Thursday, February 17, 2011
FITZGERALD, Ga. — At the end of the day in Fitzgerald, when shop owners hang up "closed" signs and the fierce heat fades, chickens come out of the shadows. They hop across Main Street. They scratch on lawns, with one ropy foot cocked in the air. Roosters, their wattles electric red, chase hens around azaleas.
It's been 30 years since wild chickens began roaming the town's streets, the unintended result of an experiment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. People learned to accommodate and even appreciate them: Traffic stops while rows of fluffy chicks cross to safety and hop up on the curb. "Love Dem Wild Chickens," reads a bumper sticker.
A government biologist named Gardiner Bump in the late 1960s asked to use a nearby fish hatchery to introduce an exotic bird to the Georgia forest — one that he thought might become a craze among hunters, like the runaway success of the ringneck pheasant, a bird from China that was propagated in North Dakota.
The bird in question was the Burmese red jungle fowl, native to central India. The ancient progenitor of all breeds of domestic chickens
Under the Raj in India, British colonial officers had considered them prime hunting birds. When flushed, they "blasted into the air with a flurry of wings," said I. Lehr Brisbin Jr., a professor of biology at the University of Georgia who is an authority on the bird.
The experiment, however, was disastrous. When released, the birds exploded into the air as expected — but they perished in the woods, and their chicks were gobbled up by raccoons and foxes.
By the mid-1970s, the results were so discouraging that employees killed the remaining birds, destroyed their eggs and shut the experiment down, said Frank Parrish, 74, who spent 30 years with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Not all the birds died — that much is clear. Parrish offers a commonly accepted explanation: A well-connected Fitzgerald man — whose name has remained a secret — persuaded the hatchery superintendent to give him a few jungle-fowl eggs, which he slipped under a bantam hen. The chicks bonded with their adoptive mother and went on to breed with bantams, and were allowed to roam free, Parrish said.
Descendants settled on the west side, among the stately houses of the city's leading families. They wake before dawn and spend the day hopping from one yard to another, scratching for bugs. They have little apparent fear of humans or other animals.
That is the story of the wild chickens of Georgia. This was a article in 2004 and if they still roam in spite of efforts to rid the town of them I know not.