The writers of antiquity used the term fowl to include all the members of the bird tribe and, in some cases, the young of other animals. Feathered creatures, no matter what their habits, were not called birds, neither were they separated into classes other than the "Fowls of the Air," "Fowls of the Sea," "Fowls of the Earth," and similar descriptive divisions.
In the seventeenth and the earlier part of the eighteenth century, the word fowl was applied to any large feathered animal and the term bird to those of less size. In early times the word bird was used in the sense of brood and included the young of all animals. In an early act of the Parliament of Scotland we find the expression "Wolf-birdis," referring to the very young wolf.
At the present time the term fowl in its wider sense is generally used to include all the forms of farm poultry, both when living and when prepared for food. More specifically it is applied to the domestic cock and hen, or, as they are more familiarly called, chickens (Gallus domesticus). The word chicken appropriately belongs to the common fowl when under one year of age, yet it is used to indicate those of any breed and of any age between birth and maturity. In this connection it is of interest to note that in the English language the common fowl has no distinctive name. The term hen, frequently used, should be applied only to the female of this and other domestic fowls.
The progenitor of the common fowl is generally conceded to be the Red jungle Fowl (Gallus ferrugineus or bankiva), though there are three other wild species, all oriental. This species is a native of India, a part of China, the adjacent islands and the Philippines. Its habits are diversified, for we are told it may "be found in lofty forests and in the dense thickets, as well as in bamboo jungles, and when cultivated land is near its haunts, it may be seen in the fields, after the crops are cut, in straggling parties of from ten to twenty."
This wild species closely resembles the breed of poultry fanciers called the "Black-breasted Game," but the crow of the wild cock is not as loud or prolonged as that of the tame one.
All the evidence that we possess seems to indicate that this wild fowl was first domesticated in Burmah. The Chinese, as indicated by tradition, received their poultry from Burmah as early as 1400 B. C. Records show that about 1200 or 800 B. C., as some authorities hold, the eating of the tame fowl was forbidden, though the use of the wild fowl as food was permitted.
It seems evident that the fowl reached Europe, after domestication, about the sixth century before the time of Christ. It continued westward, for Julius Caesar found it in Britain at the time of his conquests. Both the wild and the tame fowls are mentioned by the early Latin and Greek writers. Homer writing about goo B. C. does not refer to the fowl, but it is mentioned by Aristophanes at a date near 500 B. C. It is of interest to know that the domesticated form is not mentioned in the Old Testament.
It is said that some of the pagan tribes living at the present time on the east coast of Africa have a marked aversion to the domestic fowl. This may account for the absence of any representation of the fowl on the ancient Egyptian monuments, though it was represented on the Babylonian cylinders about the sixth or seventh century before Christ. In this connection it should be mentioned that many other people, notably the natives of the islands adjacent to the Australian continent and some of the Indian tribes of South America, show a strong dislike to this domestic bird as a food.
By selection, both natural and by man, many breeds have been produced. Dr. Charles Darwin says: "Sufficient materials do not exist for tracing the history of the separate breeds. About the commencement of the Christian era, Columella mentions a five-toed fighting breed, and provincial breeds; but we know nothing about them. He also alludes to dwarf fowls; but these cannot have been the same with our Bantams, which were imported from Japan into Bantam in Java. A dwarf fowl, probably the true Bantam, is referred to in an old Japanese Encyclopedia, as I am informed. In the Chinese Encyclopedia published in 1596, but compiled from various sources, some of high antiquity, seven breeds are mentioned."
The number of breeds is very indefinite. Darwin enumerates thirteen, including many sub-breeds. The American Poultry Association recognizes more than thirty, with several varieties of some of them. The game or fighting breed more closely resembles the wild form of India than do any of the others.