When thinking of a community in Singapore that is particularly in love with jungle fowls and hybrids of the species, Sin Ming residents may come to mind.
Over 90 per cent of residents in Sin Ming want to live with these wild fowls, according to a survey done in 2019 after the fowls were almost culled by the then-Agri-food and Veterinary Authority.
A resident even created a film about the beloved Sin Ming chickens.If you think that Sin Ming residents are the only chicken-loving ones in this City in Nature, you are mistaken.
Tucked behind Rochester Mall, some residents at Dover Close East have grown to appreciate the joy of having these feathery neighbours around amid the pandemic.
Feathery residents moved in last year
It all started in just before April 2020 when a few elderly residents first noticed a few free-ranging chickens appearing in the residential estate.
Through word of mouth, more residents started paying attention to them.
While it's uncertain where these chickens came from, some speculated that they could have migrated to the area after losing their original home to forest clearance.
Regardless of the reason, the chickens seem to enjoy this new neighbourhood.
Dover Close, with a hilly green space and a few mature trees in the neighbourhood, allow the chickens to rest comfortably during night time.
The chickens have also successfully negotiated for space with the incumbent feathery residents — the pigeons which also rest on the "hill".
Slightly over a year on, the chickens have breathed new life into the estate of over 40 years — residents who have been neighbours for decades but did not speak a word to each other before this now have a common topic to bond over.
A resident, who only wishes to be known as VT, told Mothership:
"Other than learning and appreciating wildlife and nature more, I [grew] emotionally stronger and bond[ed] with people. I started chit chatting with many people I've never met before in the past due to the chickens even though I've been living here for 45 years since 1977. With no common themes, it was difficult to start conversations or progress beyond greetings."
Another resident surnamed Teo also echoed the same sentiment:
"The chickens bring us together! People who don’t otherwise connect naturally, have come together to share stories of what they see in the chickens, and then we talk about other things along the way. Their cuteness has become a strong catalyst for our community to come together. We have unofficially become a brood ourselves!"
So you might wonder, what's there to talk about? Aren't chickens all the same?
Presence of free-ranging chickens livens up the neighbourhood
Trust me, keen observers of these free-ranging chickens have plenty to share.
These residents can differentiate individual chickens by the nuanced differences in their calls and appearance.
The more prominent hens and roosters were even given names.
For example, there used to be a pair of roosters named "Mike" and "Donald Trump", and hens named "Magnolia" and "Petunia".
Rooster "Donald Trump" used to be the alpha of the flock but he and Mike eventually left the flock. The alpha role was then assumed by another rooster named "Cheekopek", according to VT. It turns out that this new alpha rooster actively chases after the hens in the flock — as its name suggests.
Chicken-loving residents find joy in knowing the latest happenings of the flock of chickens from each other. Teo added that people can even learn some life lessons from observing the chickens such as mother's love and leadership.
Here are other interesting observations shared by VT:
Both old and young love to watch the chickens.
Being good neighbours to chickens
Like good neighbours, these residents also lend these chickens a helping hand in times of need.
VT told Mothership that she once found a chick with a fractured wing and sent it to the vet. It was the first time she ever visited a vet.
The chick did not survive eventually, but that incident got her started on studying more about jungle fowls and its hybrids, she recounted.
Besides natural predators like the community cats and pythons, the chickens also face the threat of becoming roadkill as they reside next to several roads. At least two roosters have been knocked down by cars, VT shared.
They also had a few harrowing encounters with moving vehicles during attempts to cross roads in search of worms and shelter.
As such, the chicken-loving residents try to keep them away from the roads.
When I visited the estate in August, VT was checking on the flock of chickens in the evening. This is the time when the chickens have their dinner before flying up to the tree branches to rest for the night.
At around 6:45pm, she gently waved a stick like a shepherd, trying to get the attention of the flock or any distracted chickens who appeared to be going towards the main road.
Some chicks struggle to get onto the trees before the sky turns dark, VT said. Upon noticing this, residents will use torchlights to help the chicks see better. They may also nudge the chicks into the bush so that they can safely spend the night on the ground.
However, not all residents enjoy living with these new feathery neighbours due to the "noise" they create.
Complaints about crowing by the rooster(s)
The roosters' crowing can be disruptive to one's rest and work, especially during this period when people are spending more time at home due to the pandemic.
One resident surnamed Low, who lives in a nearby condominium, shared that the crowing made by the rooster(s) at around 5am in the morning has disrupted his sleep for months. He has been "acutely" aware of the roosters' presence since June last year and the crowing continues till today.
Low mentioned that the noise can only be drowned out by the sound made by his fan, after he closes all windows in the house. He added that another condo resident cannot use one of her rooms because the crowing can be heard loudly from that room.
Unlike those who enjoy the company of these free-ranging chickens, Low said that these feathery residents "do not belong" to the estate. To him, it doesn't make sense that residents have to "give up on their freedom" at home and take "extraordinary measures" to cope with the "nuisance".
"If your enjoyment is built on the fact that someone else is suffering because of that, then your enjoyment has to be affected as well," Low said.
Here's an audio clip of crowing heard from Low's place, which is at located on a high floor, at around 5am:
Low told Mothership that he is okay with the morning bird chirping but not the crowing. You can hear the first crow at the 9-second mark.
He said, "I am not complaining about the bird chirping as its part and parcel of the greenery I enjoy. But the rooster crowing of this kind, in my view, is not."
Low emphasised that he is not against having wild chickens in the neighbourhood. However, something has to be done to reduce the disturbances caused by the wild chickens, or the roosters in particular, that residents are facing.
Chicken-loving residents hope others can adapt to living with wildlife
In a HDB block beside the hilly grass patch, VT sleeps well despite the crowing.
She used to sleep near the parapet but chose to move further into the house at night when the migrant rooster was present — a lifestyle change she was willingly to make in order to coexist with the chickens.
For someone so passionate in defending these free-ranging chickens, VT also expresses empathy towards residents who are annoyed by the roosters' crowing.
Nevertheless, she and the other chicken-loving residents hope that other residents can also adapt to living with wildlife, given the benefits that the chickens have brought to the community.
One suggestion that she proposes is for affected residents to install removable sound barriers at home which are not costly and can be bought online.
Mediation still in progress
Given how strongly both camps of residents feel, multiple agencies, including National Parks Board (NParks), People Association and the town council, have been involved in attempt to resolve the issues through discussions.
Speaking to residents on both sides of the issue, it is telling that residents with differing views are running out of patience after months of discussion.
To resolve any issue, however, one has to discover the root of the problem.
For example, the alpha rooster was previously challenged by a migrant rooster. In response, the rooster crowed in a bid to make the trespassing challenger leave. If it stays, it will be up for a fight.
The migrant rooster was later relocated to West Coast Park.
Besides defending its territory, it is a natural instinct for roosters to crow.
Scientists have found that there is an internal biological clock that determines when a rooster crows, and it does not take cue from external light to do so.
When there are more than one rooster, the rooster of a higher rank will crow earlier, followed by roosters of lower rankings.
This explains why the crowing continues early in the morning at the Dover Close estate.
Such human-wildlife conflicts are not new in Singapore and it poses a question of whether all Singaporeans can live harmoniously with wildlife.
Even at Sin Ming estate, where it's been established that a majority wishes to live with the free-ranging chickens, there remains to be a portion of people who struggle to coexist with the feathery residents.
A relocation was carried out last year to reduce the number of chickens living in that estate.
In response to Mothership's queries, NParks and West Coast GRC said that they are working on a solution with the residents.
The statement wrote that NParks takes a "science-based approach" towards management of animals, including free-ranging chickens.
- Studying the population ecology of the birds, such as roosting and movement patterns,
- Studying any risk that these animals might pose to public health and safety through the diseases they may carry, and
- Educating the public on not releasing or feeding free-ranging chickens, and habitat modification and population control.
Generally, NParks also urges members of the public to not feed free-ranging chickens as that will lead to overpopulation and disamentities to the community.
Free-ranging chickens are capable of sourcing for food in their habitat and do not require food from humans to survive, NParks added.
Furthermore, the leftover food may attract other pests such as rats which carry disease and pose a risk to public health.
Top image courtesy of VT