Most of the chickens are brought in by people who the staff suspect are sheepish owners.
"They come in saying, 'Oh, I found this chicken or rooster, and he's a stray,' knowing full well they own the animal and realized they were illegal to possess," Giacoppo said. "They are afraid to let us know they are owners."
In September, it took Animal Control officers in Arlington, Va. a week to catch a coterie of chickens that had taken up residence in the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary along George Washington Parkway. Animal Control had netted a rooster that was loose in a residential area a couple of weeks earlier. Residents speculated that the birds might have been wild, but Alice Burton, chief of Animal Control, doubts it.
"They had help getting there," she said.
Roosters often turn up in backyard flocks through no fault of the owner. Hatcheries sometimes throw a few into an order to fill out a box, and inexperienced buyers may not realize they have a rooster until the crowing begins.
Sanctuaries can take in far fewer roosters than hens for other reasons. In commercial poultry operations, the ratio of roosters to hens is usually 1 to 10, said Nathaniel L. Tablante Jr., a poultry expert at the University of Maryland at College Park. More roosters leads to trouble: The males have a tendency to fight, especially in the spring during mating season. To keep them from killing one another, Cummings houses her 13 resident roosters as far apart as possible and lets them out in the yard at different times.
Too many roosters can be problematic for hens, too, said United Poultry's president, Karen Davis. Female chickens can lose feathers, get sores or refuse to come out of their coop when they get "too much mating attention."