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Wild chicken problem leaves Dade City perplexed

DADE CITY — Ed Gorecki would rather be inspecting housing violations and addressing blight. But the city's code enforcement inspector gets one or two phone calls a day — and more people flagging him down on the street — to squawk about the problem he can't fix:

Chickens.

Roving gypsy chickens, more specifically. As best Gorecki can figure, as the economy soured, unattended fowl took to the streets of Dade City and multiplied. "Four hens can produce 100 eggs per month," he said. And the little cluckers can be a nuisance: Scratched-up landscapes. Bird droppings. Ear-splitting squawks before dawn.

"We can't catch the chickens or identify them," said Gorecki, 70, who is three weeks from retirement. "They're all over town and, officially, they're a protected species."

Dade City has a specific measure on the books declaring the entire city a bird sanctuary. "It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, shoot, trap, injure or molest any wild bird or wild fowl," city code states.

If domestic chickens are creating a disturbance in pens owned by a resident, Gorecki can write the owner a citation. If an abandoned bird wreaks havoc, though, he can't do anything about it.

"Just today we saw a hen with 10 chicks near the Pines neighborhood," Gorecki said Monday afternoon. "There's a flock embedded at Pasco High School. More are roosting behind the train depot, and the Watson Park neighborhood is overrun."

City attorney Karla Owens told city commissioners on May 8 that the problem was no laughing matter.

"It's time to draft an ordinance to deal with this," she said. "We need to limit numbers, impose fines, define coop designs and banish the roosters entirely."

Of course Dade City is hardly the first Florida community to wrestle with chickens. The wild fowl are protected cultural icons in Key West, where the birds first arrived on pirate ships, via shipwrecks or with Cuban immigrants who loved cock fighting. When the violent sport was outlawed, the chickens began populating the sidewalks, to the delight of tourists along Duval Street.

Zephyrhills has been less welcoming to wild fowl. The city pays animal trappers like Tim Wilcox $10 a head to pluck homeless chickens from the streets and find them new homes on farms or in school agriculture programs.

"They're not agricultural and they're not livestock," said Zephyrhills City Manager Jim Drumm. Pasco Animal Services won't pick up chickens. Neither will state or federal wildlife officials.

"They fall into their own category and are always a challenge," Drumm said. "Since there aren't any agencies to address this, we use several trappers. When a child is injured or a car is seriously damaged, it gets our attention."

But private trapping may not fly in Dade City. For one thing, the bird sanctuary ordinance prohibits it. Then there's the cost.

"Would the city be willing to pay $10 a head to a professional trapper?" asked Dade City Manager Billy Poe. "I don't think so."

Owens plans to bring the issue back for discussion at Tuesday's City Commission meeting, though. She encouraged residents to come out and share their thoughts on the issue.

"I don't think the commissioners believe it's the problem it is," she said. "They're thinking, oh it's just staff overregulating again."

Wild chicken problem leaves Dade City perplexed 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:12pm]
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