Chasing Chickens in Miami

You've got to have a sense of humor if you're going to join Miami's squad of chicken catchers. It may be a serious mission they're on, but inevitably it is filled with comic moments.

Which explains the shirts emblazoned with the words "CHICKEN BUSTERS" that Ozzie Iglesias, Bill Borges and Lester George wear when then are in pursuit of prohibited poultry. Remember the movie "Ghost Busters?" You know… who you gonna call when you see chickens running through the yard? Chicken busters.

Miami likes to, uh, crow that it is the only city in the country with a team of chicken busters. It is a uniquely Miami problem: So many of the people here come from the Caribbean and Latin America where free-ranging chickens are just part of the landscape. It may seem quaint if you are passing through the neighborhood; it's not so charming when the roosters crow incessantly outside your bedroom window every day at sunrise.

"Slow down! Slow down!" said Ozzie to his fellow busters as they prepare for a stealth assault on a dozen roaming chickens outside a Miami seniors' complex. All three are clutching big green fish nets.

"Alright go… in the corner!!"

Suddenly the birds take flight. Who knew that chickens and roosters could fly so high so fast?

"Not a one!" said Ozzie with a dejected look on his face.

'Think Like a Chicken'

At least once a month you'll find Ozzie, a Miami firefighter, and Lester and Bill of code enforcement prowling the boulevards and backyards of Miami in search of roaming chickens.

It is a violation of city bylaws to have chickens in residential areas. "Mostly because of the noise they make," said Bill, "the cackling, pretty much all day long."

Borges asked the Animal Welfare Department -- they oversee the dog catchers -- to help deal with the plague of poultry. But he was told, "We don't do chickens." So he created his own squad borrowing a couple of adventuresome firefighters.

The trio reposition behind some parked cars for a second assault on the unsuspecting chickens.

"Bill get in the middle of the cars, quick!" said Ozzie.

This time the roosters run, heading straight for a small hole in the chain link fence. At times it looks like a Keystone Cops film or one of those cartoons we used to watch as kids when that infamous rabbit eludes his persistent pursuer.

But this time the rooster has nothing to crow about. Lester dashes around the fence and with a deft right hook snags the cackling creature in his net. Lester has him by the feet in one hand as he pursues yet another chicken with the net in his other hand.

"To be a good chicken catcher," said Ozzie, "you've got to think like a chicken. They develop a pattern and they always do the same thing. Once you've been here a few times, you know exactly which way they're going."

On a good day they'll apprehend 60 or 70 chickens. Their quarry is sold to a farm, the proceeds go to local charities. Since they began in April 2003 the chicken busters have captured about 8,000 chickens and raised more than $15,000.

Ozzie turns a corner and motions to his fellow busters. "There's the future right there," he said with a smile as he watches more than a dozen little chicks waddle through the grass as the mother hen tries to lead them to safety.

But their little feet can't propel them fast enough. Amid a cacophony of chirping, Bill, Ozzie and Lester delicately collect 13 chicks and the mother hen.

In the distance another chicken is racing across for the street.

All of which may finally answer that enduring question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get away from the chicken busters.

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