Chicken dumpers throw off balance of Ybor City's roaming fowl

The number of chickens in Ybor City has doubled by some accounts as city-dwellers take up chickens as a hobby then grow tired of them and abandon them. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
The number of chickens in Ybor City has doubled by some accounts as city-dwellers take up chickens as a hobby then grow tired of them and abandon them. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Feb. 5, 2018

YBOR CITY — This is local color?

The color of bird droppings, maybe. The color red that people see when they open the front door to a messy porch. The color of shrubbery dying from relentless scratching.

The roaming chickens of Ybor City aren't charming local color to everyone who lives and works in the historic Latin district.

Many people see only fowl out of control, and they want something done about it.

Like maybe repealing the 1989 city ordinance proclaiming Tampa a sanctuary for all wild birds so someone can trap and haul the creatures away.

"We can remove feral cats but not the chickens?" said Joe Howden, who has lived in Ybor City for 27 years. "They are more protected than the buildings in Ybor."

Before things get too far out of hand, the public-private Ybor City Development Corp. is seeking options for thinning the flock. A committee meeting is scheduled for March.

The chickens have their fans. Some people feed them and even tend to their medical needs. And no one has complained to the development group about problems with this tender loving care, said manager Courtney Orr.

"As one resident kept awake by roosters put it, he is not anti-chicken," Orr said. "He is pro-sleep."

The roosters, it seems, don't know when to shut up and hit the hay, maybe because the bright lights of Ybor City grow ever brighter with new development. They crow all night, often beneath bedroom windows.

• • •

The problem may be coming to a head now, after chickens roamed free for decades in Ybor City, because more city dwellers are taking up the fowl as a hobby then grow tired of all the work involved.

And with its reputation as a place where chickens are welcome as local color, Ybor City has become a dumping ground. There's no chicken census, but locals estimate that a population of just 100 some 20 years ago has more than doubled today.

It's the new chickens — kept in coops until now and accustomed to being fed — that are invading people's yards and causing all the problems, said Manny Alvarez, who has lived 26 years in Ybor City. Alvarez said he's witnessed people abandoning chickens.

"There needs to be compromise," he said. "Keep those born in Ybor but get rid of the troublemakers, those being abandoned."

These "immigrant chickens," Alvarez said, "destroy landscaping, keep people awake and poop everywhere."

He adds with a laugh, "And some, I assume, are good chickens."

Florida prohibits abandoning animals. But cruelty laws typically protect only pets, not livestock, except in cases of starvation or other extreme abuse, said Sherry Silk, chief executive officer with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

Still, the Humane Society has urged the city to guard against abandonment of chickens in light of a 2013 City Council vote that reclassified chickens from livestock to pets — so those city-dwellers could raise them in residential neighborhoods.

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City officials say there is no "enforcement mechanism" allowing them to crack down on chicken dumping, but they do point to a 1989 ordinance proclaiming Tampa a sanctuary for all wild birds. That's what prevents trapping and removal.

For those tempted to abandon their poultry because they're in over their heads, there are no pounds or rescue groups, noted Francisco Rivera, agriculture agent with the Hillsborough County Extension Service.

But they're not without options, either, Rivera said: Advertise them for sale, he suggested, give them away — or eat them.

• • •

Meantime, Sandra Yturriaga is vexed by two roosters, abandoned a few months ago in her neighborhood, that consistently splatter her car and home with their droppings.

"And I can't put anything out, any new lawn shrubbery," said Yturriaga, who has lived in Ybor City for 15 years. "They'll it eat it or dig at it until it dies."

The situation has grown so desperate that chicken fan Art Keeble, who calls the birds "one of Ybor's biggest attractions," started asking veterinarians what seemed to be a common-sense question: "Do you neuter roosters?"

"After they stop laughing, I'd say, 'I'm serious,'?" said Keeble, who oversees the Ybor City Saturday Market in Centennial Park. "Then they tell me they don't do that and refer me to call someone else who laughs but can't help."

No one would take Keeble up on the request because the procedure is dangerous for the roosters, said Sherrill Davison, a poultry veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rooster testicles are inside the body cavity.

"I know of no one who would perform that surgery," Davison said.

Dylan Breese is the chickens' biggest advocate as founder of the Ybor Chickens Society. The group works toward harmony among the poultry, residents and businesses, in part by cleaning the droppings from porches and leading feathered flocks away from the community's many public events.

Breese urges calm, acknowledging that the abandoned chickens are a problem but insisting that it will probably take care of itself once the weather warms up.

A cold winter suppressed the chickens' urban predators, he said, but he reports that the last five clutches of eggs hatched in Centennial Park were eaten by hawks.

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.