Editor’s Note: You’re reading the first in The Tribune’s new series, “That’s SLO Weird.”
This column is all about exploring the things that make SLO County so wonderful and ... well ... weird.
From Bubblegum Alley to Arroyo Grande roosters to Hearst Castle zebras, we want to answer your burning questions about area oddities, whether you're a newcomer or a lifelong SLOcal.
Have an idea for "That's SLO Weird?" We want to hear it. Send your questions about anything — from a strange landmark to a bit of folklore — to email@example.com.
If you should ever find yourself driving through the Village of Arroyo Grande, watch out for roosters.
Yes, roosters. Colorful, loudly crowing, honest-to-cock-a-doodle-doo roosters — right in the heart of Arroyo Grande.
The feral fowl are practically local celebrities. They have their own website and not one, but two Facebook pages dedicated to them. There’s even an Arroyo Grande restaurant that takes its name from the local fauna.
Jan Scott of the South Coast Historical Society said that people travel to A.G. from all over and ask where they can find the roosters (Answer: Pretty much anywhere in the rectangular block of land surrounding Arroyo Grande Creek between Bridge Street, Olohan Alley, South Mason Street and Nelson Street.)
But for all their fame, the roosters of Arroyo Grande are a bit of a mystery.
Whence come the chickens?
Where did these chickens come from? Here’s the thing: Nobody who knows how the roosters first got here is talking. But we do know a few facts.
Scott, who has become something of a local lore-keeper, said that nobody she’s spoken with remembers seeing the roosters before the 1990s. Eric Anderson, San Luis Obispo County animal services manager, says the birds pre-date his 18 years on the job.
“I think it does add a definite charm to the downtown area,” Anderson said.
Scott said she does have a theory about the birds’ back story.
“The guess was that they were show birds,” she said.
Christine Heinrichs, a Cambria-based author and chicken expert, said it’s possible the delightfully dapper roosters were show breeds with disqualifying defects.
“There is a standard of perfection much as there is for the American Kennel Club for dogs,” she said.
Scott said that the birds’ original owners might have wanted to spare the birds from the chopping block, “so (they) dropped them off where they might have a chance. ... And we think that others did the same.”
Scott and Anderson both said Arroyo Grande's chicken population, which is nearly all male, has fluctuated over the years. Somebody must still occasionally be dropping birds off, and that’s a problem.
Legally, the roosters of Arroyo Grande shouldn’t be there.
It is against state, county and city law to dump domestic animals, including chickens. But beyond that, it’s cruel and dangerous both to the birds being dumped and the birds already there. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
“If you have surplus roosters, contact Central Coast Feather Fanciers,” Heinrichs said. “The fate of surplus roosters is the cooking pot.”
That said, the roosters of Arroyo Grande are obviously there now.
“Certainly it's a very long-standing situation,” Anderson said. “I think the birds that are there are pretty well-integrated into that environment.”
The bird are generally well-received by the locals, and have become part of the city’s charm — and so the county government offers what amounts to rooster amnesty. As long as they behave themselves.
Birds behaving badly
Arroyo Grande Police Chief Beau Pryor said that, for the most part, the roosters of A.G. keep their beaks clean. But occasionally, the birds break bad.
In the last five years, there have been a total of 26 incidents in which roosters ran afoul of law enforcement, including:
- 15 cases of “rooster harassment” (Pryor did not say whether that is roosters harassing people, people harassing roosters, or both)
- Four complaints of roosters in traffic
- Two rooster noise complaints
- Two complaints of people feeding roosters
- One witness of a person abandoning roosters
- One case of roosters causing property damage
- One case of roosters getting stuck in a building
To better know a rooster
Heinrichs has written multiple books about chickens, and specializes in raising heritage breeds and small flocks.
“Chickens come in breeds much as dogs come in breeds,” she said. “And then there are the varieties, which are usually feather color.”
Just like dog breeds, different chicken breeds have different temperaments; some are more aggressive than others. But there’s a reason for that fabled fearlessness.
“A rooster's job in the flock is to protect the flock, so he needs to be valiant,” Heinrichs said.
Despite that, the roosters of Arroyo Grande generally seem to tolerate one another, despite the occasional dust-up.
“Chickens are very social, they want to be in a flock,” she said.
Heinrichs said the fact that the roosters have plenty of space to roam helps.
“So if someone wants to pick a fight, the other guy can leave,” she said.