The Chinese New Year starting at the end of January 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, last observed in 2005.
The only bird among the 12 animals that represent this zodiac, the rooster, or chicken, is a very special avian. It plays a huge role in sustaining humans around the world. In 2011 there were an estimated 19 billion domestic chickens on Earth, nearly three for every person.
Humans can’t do without chickens, says Andrew Lawler, author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World: The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization. “Chicken is the most popular meat today. Americans eat more than 80 pounds a year, more than pork or beef.” (Read the National Geographic interview with Lawler.)
Wise, Brave and Kind
“In Chinese, the world ‘luck’ and ‘cock’ have the same pronunciation: Ji,” Birdlife International says on its website. Vivian Fu, Assistant Manager of BirdLife’s China Programme, says: “The rooster represents wisdom (because of its crown), bravery (their boldness in fights), kindness (owing to their social nature of sharing food), and faith (they call every morning).”
The common ancestor of the familiar chicken is the bird in this photo: the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus gallus). National Geographic Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore photographed this specimen at the Pizen Zoo, Czech Republic, but the rooster still lives in the wild in many parts of Asia. It’s numbers in its wild state may be declining because of habitat loss, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature regards it as a species of Least Concern because so many survive across a very wide geographic area, including in Hawaii, Australia and other parts of the world where it is feral after introduction by humans.
A member of the Phasianidae family (Pheasants, Partridges, Turkeys, Grouse), the junglefowl has a distinctive social system, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web. It involves a pecking order, “with one dominating all, and one submitting to all. There is one pecking order for female and one for male.”
Fun Fact from National Geographic: Chickens have so much in common biologically with dinosaurs, they are considered the last living dinosaurs on the planet. (Read “Year of the Rooster” Brings Celebrations and Hazardous Smog).
More from INaturalist: Red Junglefowl
Joel Sartore Video:
This post was produced in support of the National Geographic Photo Ark, a multi-year project to photograph all species in captivity. The red junglefowl is one of them. To learn more about the Photo Ark, visit natgeophotoark.org,