September 1, 2005
Fitzgerald-- If you believe that all chicken houses look mostly alike and serve the same purpose, they you are in for an educational nugget or two. A Fitzgerald couple decided to make a chicken house for humans who aren't chicken about enjoying life.
Some people prefer living on the wild side and aren't chicken about it whatsoever.
A yellow sign on Ten Mile Road west of Fitzgerald says, "Wild Chicken Crossing". Look a few yards to the east and you'll see another sign, "Love Dem Wild Chickens. Fitzgerald, Georgia," in front of a small white house with a wooden swing on the porch.
Don't drop in to see Jan Gelders and Winfred Tucker unless you have been invited. Seriously. "You have to like chickens to come into the chicken house," says Jan, and not love just any chicken. You've got to like the internationally known Fitzgerald wild chickens.
She isn't kidding. Don't try to bluff your way in, either. They know if you are one of the few who wants to rid the city of the special birds. If you are one of them, don't ever expect an invitation ever. Just leave before you are asked to go away.
If you're lucky enough to get an invitation, expect to hold the stuffed rooster and smile as they take your picture soon after you walk in. The picture will join many others on a wall of photographs, a visual reminder if you happen to forget to acknowledge your liking of the wild chickens at a later date.
"The chicken house idea is kind of a memorial to the wild chickens," says Jan, a veteran Fitzgerald wild chicken advocate for at least 20 years. She's not referring to domesticated chickens that may have escaped from a real chicken house or barnyard. Jan dearly loves wild chickens that act more like pheasants.
The wild ones can fly for a relatively long distance, compared to their domesticated cousins. A few wild chickens showed up in Fitzgerald decades ago and made their homes there and retained their wildness. Groups of them frequently walk from yard-to-yard, scratching in flower beds.
Some people don't like the chickens and wish they were rounded up and taken away. Jan and Winfred feel adamant about leaving the chickens alone. Whatever you do, don't get either one of them riled up. If you do, expect them to react like an old, wet, setting hen. You can hear roosters talking to each other outside their chicken house for humans. Everywhere you look inside has something to do with the birds, literally everywhere. No clutter.
It takes quite a while to see all the chickens in the small house. A sign that says "Chicken Feed" hangs over a doorway to the kitchen, of course. Another sign says" Hens & Roosters" to identify a uni-cluck bathroom. They have dishes and a platter display with roosters on each one. The wallpaper border in the kitchen includes chickens. A cooking timer in the shape of a chicken sits on the electric stove.
It would look as if they have everything chicken related, but they don't. They welcome anything dealing with a chicken and many of their fiends contribute to the theme. "This is our playhouse. You never get too old for a playhouse," says Winfred, who converted his rental house into the chicken house, "Just to have a place to play and relax."
A pecking order exists. "I'd call me the head rooster. I'm the only one who crows around here," says Winfred. Why would they go to all the trouble and expense to have a playhouse dedicated to chickens?
It sounds crazy. "Everybody thinks you are off your rocker if you're not doing what they are doing," says Winfred. Perhaps so. Jan's attraction runs deeper. "In their bloodline, they have a survival technique that is unlike the domestic chicken. That's why they are alive today," says Jan.
And, that's why they have the chicken house, where friends come to roost for a little while and are not chicken about enjoying life. They plan to enlarge the chicken house by opening another room.