Like a fox in a hen house at night, a South Whidbey woman plucked chickens on the loose in Langley one by one this past week, but a couple of cluckers eluded her.
A small flock of eight chickens, all roosters, appeared some time during the Langley Mystery Weekend, Feb. 27-28. The details of their arrival are a mystery, but their removal was certain. They were rescued this week by Emily Martin, a former intern for the Langley Main Street Association. Starting the day after they were first reported, she tracked one rooster for four hours to see where it roosted, then returned at night and captured them, one by one. She got six out of the eight that were seen, and temporarily relocated them to her home where she has other abandoned animals, including roosters found on roadsides and parking lots, until she can find suitable adopters. The other two roosters’ whereabouts were unknown.
“I don’t think I can just sit back and watch if I know an animal is in danger or hurt or stressed,” Martin said Thursday.
“It was quite a process,” she added. “The poor things were very scared.”
Where the chickens came from (besides the obvious answer — an egg) remains unknown. If they belonged to someone and were just on the lam, surely an owner would have claimed them. Hence, the prevailing thought is that the flock was intentionally left in Langley, either as a prank/practical joke or abandoned by delinquent owners.
For the past 12 days, the chickens ran free in Langley. Their presence provided a new spectacle to the city known for its whale sightings and, more recently, its booming bunny population.
Martin grabbed the chickens fearing a situation similar to the domestic rabbits that now overpopulate the city. She didn’t want a repeat of a few loose domestic animals being abandoned to fend for themselves. She also doesn’t want people to think that abandoning their animals is quirky, cute or acceptable because someone like herself will rescue them.
“The biggest thing I would stress is being responsible before even getting a batch of chicks, knowing that some of them will grow up to be roosters and to have a plan,” Martin said. “… Be responsible, knowing that whatever animal you get is now your responsibility.”
People arriving to Langley the morning of Feb. 28 found a handful of chickens clucking about in the US Bank parking lot next to the Langley Chamber of Commerce visitor center on Anthes Avenue. Some speculated that it was part of the mystery weekend plot, which was organized by the chamber. But Langley Mystery Weekend was not involved in the chickens’ release, event author Loretta Martin (no relation to Emily Martin) said this week.
“I really don’t know anything about them,” she said.
“I hope they didn’t release somebody’s chickens, but you’d think somebody would have come to get them,” she added.
There was some credence to it, given that the event’s author had incorporated a group of animal rights activists into the plot.
“But I really have a sickening suspicion that somebody played the mystery Saturday and got the idea,” Loretta Martin said.
“Only in Langley,” she added.
The chickens didn’t terrorize people, vandalize city hall or scratch up the parks. But while the chickens lived free in the city, they became an irritation for residents within earshot. Martin said some of her friends were not fond of waking to the sounds of early morning cock-a-doodle-dos.
Cities across the Puget Sound area have dealt with chicken ownership differently. In Oak Harbor, only hens are allowed within city limits with a maximum number of six, depending on the size of the lot they occupy and a fence, pen or coop is required. Even densely populated cities allow domestic chickens but limit the number to eight in Seattle and six in Bellevue.
Famously, thousands of feral chickens roam free in Hawaii. Those fowl are the descendants of poultry brought there by Polynesians, Europeans and Filipinos, and without natural predators have flourished, particularly on rural islands such as Kauai.
Langley city leaders are hoping to avoid becoming a chicken haven like Kauai, and certain a repository for any unwanted animals. Langley Municipal Code 8.12.010 (D) defines nuisance animals in city limits as “Animals and fowl (excluding dogs and cats) which constitute a menace to the public health, safety or welfare while on or off any property owned or occupied by any person.”
However, the city does not have a code that specifically covers public disturbance noise from animals.
Police Chief Dave Marks said he responded to at least a few calls about the chickens in the roadway. But by the time he arrived, they were always long gone. Like just about everyone else in town, Marks said he didn’t know to whom the chickens belonged. Without a suspect, there were no fines or infractions issued; that included the fowl in the middle of road.
“Not even the chickens,” he said. “We let them off.”
Abandoning animals is a serious offense in Island County. Violation of the animal abandonment code carries a fine up to $100 or up to 90 days in jail for each infraction. Island County also has public disturbance noise control penalties that can be applied to excessive animal noise, such as roosters, which carry $25 fines for first-time offenders, $125 for a second violation within a year, and up to $1,000, 90 days in jail or both for a third infraction within a year.
Emily Martin is hosting the chickens for now. But with the chickens seemingly out of harm’s way and out of a city, she would like to find a more suitable home for the fowl.