Why did the chicken cross 125th Street? That’s what some East Harlem residents are trying to figure out. A bunch of chickens and a big white turkey appeared near the corner of 125th Street and Second Avenue last week and began pecking in traffic.
The chickens were loosely gathered in a vacant lot next to a gas station on the northwest corner, but they roamed the gas station on Thursday and strayed all over the sidewalk and the street. They darted into traffic and amused passers-by and people waiting at a nearby bus stop.
“You see a new group every so often,” said Monique Dudley, a Department of Education employee who watched the chickens as she waited for a bus and began taking photographs of the chickens with her phone. “I have to send my friends pictures or else they would never believe we have chickens on 125th Street.”
Don Newcomb, a construction worker renovating a building across the street from the lot, said that “some guy” keeps dumping chickens in the area.
“This crazy guy keeps buying them from the market — some animal-rights guy, but I think he’s messed up in the head — and he keeps leaving them here,” Mr. Newcomb said. “He thinks he’s saving them, but it’s not like they’re safe around here. Somebody told me the hawks swoop down on them, too. Eventually, the health department comes, or whatever, the A.S.P.C.A., and they pick them up.”
“They run out in the road,” he said. “I’ve already seen two of them get run over. It’s a shame, because they’re cool chickens.”
The city’s Center for Animal Care and Control has been repeatedly called to the 125th Street spot, said Richard P. Gentles, a spokesman for the group. In the summer of 2007, he said, its officials recovered 25 chickens and a turkey from the area. On Aug. 20, they recovered 13 chickens, he said, which were taken to farms. Complaints about stray chickens are not uncommon in New York, he said. He said that strays usually came from poultry markets in the area.
The agency recovered 354 chickens in 2007, he said, and 425 rabbits and 396 raccoons. The most rescued animals in the city, however, are turtles — 754 of them in 2007.
Joseph Pentangelo, assistant director for humane law enforcement at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said his agency had responded twice to complaints about chickens in the area.
“It’s illegal to keep a rooster in the city, but chickens are not illegal,” he said. “Abandoning any animal is a crime, and chickens can’t really fend for themselves in an urban environment.”
An animal care official said that a note was left on a nearby fence. “Please do not bother the animals,” it read.
The note continued: “I removed them from the chicken market and they are sickly and unfit to eat. Please provide them with food and water if you think they need it.”
A phone number was listed. The man who answered that line said that he was Alex LaForte, 38, and that he had been feeding and caring for the chickens for almost two years. He said he had kept them in a henhouse in the vacant lot, but it was taken down.
Mr. LaForte, who said he had no job and was staying with friends and relatives in East Harlem, said he picked up castoff food from supermarkets and fed it to the chickens each night.
Asked about the note, Mr. LaForte denied having released the chickens. He said: “I don’t know who’s putting them out there, probably some rescue group, but whoever it is is saving them from suffering. I’ve seen the way they’re mistreated and made to suffer in those slaughterhouses.”
“We’re all struggling through these hard times, and the chickens are struggling to survive, too,” he said. “They find freedom on the city streets, and once they find freedom, they can eat and survive, rather than be put in a pen or slaughtered and eaten. I’m a struggler, and I try to help others struggling. If I feed them, they’ll survive.”