How were Chickens and other Poultry Birds Domesticated? Brief History

Translated by Nick R

History has shown us fascinating anecdotes in which domestication has been involved as a way to take advantage of some animals, either for care, food or clothing. But did you know that this process has required thousands of years of knowledge that until today are still unknown?

The process has not been isolated to a single species, in the case of birds, the most recognized are chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, classified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as animals of importance for food production and agriculture.

Join me to learn the curious history behind the domestication of birds.

Why were birds domesticated? 

Humans started domesticating animals in order to obtain some benefits.

Thus horses and donkeys were bred as pack and transport animals, while cows, pigs, and chickens were bred as a food resource. Poultry, specifically, are species domesticated for the purpose of obtaining foodstuffs such as meat and eggs, a source of protein and food for many people in the world.

What was the process of domestication of chickens like? 

To begin this historical journey into domestication, we will start with the chicken as the main representative of this whole process, of which there is still information about how humans began to take advantage of it.

China is the homeland of chickens, descendants of a wild bird believed to be gallus gallus spadiceus. There is evidence that indicates that the hen began to undergo the process of domestication 8,000 years ago or even more, given its characteristics that made it easy to capture and breed.

But China is not the only place where traces of such domestication have been found; India also has its own history, even embedded in religious beliefs. According to the FAO, it is believed that chickens in this part of the world arrived via South Asia in 3200 BC, where fighting cocks were particularly popular.

Some known societies, such as the Romans, made use of hens to meet their food demands, since their meat was highly prized and became part of the farms, which led this civilization to begin to explore poultry farming linked to agriculture at that time, resulting in the treatise on the rural economy by Caton, where he explained how to fatten hens and ducks.

According to some research, such as that carried out by Loukas Barton, he mentions that parallel to the hen, the pheasant was one of the first birds selected for domestication in China.

Chicken breeding today 

Since then, the breeding of the hen as poultry has spread to all parts of the world, giving birth to breeding processes and selection of breeds that are more profitable for human consumption depending on their expected use of them, the most recognized for farm breeding are:

  • Sussex hens, of docile character, are perfect for egg laying.
  • New Hampshire hen, specially bred for its meat.
  • Rhode Red Island hen, popular for egg laying.

How were ducks domesticated? 

White Duck’>Bird photo created by wirestock –

Today’s domestic duck is descended from the mallard species (Anas platyrhyncho) from Southeast Asia and China.

The process of domestication of ducks took place approximately 4 thousand years ago when they appeared in Egyptian hieroglyphs in which they are shown being used for religious sacrifices, although their delicious meat was not left behind in that civilization.

One of the ways in which the duck is believed to have had its characteristics changed was in China after they were trapped in nets to prevent them from flying, causing them to gain weight and be unable to fly.

In the 19th century, ducks were popular for the delicacy of their eggs, among the most popular being the white-feathered duck.

Changes in duck behavior have led to ducks becoming more sexually promiscuous and less territorial, unlike their predecessors, which may have been evident to you on a visit to a park with such a unique animal.

Raising and use of the duck today 

In China, ducks have a great value as food because of their eggs and meat, especially the meat of the creole duck (cairina moschata) which contains the least fat of all the species.

The advantages offered by ducks, unlike chickens, are that they don’t need a lot of food care since they are experts in foraging for their own food and, since they are raised outdoors, they don’t need much water. They are also quite resistant to diseases.

In agriculture, especially rice farming, ducks provide the advantage of grazing, as they eat all kinds of insects that could be potential pests for the crops and they work as perfect soil fertilizers.

How were geese domesticated? 

Goose couple

The present-day goose is a descendant of the gray goose (Anser anser) and the Chinese or African goose (Anser Cygnoides). Its breeding in captivity dates back to 3 thousand years ago; it appears in texts such as The Odyssey and in Egypt (Alopochen aegyptiacus) has iconographic appearances.

In Europe, it is believed that they were most probably introduced by the Scandinavians in 400 BC and domesticated sometime later between 550 and 1060 AD.

Breeding and use of the goose today 

The most noticeable changes in domestic geese is their large size and inability to fly, allowing breeders to have control over and profit from these birds:

  • Grazing
  • Meat production
  • The use of their feathers (you may have heard about the luxurious feather pillows).

One virtue of the goose as poultry is the variety of breeds and consequent sizes which allows them to be kept in various management conditions, with local breeds being much more popular in China. Today, the variety of sizes that exist allows geese to adapt to different conditions.

How were turkeys domesticated? 

Bronze turkey

The history here is different as they come from the Americas, native to Latin America, and brought to the rest of the world by colonization in the year 1500, being the Mexican subspecies (Meleagris Gallopavo) the ancestor of all 7 existing ones.

The domestication of the turkey occurred in Mexico, although it is not known exactly where in the country. According to the FAO, it was in the region of Oaxaca around 300 B.C., while other bone remains from the Purépecha culture show the use of its bones and feathers for the creation of ornaments.

With the introduction of turkeys to Europe, many more breeds and crossbreeds were reproduced in countries such as Spain, France, the Netherlands, and England. The black turkey breed is recognized for the quality of its meat.

One famous historical milestone linked to the domestication of this species is Thanksgiving Day, made official by President Washington in 1789, but celebrated since the dinner held by English settlers and Wampanoag Indians in Playmouth, present-day Massachusetts.

Raising and use of turkeys today 

  • The United States and Europe are the world’s leading producers of turkey meat, accounting for 90% of world production.
  • Most of the consumption is destined for the celebration of holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
  • Turkey can be prepared in several culinary recipes, focused on portions, smoked meat, or sausages.

Most used turkey breeds for poultry farming 

The main turkey breeds today are the aforementioned Norfol Black, the American Bronze turkey, and the Broad-breasted Bronze turkey, which is a good source of low-fat protein.

So is it bad to keep wild birds as pets? 

As you have seen, poultry has gone through several changes to adapt to the environment in which they live today, abandoning many behaviors that could be considered wild and being docile to humans.

Therefore, the best recommendation is to adopt poultry, which is instinctively accustomed to living in captivity and lacks other wild needs such as flying.

So to take care of a wild bird in captivity, I recommend you do it in the best way by checking what birds you can have as a pet, your country’s legislation about this and always meeting their needs.


Birds captivate humans for their behavior, singing, colors, and shapes and in everyday life, we hear of them as poultry, domestic, ornamental, wild, and exotic birds.

Remember that each one of them has a purpose either for the ecosystem in which they live or for us. If you have a bird, it is your responsibility to take care of its integrity, knowing all the details of its care.


Poultry production and products

History of domestic poultry production


Natural history, domestication and distribution of the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in Mexico.