In the last decade, a long-haired man riding a bicycle with a rooster perched on the handlebar has attracted quite a bit of attention on the Eastside.
Many refer to him as the chicken man, but truth is, it would be more appropriate to call him the rooster whisperer. But who is this man who says he chose to tame wild roosters because they’re the “totem animal” of this island?
Wearing an unmistakable straw hat — decorated with feathers freshly plucked from roadkill — Forrest Glen Owen says children love to pet his roosters, and visitors from all over the world have snapped thousands of pictures of him and his birds.
Owen said his life took a sharp turn one special day when he looked in the eye of a chicken and didn’t see an animal. Instead, he saw a person.
“It changed me, there’s a person over there, behind the eyes of the chicken,” he said. “It changed the way I feel about all the chickens.”
Now, after many years living side by side with roosters, riding his bicycle with them day in and day out, Owen feels he has developed some sort of responsibility over Kauai’s chickens.
“I feel kind of proprietary toward all the chickens on the island,” he said. “If I’m riding in a car with somebody and we hit traffic, the car slows down, and we’re coming by and I see a rooster on the side of the road pecking, I’ll sit there and talk to him, ‘Hey, what’s up, brah.’”
Owen moved to Kauai 12 years ago, and took up taming chickens some 10 years ago. But he was never a stranger to wildlife. In fact, he was surrounded by wilderness since day one.
“I was born in Yosemite National Park,” said Owen, his weathered face mostly covered by a salt-and-pepper beard, which looked like it hadn’t seen a razor blade in years.
When Owen’s mother was getting close to giving birth to him, she insisted in accompanying her husband and children on a vacation in Yosemite because “back in ’56 no female believed a male could properly look after her children, so she came along with everybody.”
Being the trooper that she was, on the brink of giving birth, she would still not let up on chores. You put together manual labor and high elevation and the result is premature labor, according to Owen.
“That’s how I got born there,” he said, in “a little log cabin hospital down in Yosemite Valley.”
As he grew up, Owen built a career doing tree service, landscape design and installation. Then in 2001 he was injured in a car accident, retired and “escaped from L.A.” to Kauai.
Two years after landing here, Owen tamed a wild rooster and quickly became famous for taking it on bicycle rides, mostly in the Wailua-Kapaa area.
“When I was a little boy we had chickens,” he said. “I thought I knew everything I needed to know about chickens, but I came here and there’s all these little baby chicks running around. They’re so cute, but when I’d pick one up, they’d often die on you so easy. So I moved up in the age group of which chickens I would play with.”
The rooster that most people recall, Owen said, is Little Brother.
“He was a full-size gray,” he said. “I had that boy for seven years. He was ultimately murdered by his own great-great-great-grandnephew.”
At that time, Owen lived across the Kapaa Library, where he captured Little Brother when the rooster was a teenager, and where there is a “tribe of grays” living nearby.
Little Brother’s cage somehow opened one day, and one of the wild roosters got into a fight with him.
“When I got there, Little Brother was practically dead; he was all beaten up, all bloody,” Owen said. “It broke my heart. I took him, washed him up and got a hold of the vet, thank God.”
Over the weekend, Little Brother didn’t resist his wounds and died. So Owen went after Little Brother’s nephew, “the one that killed him,” and captured it.
“Some people would figure, ‘Oh, yeah, fix that guy, yeah.’ But no, I made him replace his uncle,” he said. “He became my friend, riding the bike, and nobody had any idea that anything had happened.”
Little Brother’s nephew and Owen soon bonded, but their relationship only lasted about a year. The rooster got a respiratory infection and died.
After those first two roosters, Owen tamed a few more, but the one that stood out was Harold.
“He was a miniature gray,” he said.
However, Owen doesn’t have a permanent address; he camps out somewhere, which made Harold vulnerable when he wasn’t around.
“Just recently, I got back to camp, everything was disturbed at my camp and there was no Harold anymore, never saw him again,” he said.
Owen’s latest friends are two miniature roosters he named Golden and Gilder, the “Golden brothers.” And he’s not letting them out of his sight.
“Now, I keep both these guys with me all the time,” he said of the two gold-colored brothers he got as a gift from a fan about a month ago.
Golden and Gilder were hand-raised, and are already somewhat tame before going on bicycle rides around town.
But Owen said he can pretty much tame any wild rooster, and it’s much easier than socializing a feral cat.
“There was this old Filipino guy, and he told me if you keep a rooster within three feet of you for three days, you’ll have a friend for life,” said Owen, adding that even if the bird used to be a fighting rooster, it can still be tamed.
“Within three feet of you, it practically means you’re going to sleep with it,” he said. “I think that’s what clinches the deal, cause the rooster starts to think you’re his mother.”
Though he is concerned with the wild birds, Owen said in the wild, most of the time the roosters “will come to negotiate a settlement,” as opposed to go kill each other.
He is against fighting roosters in a ring, where “they have no choice” but to fight to death.
“I don’t approve of cutting pieces off of chickens, cause I never had no pieces cut off of me,” he said. “So why would I want pieces cut off of them? God gave them that beauty, let them keep it.”
Owen likes to tame boys because they have “plenty of free time,” he said.
“The hens, they always get something on their agenda they have to take care of,” Owen said. “But the boys, they got nothing but free time, pretty much.”
The Golden brothers may not have an “agenda” like the hens, but they still get excited when they see one.
“Oh yeah, they talk about it as soon as they see them; they tell them to come over, hang out,” Owen said.
While on the bicycle, the birds are tied to a string. But at Owen’s campsite, “they’ll stick around cause they know where the food is.”
Currently, he is looking for a place to live, ideally with an area for a vegetable garden and another for his roosters — and their girlfriends.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com