I had gotten used to seeing wildlife during long walks with my dog — rabbits, ducks, geese, turtles, lizards, frogs and snakes. But I had never come across a chicken. Not until one December morning in 2019.
It was 6:30, before sunrise and the parking lot was still full of cars. The street lights were spaced far apart, so large sections of the apartment complex’s sidewalks were still dark. I saw another dog walker on a patch of grass on the other side of the large main parking lot, but only because the jingle of metal dog tags made me look into the shadows.
I did what I do after every walk with my dog – bring the bagged waste to the complex’s dumpster. That was when I heard a soft shuffling sound on concrete, coming from behind the dumpster. As I stepped closer, I prepared myself to see the usual scavenger crew that made rounds here – squirrels, raccoons and vultures. But instead, I saw a chicken. Brown or dark red, possibly two-tone. It was hard to tell in the dim light.
I stood staring. How did a chicken get here? She moved in slow, bobbing steps. Her head stretched forward, then her feet moved forward. She took several steps toward me, stopped, then turned her whole body to walk to the right. She kept changing directions but got to the front of the dumpster while I backed up. I sorted through my thoughts of what to do next. I didn’t know anything about chickens. I looked at my senior dog as she quietly stood and stared. She had never seen one before.
I decided to call the apartment manager and the county’s animal control office. I had to leave messages for both as their offices would not be open for hours. Then, I went inside to leave my dog and get some food for the chicken. My web search said they can eat fresh spinach, so I got some from the refrigerator. When I came back out, I found her about 10 feet into the woods to the right of the dumpster and put the spinach down a few feet in front of her. She turned away from it and pecked at the ground. She did not make any sounds, even her walking was softened by the dirt. I watched her for a few minutes, as she kept pecking at the ground. I looked at my phone for the time and knew I had to leave for work.
The animal control officer called me about 10 a.m. to tell me that she had gotten my voicemail, and was on the property now, but could not find the chicken.
“They do well on their own in the woods and can survive off bugs,” she said.
I told her that I worried because my neighbors had seen coyotes in that wooded area and if the chicken went back into the parking lot, she could get hit by a car or a garbage truck. The dark coloring of her feathers blended in with all the surroundings – concrete, asphalt and the forest floor. And the wooded area was just a buffer zone, a wide strip of forest that separated the complex from a main road on the other side. I asked if she could try again using a flashlight.
She said she would keep looking and would call the property manager to see if any security cameras caught the person who abandoned the chicken. She found a wooden crate behind the dumpster that she thought was the chicken’s crate.
She called back a little later.
“Don’t worry about the chicken. She’s safe at the shelter,” she said. “She looks underweight, but it may just be the breed I’m not familiar with.”
Turns out that my apartment complex does not have security cameras in that area. That you can catch a chicken by tearing off small pieces of your fast-food breakfast biscuit. And that a farm animal rescue group works with my local animal shelter in cases like this…usually.
“Don’t worry about her getting adopted. I’m probably gonna take her. I just bought a house and have some property.”