About a dozen chickens turned up dead on the Hawaiian island of Kauai earlier this week, and the Aloha State is determined to figure out why.

“The smell of death permeated the stuffy humid air,” The Garden Island Newspaper wrote, “and feathers drifted through the slight breeze.”

Kauai is home to thousands of wild chickens. They roam free in parking lots, parks, golf courses, and even, on occasion, the airport baggage terminal. But the mysterious deaths have shaken the island community.

“One day,” Lihue resident Joseph Manini Jr. told the Kauai newspaper, “I saw one fall right out of a tree.”

Kauai feral chickens

A feral rooster pecks away at the Hanalei overlook on Kauai.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The Garden Island reported that dead chickens were being shoveled into a state conservation department truck and have been shipped to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s office on Oahu for testing to determine the cause of death.

Earlier this year, Kauai’s famous feathered creatures drew national attention as the subject of a New York Times article.

“They’re absolutely everywhere,” Eben J. Gering, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University who has been studying the birds, told the newspaper. “They seem to be living a whole diversity of lifestyles, from eating garbage and cat food to being fed by tourists at the beach to foraging on native arthropods.”

Not surprisingly, not everyone enjoys their presence.

“Those darn roosters had me up before 5 every morning,” Bob Brenner, a visitor from Austin, Texas, told The Wall Street Journal. “If I had a gun, I would have shot a couple of them. They are all over the place. They walk right into the restaurants.”

Kauai’s chickens have suddenly turned up dead before.

In 2007, the Kauai Humane Society suspected an overwhelming bacterial infection was responsible for killing dozens of the birds. And last year, Kauai authorities launched an investigation after several chickens were shot — and at least one killed — by blowgun darts.

While it is unclear how long the current investigation will take, a USDA spokeswoman said samples of the chickens that died last week were scheduled to arrive in Honolulu for testing Wednesday.

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