The Red junglefowl is a tropical bird found across much of Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. It is the primary ancestor of the domestic chicken. Compared to the more familiar domestic chicken, the Red junglefowl has a much smaller body mass and is brighter in coloration. Junglefowl are also behaviourally different from domestic chickens; they are naturally very shy of humans compared to the much tamer domesticated subspecies. Male junglefowl are significantly larger than females and have brightly colored decorative feathers. The male's tail is composed of long, arching feathers that initially look black, but shimmer with blue, purple, and green in direct light. He also has long, golden hackle feathers on his neck and on his back. The female's plumage is typical of this family of birds in being cryptic and adapted for camouflage as she alone looks after the eggs and chicks. She also has a very small comb and wattles (fleshy ornaments on the head that signal good health to rivals and potential mates) compared to the males.
Red junglefowl are found from India eastwards across Indochina and southern China, into Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. They prefer disturbed habitats and edges, both natural and human-created. These birds can be found in tropical moist forests, mangroves, scrub areas, tea, and palm-oil plantations and agricultural areas.
Red junglefowl are social and typically live in flocks of one to a few males and several females. Within flocks, males exhibit dominance hierarchies; dominant males tend to have larger combs than subordinate males and they also defend a territory against other dominant males. The size of these territories is usually based on the proximity of roosts. Red junglefowl are active during the day and usually feed in the early morning and late afternoon. They spend most of their time on the ground and will fly only in order to reach their roosting areas at sunset in trees or any other high and relatively safe places free from ground predators, and for escape from immediate danger through the day. These birds also regularly bathe in dust to keep the right balance of oil in their plumage; the dust absorbs extra oil and then falls off. Red junglefowl communicate with the help of various calls. During their mating season, males announce their presence with the well known "cock-a-doodle-doo" call or crowing. The crowing sound serves both to attract potential mates and to make other males in the area aware of the risk of fighting a breeding competitor. A spur these birds have on the lower leg just behind and above the foot serves in such fighting. Red junglefowl also have distinctive alarm calls for aerial and ground predators to which others react appropriately.
Red junglefowl are omnivores. They feed on fruits, seeds, crops, leaves, roots, and tubers. They also capture a wide variety of arthropods, other invertebrates, and vertebrates such as small lizards. They may even consume mammalian feces.
Red junglefowl are polygynous; the dominant male mates with females within his flock and protects them from rivals. During the breeding season, males perform courtship displays. They make a food-related display called "tidbitting", performed upon finding food in the presence of a female. The display is composed of coaxing, cluck-like calls, and eye-catching bobbing and twitching motions of the head and neck. During the performance, the male repeatedly picks up and drops the food item with his beak. The display usually ends when the hen takes the food item either from the ground or directly from the male's beak. In many areas, Red junglefowl breed during the dry portion of the year, typically winter or spring. This is true in parts of India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. However, in palm-oil plantations in Malaysia, they may breed year-round. These birds nest in shallow depressions on the ground, usually under the brush or in other protected areas and line their nests with grass, leaves, small sticks, or feathers. Females lay 3 to 7 eggs and incubate them for about 21 days. Chicks are precocial; they hatch fully developed and are able to move and feed by themselves. They fledge in about 4 to 5 weeks, and at 12 weeks old they are chased out of the group by their mother - at which point they start a new group or join an existing one. Young Red junglefowl become reproductively mature at 5 months of age and females usually reach maturity slightly longer than males.
Red junglefowl are generally considered common and widespread within their range. However, these colorful birds suffer from habitat loss and degradation and uncontrolled hunting for food. Wild populations of this species are also at risk from hybridization with feral and domesticated chickens; when these birds interbreed the purity of the wild birds is lost.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Red junglefowl total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.
The Red junglefowl was domesticated for human use well over 5,000 years ago. Since then, their domestic form known as chickens has spread around the world and is kept globally as a source of meat and eggs. However, undomesticated Red junglefowl still represent an important source of meat and eggs in their endemic range. The undomesticated form is also sometimes used in cock-fighting.