosters are kept in bamboo cages on the canoes. They crow to one another over the sounds of the breakers after the storms have settled and the boats have been separated. Some individual Bekisars make an incredibly human sounding song that closely resembles a call to prayer. In Western Java, the Bekisar is the national bird.

Due to the hybrid's chromosomal mismatch, backcrossing is unlikely. The hybrids are generally sterile or only partly fertile with some males being capable of breeding domestic game hens and producing semifertile offspring. Female hybrids tend to lay generously but their eggs are generally sterile or fail to hatch. To date there are no reported backcrosses to Green Junglefowl. Nonetheless, this has been mentioned by several authors as a serious threat to the integrity of wild Green Junglefowl populations. In my opinion the captive stocks are more vulnerable than wild populations to the deleterious effects of genetic pollution via hybridization.

Green Junglefowl and their hybrids are very susceptible to common domestic chicken diseases. There are several extremely contagious diseases which though fairly harmless in domestic fowl prove fatal for wild junglefowl. Amongst these include the chicken herpes virus, marble spleen disease, pseudomonas and mycoplasma. For these reasons it is not adviseable to house wild junglefowl with domestic fowl.

It is very likely that some of the most ancient breeds like the Japanese Long Crowers (e.g. the Tomaru), the Black Sumatra, Ayam Cemani and all of the Oceanic breeds are derived in part from Ayam Bekisar ancestors. These breeds are no longer hybrids but true breeds that happen to have a few exotic genes hidden in their collective woodpile. Some are clearly derived from the same genetic material whilst others are unique and were evidentally developed by specific ethnic migrations into various islands/regions and maintained in isolation away from the more ancient founder stocks.

Fumihito, A., T. Miyake, S. Sumi, M. Takada, S. Ohno and N. Kondo. 1994. One Subspecies of the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus gallus) Suffices As the Matriarchic Ancestor of all Domestic Breeds. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 91: 12505-12509.
Langdon, R. 1989. When the Blue-Egg Chickens Come Home to Roost. Journal of Pacific History, 24: 164-192.
L'Araucana e l'Araucania
Historia de la Catalana en el Peru

Bekisar Links:

Some history on this Onagadori page

Another Ayam Bekisar male
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

A pair of Bekisar from Indonesia
Photo © Thomas Naegele

Ayam Bekisar from Java; that's the head of a Java Green Peafowl in the front of the second image
Photos courtesy of Adrian lindcoln Wong

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