It might seem strange to ask someone if they know what a fowl is. However, many people honestly don’t know and this partly has to do with the changing meaning of the word.
When the word was first put into use in the early 1500s, ‘fowl’ simply meant ‘bird’. By that meaning, any bird was a fowl. However, today, the meaning is different. People might refer to a pheasant, grouse, duck, or goose as a fowl, and that would be correct usage. However, a blackbird, finch, owl, or hawk wouldn’t be a fowl, though these are all birds.
What has actually changed? The change is technical, though it isn’t especially difficult to understand.
Scientifically, the animal kingdom is divided into phyla. Birds are in the phylum Chordata, meaning that they have a spinal cord. Phyla are divided into Classes. Birds are in the Class Aves. The Class distinguishes all birds from every other kind of animal and only birds are in the Class Aves.
The Classes are divided into Orders, the different types of birds, and this is where fowl are defined.
All fowl belong to one of two classes; either Anseriformes or Galliformes. Anseriformes are usually aquatic to a degree, usually adapted to the surface of the water. Because of this, most of them have webbed feet. Examples of Anseriformes are ducks, geese, and swans.
Galliformes are any of about 290 species of heavy-bodied, ground-feeding birds. These include turkeys, pheasants, grouse, quail, chickens, partridges, and junglefowl. ‘Galliformes’ comes from the Latin “Gallus”, which means “cock” or “rooster”.
Thus, pheasants, grouse, ducks, and geese are all fowl.
Blackbirds and finches are members of the Passeriformes, hawks are Accipitriformes, and owls are Sprigiformes, so they aren’t fowl.
Simply put, fowl are duck-like birds or ‘upland game birds’ and chicken-like birds.
Did you previously know what fowl really were?