Come for dinner, stay for the show.

There are lots of edible birds in the world. Ducks spring to mind. Geese are another. But really I can’t think of any birds you can’t eat. I can think of plenty of birds I’d just as soon not eat, but none that would, say, poison me in the event I needed to eat one in a pinch. But of all those edible birds — especially the really, really toothsome ones — why have we humans elevated chickens above all other possible choices? A big part of the answer is cockfighting.

Cockfighting, it’s been said, was the world’s first true spectator sport. And I have no trouble believing that. Why? Because of all things that define the disposition of a cock, two really stand out: its willingness to mate serially, constantly — and its eagerness to fight for the privilege. Cocks fight each other with a degree of ferocity rarely seen in the bird world, and indeed routinely fight each other to the death.

This fact was not lost on the ancients, who were almost universally enamored of cockfighting. The Indians showed it to the Persians who showed it to the Greeks who showed it to the Romans. Some authorities on the subject have argued that the entertainment chickens provided to ancients peoples was every bit as important — in some societies even more so — than the eggs and meat they offered. That’s speculation of course, though it’s interesting to note that wherever you find chickens on the planet you also find cockfighting. Not legal cockfighting of course (it’s prohibited by law in virtually every nation on Earth), but still…

If you’re wondering why chickens have out-competed pheasants as humans’ bird of choice, cockfighting is a big part of the answer.

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