Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Tampa legal advice: Run wild, run free, chickens of Ybor City

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A family of chickens is seen in front of Acropolis Greek Taverna in Ybor City.
A family of chickens is seen in front of Acropolis Greek Taverna in Ybor City. (Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times) Photo Gallery

TAMPA, Fla. — Score one more for the chickens that roam free on the historic brick streets of Ybor City.

Weary of chicken poop, torn-up landscaping and early-morning crowing, an Ybor condominium resident recently looked to the city for legal guidance regarding his rights versus the birds’.

Steve Calkins, who owns two condos at the Quarter at Ybor on Palm Avenue, wanted to know this:

Could he shoo chickens off private property with a broom, hose or leaf-blower? Could he periodically have them trapped and relocated?

“They are not bald eagles,” Calkins, 69, told the Tampa Bay Times last week.

No and no, the city said this week, pointing to a 1989 ordinance declaring all of Tampa a bird sanctuary. That makes it illegal to “hunt, kill, maim or trap … or otherwise molest” birds, or to even attempt it.

That ordinance covers domestic birds, song birds, migratory birds, waterfowl and wildfowl, but excludes birds raised in captivity for eating purposes.

“Whether you are a private property owner or on public property, you can’t do anything that harms a protected bird,” said assistant city attorney Camaria Pettis-Mackle. As for shooing chickens with a hose or blower, she would not advise it.

“Generally it says don’t disturb, don’t interfere, don’t annoy,” she said. “Definitely sweeping is out of the question.”

Calkins insists he is not anti-animal. He says he sees this as a private property rights issue. He says the birds’ poop must regularly be cleaned from walkways and the pool deck, and the chickens destroy the grass.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said after hearing from the city this week. “It seems unconstitutional.”

Years ago, a trapper came to Ybor after someone complained of chickens scaring customers inside a business. More recently, complaints to the City Council about a burgeoning bird population had elected officials waxing on about the chickens’ contribution to the ambiance — as much a part of Ybor as cigar smoke, cafe con leche and Cuban sandwiches.

In such skirmishes, the chicken has generally prevailed.

Dylan Breese, founder of the Ybor Chickens Society, which promotes harmony between Ybor’s humans, businesses and chickens, said the city’s interpretation of the ordinance makes sense.

“Tampa’s home to a lot of wildlife,” he said. “And to expect protected wildlife to know what a sidewalk is and stay on the sidewalk isn’t reasonable.”

Breese and other chicken supporters have pointed out that Ybor City’s free-roaming roosters, hens and chicks are a well-established part of the community and should come as no surprise to anyone who chooses to live there.

Calkins said when he moved to the eclectic neighborhood east of downtown Tampa four years ago, he was fully prepared for the late-night partiers and homeless people.

“I did not think about the chickens destroying property and squawking all night,” he said.

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