TAMPA — While some residents squawked and chicken defenders bristled about proposals for dealing with Ybor City’s historic flock of mostly wild fowl, the hawks glided in.
By most accounts, nature has restored a good measure of equilibrium in the six weeks since City Council members grappled with a chicken population that, to some, appeared on the verge of "infestation" in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
At a meeting this morning, council members will hear that a recent survey of chickens around Centennial Park counted 29 — a big drop from the 89 counted in May.
"We attribute it to the fact that the hawks are really taking the birds, so Mother Nature is really starting to take care of itself," said Sal Ruggiero, the city’s neighborhood enhancement manager.
City officials aren’t going to outsource population control completely to raptors. To keep the population in check, they’ll present a plan for volunteers to capture sick roosters or those that have clearly been dropped off in Ybor by their owners. And volunteers, coordinated by the Ybor Chicken Society, will collect eggs that haven’t yet formed embryos during the hawks’ spring nesting season, when chicken populations tend to soar.
That will require the city to amend its bird sanctuary ordinance, Ruggiero said. The ordinance allows chickens to roam free in Ybor, without fear of harm or capture.
And that’s where controversy might arise. Some chicken advocates would prefer that the ordinance remain unchanged.
"We support modifying the ordinance, only if necessary, as part of a compromise. We don’t believe the ‘problem’ is legitimate at this time and that action isn’t necessary today," said Dylan Breese, the chicken society’s founder.
But minor changes allowing the egg collection, aid to injured birds and moving non-Ybor roosters, which are easily identifiable by their size, breed and lack of spurs, might be acceptable, Breese said.
Earlier this month, the Ybor City Development Corp. board voted unanimously to ask council members to change the 1989 ordinance to allow eggs to be collected seasonally on public property and to put up signs alerting people that dropping off chickens was illegal and subject to fines.
City officials have said the state law on animal abandonment is difficult to enforce.
At a contentious meeting in early June, several residents complained to council members about the late-night noise and waste caused by the flock. They found a sympathetic ear in Chairman Frank Reddick, who has battled with his own rogue wild chicken in his Northview Hills neighborhood in East Tampa.
Reddick directed staffers to find a humane and cheap solution to the problem. Between the hawks and the city’s plan, he’s satisfied that the Ybor chicken squabble is drawing to a close.
"I’ll sleep well," Reddick said. "I feel good about it."
Chicken aficionados, some of whom gather each Friday before sunset to sweep poultry droppings around Centennial Park, don’t think it should have ever reached City Hall’s radar.
The seasonal nature of the Ybor chicken population — and the hawks’ control of it — is nothing new. Breese said he’s seen entire clutches of chickens wiped out by hawks.
"Feral populations of any animal go through spikes and valleys," Breese said. "We can’t just react when there’s a momentary blip."