Big Chickens at Merrimac Farm

4189mLast weekend I was driving out from the Stone House and saw large birds walking across the road a ways down. Great, I thought, a couple wild turkeys. So I stopped and grabbed my binoculars… and said what the heck is that?

They were about the size of a turkey but chicken shaped, with a red comb and fancy tails.  An exotic surprise, akin to seeing a camel walking through the floodplain.

I looked them up and discovered the Red Junglefowl, thought to be the ancestor of all domestic chickens. Originally from southeast Asia, it appears that Red Jungle Fowl have found their way to Nokesville, Virginia. I’d guess they are escapees from a nearby farm,  a familiar path that many exotic species have used to transition from pets to problems.

The Red Junglefowl at Merrimac Farm are more likely to be a tasty snack for a fox than a threat to native species… although you can never tell.  Many introduced species have created huge problems for native plants,  animals and ecosystems.

While some may initially appear harmless, introduced species are one of two ecosystem wildcards (the other is us).  Many have lived up to their potential to change the energy flow in ecosystems, introduce diseases, interbreed with native species and/or out-compete native species for food, breeding sites and other resources.

House sparrows are but one example. Originally found only in Eurasia and Africa, House Sparrows have been introduced and naturalized worldwide. They can live and breed anywhere, even inside big box stores where they are often seen flitting through the aisles.

They’ve also had a huge impact on native species. House Sparrows kill Bluebirds and other cavity-nesters, their young and their eggs, to take over a nest. They are a major factor in the decline of Bluebirds and other cavity-nesters in North America.

It was quite a surprise to see the Red Junglefowl at Merrimac Farm. They probably haven’t been there long…  so if you know someone who’s missing some big fancy chickens, they’re over around the Cedar Run parking lot at Merrimac Farm.

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