Inspired travel ideas often come from the most random of places: overheard subway chatter, Facebook postings, eBay transactions. Yes, you heard me right on that last one: eBay. Last week I bid for an innocuous little item being sold by a woman who appeared to be in Wild Chicken, Georgia. Curiosity piqued, I did a quick search but Wild Chicken didn’t show up on Google maps – so I left it that. I subsequently won the item, which arrived yesterday bearing a thoughtful little note thanking me for my purchase as well as two unsolicited brochures about this lady’s little town. I learned that there’s not, in fact, a place called Wild Chicken, Georgia; there is a town, however, that’s apparently famous – in certain circles – for its wild chickens: Fitzgerald, Georgia. Back in the 1960’s, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources stocked Burmese chickens all over the state as an additional game bird to be hunted like pheasant or quail. For some reason populations of the bird never took hold in other parts of the state, but flocks of chicks released at the Ocmulgee River made their way to downtown Fitzgerald and thrived. Tiny, colorful birds with brilliant orange or yellow ruff and gleaming black tail feathers, these guys look like something you’d want on your side in a cock-fight. Yet they’re not overtly aggressive. According to one poultry resource, if caught in a fight Burmese chickens will move around and think out their moves, while other breeds simply dive into the fray. Why did the chicken cross the road? Apparently in Fitzgerald, only after thoughtful considered meditation on the availability of options did he decide he wanted to get to the other side.
Loved and hated by the locals, the wild chickens have become a fact of life in Fitzgerald: I expect they wake folks up in the morning, create traffic problems, and probably keep a good stock of bugs at bay. Once a year – over the third weekend in March – the town even celebrates these wild birds at a Wild Chicken Festival, which takes over the historic downtown area. I’ve just added it to my list.