The Phantom Chicken of Sonoma

roosterAs one of the older and more colorful towns in California, Sonoma has its share of legends. Well, now there is a new one: The Phantom Chicken. Those of you following me on Facebook know that, for the past month or so, I’ve been fretting about a rooster who seems to have been abandoned in some wild land across the road from our back pasture. This is an area that, unfortunately, has been used for a long time for dumping, for teen partying and other nefarious activities. It’s also an area overrun with foxes and coyotes — who are so bold as to come out and sit there staring across at the terriers behind the fence. So, when I heard a rooster crowing from over in that area, I immediately assumed that he’d last about a day and a night before being torn apart by wild canids. But he lasted and lasted. Week after week, I’d come up to Sonoma and hear him crowing.

Still, he seemed far from happy. Instead of crowing at dawn, he crowed continuously day and night. Since chickens are flock animals, I assumed he was desperately calling for his hens. To dump off a rooster in the wilds like this is tantamount to sentencing him to solitary in Guantanamo. Except solitary confinement would come with the added danger of evisceration by wild animals. I began cursing the creep who couldn’t find a new home for the poor avian — or at least give him a merciful and meaningful end as Coq au Vin.

Domestic animals thrown out into the wild die horrible deaths preceded by suffering — especially herd, pack and flock animals. I remember once seeing a science program about what happened to chickens put in the chicken equivalent of solitary confinement. They actually went quickly crazy — psychotic, even. As I listened to the rooster crowing and crowing round the clock, I thought I could detect growing psychosis.

Suggestions for catching the rooster came flooding in from Facebook friends, but none of them were practical. And even if I did catch him, I don’t have any place to put him. I thought of a notice in the local paper alerting anyone who might want a rooster that there was one to be had for anyone who could catch him.

site of the phantom chicken

This view is from our lower vineyard. As you can see, it's wild country for a lone chicken.

The problem is, no one had seen him. John and Louis were even convinced there was more than one out there. Thus, the legend grew. And it resembled no legend so closely as that of Joaquin Murrieta. The infamous bandit — the basis for the Zorro story — was supposed to be a Californio, or maybe a Chilean, rancher whose family was killed by Anglos. In response, he takes to a life of crime throughout California, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor Mexicans. The jury is out on whether there ever was a real Joaquin Murrieta. A “Joaquin” was a common term for any Hispanic back in those days and there were reports of up to five Joaquins operating up and down the Sonoma and Sonora County areas at the same time. What is certain is that, if you were to plot on a map all the robberies attributed to Joaquin Murrieta, he would have needed a helicopter to cover the ground between those robberies. But fictional or no, the Native Sons of the Golden West have still put a plaque on the old hotel on the Plaza stating that “Joaquin stayed here.” But anyway, back to that rooster who was developing a legendary aura of his own.

Joaquin Murrieta

The Hispanic Robin Hood, the legendary Joaquin Murrieta.

Suddenly Monday, the legend became reality, as the Phantom Chicken stepped out of the brush and gave a face-off glare to the terriers across the road. Rather than looking psychotic, bedraggled and at Death’s door, he’s big and sassy and full of fight. The picture at the top of the post is not him, but it’s the same breed which, according to this site, is the old Dutch breed, the Welsummer.

I was able to get a picture of him, and as an extra bonus, he was standing next to an old washer someone just dumped on that site, so you can see his size.

wild rooster and washer

Sadly all I had was my point and shoot, but you can see how large he is next to the washer. And how close he is to the back fence.

chicken crosses the road

Later he showed himself again and I caught the chicken...crossing the road!

The Phantom Chicken of Sonoma

Here's the best shot I could get of him as he headed back into the brush.

Now that I’ve seen Phantom Chicken, I’m revising my game plan. I was going to have John put him out of his misery with the shotgun if I couldn’t find someone to capture him. (And I’m having no luck finding anyone who has chickens and needs more or has any desire for a rogue rooster.) But he doesn’t seem to be in misery. He seems…well, can I say cocky? When I saw him, he was strutting around as if he weren’t afraid of anything. He certainly wasn’t afraid of two yapping terriers behind the fence.

So I think he gets to be part of the wildlife now. It’s all over but the naming, although I don’t think I can call him Joaquin Murrieta. The Mountain Lion is Joaquin and I don’t think he (or possibly she) would be pleased to share a name with a chicken. So for now, he’s The Phantom Chicken.

John suggests we buy some hens and turn them loose over there so that we have a whole flock of Outlaw Chickens. I’m not sure that would be a good solution. The scrub over there is still infested with foxes and coyotes.

But now I’m sure The Phantom Chicken can evade them with his super chicken powers.

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Author: Lisa

Although I'd like to think of myself as a rootin', tootin', wine-makin' cowgirl, I currently only live in Sonoma part-time. Mostly I'm on freeways between San Jose, San Francisco and Sonoma. With two yapping terriers in crates behind me. We try to enjoy all three places and points in between. Which will explain why my post subjects are all over the map.

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  1. Wasn’t Murrieta’s head preserved in a jar (that had to be one big jar or one little head) and paraded around on display? Perhaps “Jarhead” for a name or “Mason”.

    Do you suppose the rooster escaped cock fighting? It’s big down here and, no doubt, big up there. Disgusting sport.

    I’m surprised the JtB would consider introducing non-native animals.

  2. Yup, the supposed Murrieta’s head was preserved in a large jar of brandy (think those large specimen jars in labs) along with the hand of his supposed cohort Three Fingered Jack. While no one stepped forward to positively identify the head as Murrieta, the three fingered hand was considered proof. Problem was, back then guns were always exploding, so there were a lot of people running around with several missing fingers. The jar was on display in San Francisco when it was destroyed by the earthquake.

    If The Phantom Chicken had been in a cock fight, I can’t believe he wasn’t the winner. Surely they wouldn’t abandon a clear heavyweight champion.

    I’m not sure how serious John was, but I think he was thinking he’d gather them up later when I finally start keeping chickens. In any case, there is no danger a flock of unprotected chickens is going to become invasive. I’m amazed not foxes or coyotes haven’t gotten this guy.

  3. But Lisa.. WHY did the chicken cross the road?

  4. Phantom Chicken fears nothing.

  5. He appears to be a big Bantam-type and those guys fly high into the trees at night. Much safer there. Chickens aren’t nearly as stupid as folks give them credit for.. they keep a constant lookout for predators in the air as well as on the ground. I like the name “Mason”. LOL

  6. If that’s a Welsummer, they don’t have a bantam breed. That bad boy probably weighs between 9 and 11 pounds. He can take care of himself. He’s out there eating wild plants, bugs, little snakes, small birds, hop toads and all kinds of little stuff. Chickens are like little velociraptors, and as long as they don’t get airlifted by a hawk, are pretty tough. He doesn’t look any worse for his adventures, and he sure doesn’t look like he’s been fighting. I look forward to reading more about his adventures!

  7. Using an internationally recognized unit of measure, I’d say Phantom Chicken is nearly terrier sized.

  8. “A washer that someone threw out on the side of the road.” Do the Joads live near you?

    And damn that earthquake for destroying a perfectly good head in a jar!

  9. Hi Lisa,

    I expect someone from one of the many cock fighting rings around your neck of the woods dumped him off as being either to good, or because the law was closing in on them. Cock fighting is a pretty big business around San Fran & surrounding areas including Sonoma & as you say that this cock is holding his own against the local predators it could be because of it’s fighting pedigree. It would probably be best if you let John finish it off as it would not make a good breeding bird if that is where it comes from, it would only fight with whatever flock it is put with.

  10. The only reason I would have introduced hens is that, as most folks no, the male of the species tends to lose all instinct of self survival when sparkin for the ladies. While he does his version of the mummers strut, I could get close enough to throw my throw net over him. While parked in Sonoma square this truly gorgeous lady walked between us and some out door dinners, except for the sneak a peakers with their wives, any male, and a couple of females, were so busy watching her pass I could have easily come from behind and bopped them with my sweet dream fishy stick. Such is the nature of the beast. FACTOID: all chickens were original bred from African jungle fowl, the banty Arwacana is the breed the looks the most like its ancestor.

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