By Sara Hendrickson

There’s no doubt you’ve noticed a new favorite pet around these parts: the plucky, clucky chicken has quickly made her way into Seattle’s hearts and yards. What you may be surprised to learn is how many land in the Seattle Animal Shelter’s care. For this story, we talked to SAS Manager of Animal Care and Volunteers Don Baxter to find out how to avoid flocking to SAS with homeless birds.

How does SAS get chickens?
Usually chickens are surrendered pets or strays. Sometimes locals will call SAS to pick up lost birds who have wandered into their yards and don’t know how to get back home. And sometimes people move and can’t take their birds with them.

What are some common reasons for surrendering chickens to SAS?
Hens are occasionally surrendered when they stop laying eggs, but often surrendered pets are chicks that have turned into roosters and can’t be legally kept in Seattle city limits.

How do chickens escape from home? Do they fly out of their yards?
They don’t usually escape by flying, since they are not strong flying birds and they only fly short distances before getting tired out. More often they’ll hop over a little fence or wander down the street. If chickens don’t have a coop to call home then they can be prone to wandering.

What are some things you can do to keep chickens from wandering away?
Build a coop with a cover on it and a yard that’s big enough for the birds to move around. Socialize with your birds, give plenty of fresh water and food, and make sure that predatory animals like dogs and raccoons can’t get into the coop.

Wait, socialize with your chickens? What does that mean?
Chickens can be really engaging and friendly if people are interacting with them regularly. If nobody interacts with them when they’re young, they can grow up to be scared of people—like dogs or cats—but petting them, picking them up, interacting with them can help them feel less fear around people. At the shelter, it’s pretty clear which chickens have been socialized and which haven’t. The chickens who’ve been handled less by people are generally less comfortable being picked while others who have been properly socialized can even enjoy being petted.

Aside from chickens who are, well, chicken, around people, what are some other challenges of caring for these birds at the shelter?
Mostly challenges arise when roosters arrive at the shelter. Since they aren’t legal to own in the city, they need to be relocated to farms and rescue organizations. SAS is constantly trying to work to make sure there are rescues that have the space, time, and ability to work with roosters.

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Above, and top photo: Adoptable chickens at the Seattle Animal Shelter

What’s different about caring for a rooster, versus a hen?
It’s necessary to always use caution when caring for roosters. Sometimes roosters will fight with each other, so you have to make sure that if you’re pairing roosters up in a living situation they aren’t going to fight with or injure each other. Some are more agreeable than others, and a lot depends on whether or not there are hens around. It’s also important to research breeds, as some breeds may tend to be more territorial than others.

What are some notable successes of adopting out chickens?

The volunteer Critter Team works hard to adopt out these birds and once drove a flock all the way out to Yakima—across the mountains!—to their new forever home. When a rooster got adopted in Ft. Lewis, the Critter Team drove him down there, too. Because of their spectacular dedication, SAS has been able to expand the area to which these birds, but especially roosters, can be adopted.

Finally, what are some things to consider when adopting chickens?
Do your research ahead of time, and make sure your yard is set up before you bring the birds home. The last thing you should be doing is scrambling to get everything together for your new flock at the last minute. Plan out a dedicated space, assemble the coop, buy all of the necessary supplies, and then you’ll be ready to bring your chickens home.

It’s important to assume a long-term commitment to these birds, and to be committed to taking care of them their whole lives, While hens usually lay for only two to four years, depending on the breed, chickens can live for up to eight years—or more!

Enjoy getting to know your little hens. They are very interesting pets, more so than you might think. They each have their own distinct personality and provide hours of entertainment digging under leaves, searching for bugs. Learn what their different clucks and squawks mean. They’ll even follow you around your yard or come running when they know you have food.

An SASF grant is funding the current renovation of the Seattle Animal Shelter Critter Room, which will better house chickens, roosters, other birds, reptiles and small mammals. To support the work of SASF, please donate today.