Chicken Little: Has the sky already fallen?

I was thinking about pigeons earlier today, and that got me thinking about thier more land-bound, edible counterparts:  The chicken.  Now chickens, as we know, cannot fly for any great distance.  They can gracefully soar out of pine tress and down hillsides, if given the opportunity.  I’ve seen them do it.  And when startled, they do flap thier wings and glide about in the air a bit, just like pigeons.  But they don’t migrate – longer flights are impossible for them.  In fact, the longest recorded distance flown by a chicken is 301.5 feet.

Given that chickens have wings, and do have the ability to fly at least for short distances, it is a valid hypothesis that chickens at one time were able to fly.  Given that chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years, it’s difficult to say for certain.  However, I did a bit of research on the chicken’s supposed precursor, the Red Junglefowl, to attempt to shed a little light on the mystery.  While most documented cases of flight are short in duration and distance, similar to the chicken’s, I remained unsure if this was due to nature or as a result of early domestication. True, both are members of the pheasant family, who are primarily ground feeders.  But does that mean they couldn’t fly, or wouldn’t migrate?  My limited time at work did not give me the chance to find out.

Still, the idea of domestication forcing a species to give something up intrigued me.  Generally we see domestic selection as good – it’s selection for the characteristics we want.  But in all cases, something must be lost.  In addition, in our own lives, the word ‘domestic’ has negative connotations.  There’s ideas of servants, ‘the domestics’.  There’s houswives, also seen as domestic.  And yet with animals, this does not quite ring true – but then again, we don’t expect to perceive animals as on par with ourselves.

It makes me wonder…what are the things we have selected for as a society?  What skills, or natural abilities and talents, or personality traits have we allowed to grow and thrive?  And at what cost?  With this selection, what has been lost?  Can we still fly?  Were we ever really able to?


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