Boy, I Say Boy, That Is One Giant Chicken
This just in: Y’all Went Where? has solved the riddle of why the chicken crossed the road.
More about that in a minute.
First we must tell you about Fitzgerald, Georgia, and its still-under-construction giant chicken topiary. It will be 62 feet tall—about 3 feet taller than the largest topiary in the world and 6 feet taller than The Big Chicken in Marietta, Georgia. (The current topiary record holder is a Mickey Mouse in Dubai, and The Big Chicken is a steel structure with a moving beak atop a KFC in the Atlanta suburbs.)
Oh—and this is huge—Fitzgerald’s topiary chicken is going to have a room inside it that you can rent for the night!
A Government Project Gone Awry
A little background: Fitzgerald is a South Georgia town of 9,000 souls that lies about 25 miles off I-75. In the 1960s, the U.S. government released about 2,000 Red Junglefowl—sometimes called Burmese chickens Bippity-Bop-O The Burmese Chicken doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? And admit it, the song is going through your head right now. Sorry. at a hatchery on the Ocmulgee River as part of a larger project to replenish America’s dwindling wild fowl population with foreign game birds. The project failed, but some of these really beautiful birds and their descendants made their way to Fitzgerald and made it their home.
All in on Chicken
Visiting Fitzgerald today, you’d assume that everyone in town is crazy for chickens. Metal chickens perch on bike racks and peer at you from street corners. The town holds an annual two-day Wild Chicken Festival, which includes a chicken crowing contest. But it was not always thus. In the mid-2000s, residents fed up with chickens destroying their flowerbeds and waking them at ungodly hours tried to push through plans to have the population destroyed. Animal lovers blocked their efforts. Had they not, the world might never have had a 62-foot-tall topiary chicken.
If You Build It…
The giant creature looming above Fitzgerald is the brainchild of Mayor Jim Puckett, who’s eager to lure tourists to his little town. He hired Topiary Joe, an artist who has created topiary sculptures all over the world, to bring it to life. The original budget was $150K, to be paid for out of a special fund set aside for tourism, but costs have risen and completion has been repeatedly delayed, partly because of the pandemic.
We visited in January, which is when these pictures were taken, and if you check the town’s chicken webcam—yep, there’s a live webcam—it appears that while progress has been made, there is a good bit more to do. Still, even without being finished, Puckett’s chicken has generated gobs of national and international media stories.
A Fun Bit of Non-Chicken-Related Fitzgerald History
Fitzgerald was developed in 1895 by a former drummer boy in the Union Army as a haven for both Union and Confederate veterans. On the west side of Main Street (which is where you’ll find the gorgeous Art Deco Grand Theatre, pictured above), you’ll find Lee and Johnson streets, and on the east side, Grant and Sherman streets.
Guess where the town’s original fire station stood? Sherman Street. Clearly, the town founders had a sense of humor.
Where Are All the Chickens?
Reading about Fitzgerald, you get the impression that wild chickens are everywhere. After all, why else would there be a law on the books that says chickens have the right of way at intersections? We envisioned chickens mobbing our car as we pulled into town.
But we drove down street after street and…nothing. Not even a feather. “Fred,” I said, “I am NOT leaving here without seeing a chicken.” True story. I started casing neighborhoods—it’s a wonder no one called the cops—while he searched Google for hints about where chickens might cluster. After maybe half-an-hour, he spotted a couple down a side street. Due to my superior Google Search skills. “Where are the chickens in Fitzgerald?” 60% of the time it works EVERY TIME.
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
I pulled over and proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes trying to get a decent photo of a chicken. But Fitzgerald chickens are skittish and speedy. I don’t know who got a bigger kick out of watching the chickens thwart my attempts to play nature photographer—Fred or the group of men sitting on a stoop a few houses down.
At last, I managed to capture the video you see above. (“Planet Earth” producers: I’m available if you’re hiring.)
So why did the chicken cross the road? To escape from me.