If you’ve ever driven through the town of Yuba City along Highway 99 in Northern California, you may have noticed something strange. Located right in the heart of the town, you’ll likely witness a hoard of wild chickens roaming the car-laden streets. No, you aren’t seeing an anomaly. Those chickens have been there for decades.
These chickens are often seen in the parking lot of the IHOP restaurant, at the doorstep of the county visitors center, and even on Franklin Road. Despite their prevalence, the origin of these chickens remains a mystery.
According to Jessica Hougen, the curator of the Sutter Museum, which provides insight into Yuba City history, the origins of the chickens are unclear. While the chickens have become a staple in the city, their presence is not mentioned in historical records.
Hougen notes that there are various theories about the origin of the chickens. Some people believe that they escaped from a farmer’s coop, while others think that they are remnants of an old sale yard. The latter theory suggests that the chickens may have come from a livestock auction yard that was present in the neighborhood in the 1970s.
Today, Yuba City has several poultry-themed restaurants, and some may wonder whether the feral chicken population is related to them. However, Hougen doubts that this is the case. She jokes that the chickens roaming the streets are not the type that people typically eat nowadays.
Despite not knowing the origin of the chickens, Yuba City has embraced them as part of its culture. The city has even painted chicken murals around town. Whether residents love or hate them, the chickens have become a defining feature of Yuba City. In fact, there’s even an Instagram page highlighting their shenanigans around the town.
It’s worth noting that the presence of free-roaming chickens in urban areas is not unique to Yuba City. In cities around the world, including Honolulu and Paris, feral chicken populations exist. Often, these chickens are the descendants of birds that were once raised for food, but were released or escaped and subsequently established themselves as a wild population. In some cases, cities have attempted to manage or even eradicate feral chicken populations, while in others, they have been left to coexist with humans.
The presence of free-roaming chickens in Yuba City adds to the city’s charm and uniqueness. While the origin of the chickens remains a mystery, residents and visitors alike have come to accept and appreciate them as part of the local culture.