“Hi, this is Fran Bart and my question is why are there roosters and chickens, lots of them, in the parking lot of Starbucks in Yuba City. It's a big parking lot, like a big mini mall and there's a Starbucks there. It's on Highway 99 in Yuba City, and so I'm just wondering why all those chickens and roosters are running around the parking lot there. Anyway, thank you very much. Bye.”
Fran is certainly not the only one who has noticed all the hens and roosters running around in the Yuba City Starbucks' parking lot on Franklin Avenue. These chickens are rather famous with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and a number of Facebook fan posts. While the chickens are ubiquitous along this part of Highway 99, their origins are tricky to pin down.
Sharyl Simmons is the assistant curator at the Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County. She’s worked there for 15 years and used to teach California history at several local colleges. She remembers when the chickens first started showing up. She said it was around the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. At a house between Franklin Avenue and Bridge Street.
“There were just like a few chickens in the yard," she said. "And then they spread and they spread and they spread. And now you see them in a lot of places that it’s just kind of surprising.”
Searching through Yuba City Facebook groups, I met another local, Jason Sanders, who also said he remembers where the chickens starting showing up. Sanders agreed they came from a house between Franklin Avenue and Bridge Street and that the house actually belonged to his grandparents. The house is very close to the Starbucks' parking lot. It sits on a small cul-de-sac across the street from it. Sanders still has photos of the house and where his grandmother kept the hens.
“We had twenty-one cubbies," he said. "She went seven wide by three deep and we had twenty-one cubbies there for the nests for the hens.”
Sanders said that including the roosters, his grandmother had around 30 to 40 chickens while she lived there. His grandparents sold the house in the early ‘90s. Sanders remembers well because he had to move out most of their stuff for them. When he was finished moving everything, he didn’t know what to do with the chickens. He said he let all of them go free.
Before calling this investigation a wrap, there was another theory I had to look into first. Yuba City used to have weekly livestock auctions. I met a woman who used to work for one in town during the early ‘70s. Her name is Suzanne DeCamp and she lives in Olivehurst now.
We met at a diner in town and she led me to where the old auction yard used to be. It turns out, it’s also near the Starbucks' parking lot. It’s off of Bridge Street, around where the movie theater is now. I asked DeCamp if she ever saw any chickens escape during the auction.
“They escaped all the time," she said. "People transferring them from one cage to another and stuff and them getting loose and not much of a fight was put up to catch them and stuff because they weren’t very valuable. They are still not very valuable.”
Today, these chickens don't just hang out at the Starbucks. It’s all the food joint parking lots from the IHOP on Franklin Avenue to the Wendy’s on Bridge Street. Why there? It’s close to where they escaped from, and who doesn’t like french fries and pancakes?
Since You Asked is a new series on NSPR where you ask the questions and we find the answers. Whether your question is lighthearted or hard-hitting, we want to get to the bottom of it. Submit your question using the form on the Since You Asked page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also leave us a voicemail at (530) 433-4887.
This episode featured original music by Jack Knight.