“Cluck, cluck, cluck.” An array of color scurries into the nearby bush.
“Mommy, mommy, look!” A little girl pointed up at the nearest tree. “A chicken! I love chickens! I like chasing them around,” she said giggling.
“HONKKKKKK!” A car on the street corner blares its horn at a chicken crossing the street with her chicks. The little girl gets up and tries to grab a chicken pecking at the ground, but it scurried away. She ran off to play. Her mother brings her here on Saturdays to enjoy the local market and see the chickens.
Ybor City has been home to wild chickens for more than 100 years. The chickens roam free, seemingly unburdened by the new businesses popping up everywhere.
Local shop owners have battled to keep business booming despite the mess that comes with the wild chickens that call Ybor home. A community of chicken lovers have come together to form the Ybor Chickens Society in order to protect the chickens from those who want them ousted. Members of the Ybor Chickens Society, along with many other community members, believe that removing these animals would minimize Ybor’s rich culture and alter its history. The chickens should be respected like any another resident of the area. Sadly, some visitors believe it is okay to harass the chickens for a mere couple of laughs. Under Tampa city ordinance, the chickens of Ybor, over 200 in number, are protected and can roam the streets freely.
February of 2017 marked the birth of the Ybor Chicken Society (YCS). The purpose of YCS is to “coordinate volunteer efforts to assist with the upkeep of public areas and businesses that are impacted by the chickens.” Members of the YCS, and many others, believe the chickens are keeping the culture of Ybor alive and enriching the community.
Dylan Breese, a local Tampa bay resident, saw the good that chickens bring to Ybor City. A visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, left Breese with a new respect for all living creatures. “As animal lovers, we left that experience wanting to help as many living creatures as we could,” Breese said. Breese is the one of the founders of the YCS.
“Some may be anit-mess,” Breese said. “And that may be confused with being anti-chicken, but that’s where we step in.”
The YCS is responsible for keeping the chickens, as well as the business owners, living in a clean, harmonious environment. However, members of the YCS appear to clean more human garbage than chicken-related mess during their cleaning events. The volunteers sweep mulch around local businesses every night, tend to sick or injured chickens, protect them from harassment, and keep the history of the chickens alive by talking to visitors.
The chickens are a common topic among newcomers to Ybor.
“They tell a story and keep history alive in our little city,” Debra Hargreaves said. Hargreaves is the events coordinator for the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.
“Tourists are always asking about them,” Hargreaves said. “And I find it very interesting to hear all the different stories stemming from the same place. They are also very interesting to watch, gives you a sense of purity in this busy little town.”
Initially, some business owners were concerned the chickens would keep customers away, but now most feel it increases foot traffic.
“The chickens and Ybor’s businesses are as far from mutually-exclusive as could possibly be,” Breese said. “Many across town use the chickens to draw business … they bring people and people bring money.”
The Ybor City Development Corporation took a 2017 resident survey in which citizens rated the chickens as one of the “strongest assets” of the community. Citizens believe the animals have not deterred new businesses from opening up shop, but rather brought in a new market of people looking for something different.
Tiffany Minock is one such example. Minock is opening up “Morada Pure,” a skincare and natural beauty shop, directly across from Centennial Park, the central hub for the chickens. However, Minock is no stranger to the world of businesses with chickens as neighbors. She owns another business in Key West, a place that also loves and embraces their own chicken community.
“Oh those chickens, they are kind of like toddlers darting around, eating, playing, making noise and making messes,” Minock said. “You just love them for who they are and hope they stay out of trouble.”
People from all over are bringing attention to the wild chickens. To date, the chickens have roughly 4,000 followers across social media platforms. The society is even in the works of creating a “virtual fostering program.” The program would consist of members paying a $25 fee which would guarantee a fostering certificate and a year’s supply of pictures to document their chicken’s progress.Tyler Jeffries, a new resident of Tampa Bay, has fallen in love with the chickens.
“I first visited the chickens earlier this year,” Jeffries said. “My boyfriend and I were going to ride the trolley when we came across them.” Jeffries remembers walking towards the park to get to the trolley when she heard them first. “Was that a chicken?” She asked her boyfriend. Jefferies turned and became completely distracted by the chickens hanging around the bushes and perched in the trees.
Jeffries, along with many other chicken-lovers, came together during a time of crisis. Hurricane Irma was a learning experience for the chicken-loving society. The community came together with over 40 volunteers who rounded up most of the chickens, dropped off crates for chicken use, and helped spread the word to others willing to help. Jeffries donated her unused dog cage to the YCS.
According to Breese, a warehouse in Brandon allowed the society to store the chickens there until the storm passed.
“Not only did the society spring into action, but so many people from the community did, also,” Breese said. “A couple businesses in town caught their own little chicken families and dropped them off to us so we could usher them off to safety. Luckily, the storm veered away and most of the chickens we weren’t able to catch were unscathed.”
To this day, the chickens continue to roam free and explore the historic streets of Ybor. The local businesses that surround Centennial Park: the Bunker, Core, what was the Moon Over Havana Gallery, the Ybor Art Studio, the Ybor Chamber of Commerce, and Morada Pure all continue to support the feathered creatures they call neighbors.
At the front line of the community will stand Breese, a lover of all living creatures, especially the small feathered ones.
“It’s largely because of the chickens that members and volunteers of the YCS are so actively engaged in their neighborhood,” Breese said. “They instill us with a sense of civic pride and responsibility, and it’s because of them that we are out, daily, doing everything we can to make this community better.”