The Onagadori (means “Honorable Bird” translated from Japanese) is a rare breed of long-tailed chickens. It was raised in the 17th century in Kōchi prefecture, on Shikoku Island in southern Japan, and was recognized as a Japanese National Natural Treasure in 1952. It is one of the ancestors of the German Phoenix breed.
The main feature of the Onagadori is its exceptionally long tail, which can easily exceed 2 meters, and lengths of up to 10m have been achieved. The tail consists of approximately 16–18 feathers, which never molt under the right conditions and grow rapidly, gaining about 0.7–1.3 m per year.
Onagadoris have individual ridges, the eyes are reddish-brown, and the earlobes are white.
The recognized color varieties of the Onagadori breed are White, Golden Black, Black Chest Red, and Black Chest Silver. The Onagadori is kept for ornamental purposes only.
Japanese breeders have put a lot of effort into creating and perpetuating the breed over the centuries, keeping their specimens in special huts with perches high above the ground, where the tails are kept clean and in good condition.
Hens are poor producers of light brown eggs (laying around 25 eggs per year), but they are known to hatch their eggs.
The Onagadori was bred in the 17th century in the province of Tosa, the area that is now Kōchi Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, in the southeastern part of Japan. It is believed to have been derived from other long-tailed Japanese breeds, including the Shokoku, the Totenko, and perhaps the Minohiki. The Onagadori was declared a Special Natural Treasure in 1952. Of the seventeen breeds of chickens considered Japanese national treasures, it is the only one with “special” status.
The German Phoenix and Onagadori association report that the origins of the Onagadori are somewhat mysterious. Shokoku is believed to have been primarily used to create the breed, selecting for long-tailed and slow-shedding mutations during the Edo Period of Japanese history 1600-1868.
However, recent research has ruled out that the Shokoku was involved in the breed’s development, genetics closely link the Onagadori as one of the true long-tailed foundational breeds.
In the late 1800s, the breed was widely disseminated in Japan through farmers of the time, surprised by its majesty. Koyu Nishimura wrote and published a book: Sketches and Thoughts, where he described the impressive tail of ever-larger feathers from Japan’s unique poultry hoard.
On the brink of extinction
In 2007, the breed’s conservation status, reported to the Japan Poultry Conservation Federation, was “in danger” of extinction. Very rare outside of Japan. The numbers in Japan have declined since the mid-20th century. There may be only 1000 pure birds in the world and it is doubtful that pure specimens exist in America.
During the years 1912-1926, the Onagadori became an officially recognized breed. Shortly thereafter, descriptions of the variety of combs and colors began to circulate in Europe in response to the first imported specimens.
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