In defense of Ybor chickens

Sarina Aiello, 11, center, and Alyssa Deitrich, 8, right, march in Ybor City in the Chicken Protest. More than 100 people gathered to “save the chickens” from trapping.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

Sarina Aiello, 11, center, and Alyssa Deitrich, 8, right, march in Ybor City in the Chicken Protest. More than 100 people gathered to “save the chickens” from trapping.

TAMPA — Tommy Stephens jumped up on a table and looked out over the crowd gathered in his Ybor City backyard Sunday afternoon.

They clutched Miller Lites and wore feather boas and passed out signs that said Fowl Play and Chicks Rule.

The protest was about to begin, Stephens announced. "If you want to, crow a little bit — Benny, where's the kazoos?"

A grand marshal in coattails picked up his umbrella. A snare drummer marched ahead.

And about 100 protesters followed, down 19th Street and onto Seventh Avenue. They chanted, "Save the chickens!"

Roostergate 2008 started a little more than a week ago, when a trapper appeared in Stephens' backyard with orders to capture wild chickens he feeds every day.

Someone had complained Ybor's wild roosters were strutting into a business and scaring off patrons, said licensed trapper Mike Martinez.

But the residents of the historic neighborhood claimed the wild roosters as their own, saying the chickens' ancestors have clucked down Ybor's brick streets for more than a century.

Neighbors persuaded the trapper to let the chickens stay — for now. He'll tag them with little bracelets to help officials keep the population under control.

But nothing's stopping a less sympathetic trapper from coming in, under orders from the same unidentified complainant, and rounding up the neighborhood's 100-some chickens.

That's what drove resident Sandra Jackson to attend the protest.

"They're like a landmark," she said. "They really don't do any harm to anybody."

"They've been here longer than we have," said resident Ian Rashid.

The rowdy rooster-lovers stopped traffic as they marched across Seventh Avenue, the drummer hammering the beat to The Chicken Dance.

Confused pedestrians snapped photos. A security guard scowled. And drivers honked their car horns in support.

The parade looked an awful lot like the New Orleans-style rooster funeral Stephens throws every year in memory of his dearly departed feathered friend James E. Rooster, who met his demise in the jaws of a neighborhood dog more than a decade ago.

Last year, the parade drew 600 "mourners."

Earlier this fall, Stephens claimed he was too tired to plan the multi-kegger, and got grief from his friends when he announced the parade was off this year.

But the roosters of Ybor still had their day.

After the 12-block parade route wound back into Stephens' yard, he got on a microphone and told them to sign a petition, in case he had to visit City Council to defend the chickens.

"I think we have won the battle," Stephens announced, "but I'm not sure we have won the war."

The roosters roamed as the band played, and protesters put down their signs and picked up beers. They filled their plates with fried chicken.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

In defense of Ybor chickens 11/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:30pm]

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