FITZGERALD — Historic downtown Fitzgerald struts its stuff again March 20-21 with the city’s Wild Chicken Festival, an annual event announced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division in partnership with the community.
The lineup on Saturday, March 21, starts with a pancake breakfast and ends with a group chicken dance. But the festival itself began as a rattlesnake roundup that, after 28 years, organizers converted in 2001 to focus on the town’s wild Burmese chicken population.
The Wildlife Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources applauded the change, noting declining eastern diamondback rattlesnake populations and the illegal and destructive practice of gassing gopher tortoise burrows to collect rattlers.
Community involvement this year has been strong, even with the down economy, and new features include a motorcycle poker run, a classic car show, a Miss Wild Chicken pageant, art as part of the state’s Grassroots Arts Program and a nature show by The Parks at Chehaw.
That’s in addition to crowing and wing-eating contests, crafts, food and a mechanical bull ride, all packed into a historic district laced with blooming azaleas and, well, wild chickens.
A crowd of about 6,000 is expected. Admission is free, though there are fees for some activities.
Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County sport diverse wildlife and the state’s only resident population of wild Burmese chickens, Peavey said. The chickens were stocked across Georgia in the 1960s as a game bird for hunting. Populations dwindled and even disappeared elsewhere, but prospered in Fitzgerald.
The Wild Chicken fest always includes a quarter-a-vote Love ’em or Hate ’em poll on the chickens, which, according to www.wildchickenfestival.com, wake residents in the morning, sometimes clog traffic and possibly keep bug populations down.