DADE CITY — In recent months, city officials have fielded complaints about wild chickens roaming the streets, squawking before dawn, scratching up yards, leaving bird droppings in their wake.
So on Tuesday evening, the City Commission outlawed the little cluckers.
City Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that says residents may not "harbor, feed, water and or shelter wild or domestic chickens or roosters within the city limits." The only exception is for people keeping fowl on agriculturally zoned land.
"What I think happened," said City Commissioner Bill Dennis, "was that if you see a wild chicken, you can take it home and eat it. Of course it also stops the raising of chickens, which may become a problem."
So officials will hold off on enforcing the ban until they can pass an amendment outlining the process for people to raise chickens in secure coops.
The original problem was Dade City has a specific measure on the books declaring the entire city as a bird sanctuary. That measure prohibited people from trapping, hunting or otherwise bothering wild birds — and wild fowl.
As residents called City Hall this year with nuisance complaints about abandoned, roaming chickens, officials' hands were tied. No one was allowed to round up the birds.
"So we drafted this new ordinance addressing only the removal of chickens from protected status," said City Attorney Karla Owens. "Now we can accept complaints and enforce them."
But the new measure also bans people from raising chickens in their own backyards. City Commissioner Eunice Penix expressed reservations about an all-out ban.
"I've heard from three ladies in the community who depend on their fresh eggs for food," she said. "They do it for health reasons and they keep them locked up. We shouldn't penalize them."
Charlene Austin, who keeps chickens in a confined area at her 11th Street home, said an exception should be made for people raising the animals responsibly.
"I respectfully request an ordinance that would allow backyard permits," Austin said.
City commissioners directed Owens to draft such a measure, which will be presented at a future meeting.