COLUMBIA — Chicky. Roosty. Dylan. People who know him have lots of nicknames for him. Nobody, though, is quite sure how the rooster came to live in Peace Park.
As the sun started to rise on Wednesday morning, the rooster crowed beneath his preferred bush. Cars whished past the park, and once in a while, passersby caught a glimpse of the rooster's iridescent black and red feathers.
When he spied Summer Allen tossing food on the ground, the rooster sprinted toward her, his feet swiftly pit-patting across the park.
Allen crouched to sweet talk the rooster. She named him Dylan, after folk singer Bob Dylan, because he made his home in Peace Park. She usually just calls him Chicky, though.
Allen, a retired psychologist, first saw the bantam rooster on a morning run five months ago. She watched him roam the park each morning, marking the day with a loud cry.
"By July, I thought, 'It's so hot and miserable, he needs water,'" Allen said. She brought a small pet dish to fill with water from a bottle and some bird food that includes sunflower seeds and millet to supplement the rooster's diet. She visited the rooster nearly every day, scattering his feed under the bush and watching the squirrels and small sparrows gather to eat alongside the rooster.
Eventually, Allen decided to change her running route. Instead of parking on Forum Boulevard to run the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, she started parking at Flat Branch Park so she could run through Peace Park near the beginning of her workout.
About three weeks ago, Allen placed an overturned black plastic bin under the rooster's bush. It bears a little note: "Chicken shelter. Don't remove."
Others aren't as pleased about the rooster's presence. Animal Control officers estimate they've responded to 10 or 15 reports about the bird.
"We've heard about the rooster, but we have not been able to catch the rooster because it has such a wide area it can escape (to)," Jean Easley of Animal Control said. "And it can fly."
Molly Aust, Animal Control supervisor, said catching the rooster is a low priority.
"It's not causing a whole lot of trouble, and he's hard enough to catch," Animal Control officer Brandon Anderson said. Aust added that the rooster also runs faster than her staff.
If Animal Control did catch the rooster, it would hand the bird over to the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture because it has the facilities to handle chickens. That group would be required to keep him for five days to see if anyone claimed the rooster.
"After five days, we would kill the rooster just because we can't have it here in town, and the roosters don't lay eggs," said Billy Polansky, sales and marketing manager at the center.
Columbia residents are allowed to keep urban hens on their property, but roosters aren't allowed within city limits.
MU Landscape Services has tried a couple of times to catch the rooster, but its groundskeepers, too, have been unsuccessful. Pete Millier, director of MU Campus Facilities, Landscape Services and the Mizzou Botanic Garden, said the problem is partly the rooster's escape tactics and partly their halfhearted effort.
"We kind of want to catch him, maybe don't want to catch him. We're not real serious about it," Millier said. "Unless we get a complaint, we're probably going to let it go."
"I'd rather not be (known as) a chicken wrangler," Millier said.
Because Peace Park is part of the MU campus, Landscape Services is responsible for capturing the roaming rooster if it receives complaints. Millier, however, said he would likely check with nearby farms or groundskeepers to see if anyone could house the rooster.
Millier said his department is mainly concerned with the rooster's long-term health. He's not the only one.
When Allen started feeding the rooster, she didn't think she'd become so concerned with his welfare. But seeing the bird every day and knowing what he's up against, she said she's started to worry about how the rooster will survive winter.
"(He's) just this lone animal who's not really a wild animal. It's a domesticated animal, and it's out of place," Allen said.
Delvin Mellerup, a senior lab mechanic at the MU Psychology Department, said he brings his daughter Skyla, 13, to feed the rooster about once a week when she joins him at work.
"I think it's kind of neat to hear a rooster crowing in the city," Mellerup said. He said his family has chickens at their home near Harrisburg.
"It's an animal, and it doesn't really have a home," Skyla Mellerup said. "I just like it." She nicknamed the rooster Acorn last week but later decided she liked the name Roosty better.
Allen said she'd keep feeding the rooster as long as he's pecking around Peace Park. And when she goes on vacation over winter break, Delvin Mellerup said he'd make sure to keep looking for the bird.
"People walk by, and they hear it crowing and they laugh," Allen said. "And one person told me it makes her happy."