A couple of Graduate Hospital chickens Credit: Courtesy Ed Darrah

You’ve already heard the one about the chicken crossing the road. You’ve even heard the one about the coyote navigating South Philly.

But have you heard the one about the chicken dustbathing in Graduate Hospital?

Walking home from work last week, Ed Darrah thought he must have been seeing things. Maybe he was just over-exhausted from his long day working as a school counselor, he thought. But later that night, Darrah knew his eyes were not deceiving him.

On Montrose Street near 22nd — a quiet block of densely packed rowhomes in the Graduate Hospital area — he stumbled upon several live chickens. All by themselves, just sitting there in a planter.

He wasn’t the only one to notice. “I have a new roommate who moved in, and she had mentioned seeing roosters,” Darrah told Billy Penn. “More and more people on our block have started talking about it.”

Beyond in-person conversations in the neighborhood, residents have brought up the chickens online, too. Several local Facebook groups focused on that area have been host to poultry-related confusion, some as early as April. Commenters wanted to know: How did the chickens get here? To whom do they belong? And why are they just roaming the streets?

[Ed note: All Facebook screenshots in this article are from public posts.]

It’s pretty rare for chickens to roam so close to Center City — especially unsupervised, said Rick Schubert, executive director of the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center. But in the city overall, they’re actually not that uncommon. Schubert’s wildlife center gets more than 100 calls about chickens every year.

“It’s a big chicken city,” Schubert said. “More than you realize, especially in certain neighborhoods like Mount Airy and West Philly.”

That’s despite the fact that in Philadelphia, owning chickens is technically illegal.

Illegal, but only if you complain

Unless you’re on three or more acres of property, you’re not really supposed to have chickens in the city.

That’s thanks to a bill first proposed by Councilman Brian O’Neill in 2004, which applied the three-acres rule to all farm animals except horses (which for some reason require less land, just a quarter of an acre per horse). The penalty for breaking those rules, however, are minimal: a $25 citation, according to ACCT Philly spokesperson Morgan Polley.

And that’s if the violation is enforced at all.

“Even though it’s technically illegal, it’s generally known that Animal Control will not enforce chickens as long as neighbors are not complaining,” Schubert said. “Animal Control has a policy to do nothing about it.”

That’s…not totally incorrect. Though ACCT wouldn’t confirm that “doing nothing” is official policy, spokesperson Polley did say they won’t issue fines for chickens unless they receive complains.

“That is usually the only way we can find out about them,” she said.

In the case of the Graduate Hospital chickens, it’s likely the owner — whoever they may be — will remain undisturbed. Most of the people commenting online about the chickens didn’t seem bothered enough to call in officials.

Most of them just wanted to make dad jokes.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...