- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) - Something sinister is sneaking through the northern woods of St. Simons Island.

The creatures’ calls echo through the live oak forests at dusk and dawn as they trot to their fiercely-defended feeding grounds.

No one knows where they came from, or how they arrived, but their reputation has woven its way into local legend.

On an unassuming afternoon about two weeks ago, an island woman had a chance encounter with the fabled fiends - and lived to tell the tale.

“It was one o’clock in the afternoon, and I was walking to meet my friend - alone,” said Sally Gilfillan, who lives off Frederica Road where she strolled Jan. 5.

“I was in my shorts, because it was one of our lovely, warm January afternoons,” she said. “And ‘BAM!’ It slammed into me, and sunk its talons into my leg.”

The tenacious talons belonged to a Rhode Island Red rooster rumored to forage the island’s dense maritime groves.

Gilfillan was stunned. She has passed the run-of-the-mill roosters countless times without incident, but that day was different.

“A man saw it and stopped his truck,” Gilfillan said. “When he got out of his truck, the rooster turned and went toward him, but he chased it away.”

Gilfillan managed to escape, but not without injury. Photos on her phone document the bloody puncture wounds her feathery assailant left on her ankle. After the dustup, she had to take antibiotics and have a tetanus shot. Two weeks later, a bandage still bears witness to the skirmish.

It might seem preposterous - even Gilfillan admits that - but the situation left her shaken up.

“It attacked without any warning, and it attacked from behind,” said Gilfillan, a retired accounting professor who moved to St. Simons Island three years ago with her husband, Doug. “I couldn’t see it, so I couldn’t kick it away. It snuck up on me. I don’t want it to do that to anyone else.”

THE HUNT FOR ‘EL COOPACABRA’

Gilfillan took to social media to share her startling story. She posted her cautionary tale online in a small neighborhood group, but it didn’t stay there for long. Someone shared a screen shot of her post on “Saint Simons Live Update,” an invitation-only Facebook group with more than 5,700 members. From there, the jokes and jeers came pouring in.

One “Live Update” user called for “SEAL Team 6 to take those roosters out Bin Laden style with a double tap,” and another person said it might be time to call in Colonel Sanders, the late founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The screen shot was posted to “Live Update” on Jan. 14, and since then, more than 50 people have reacted and scores of comments have treaded the post. Users have posted snarky remarks and pictures of the roosters, which one commenter nicknamed “Little Jerry,” a reference to a 1996 “Seinfeld” episode, and “El Sriracha.”

But islander Jamie Johnson got to the top of the story’s pecking order.

Johnson, a building contractor who lives a few miles from the attack site, made a short video of himself “hunting” the roosters and shared it on “Live Update.”

“I had a little time on my hands when I was headed out that way to pick up a trailer from a job site,” Johnson said in stone-cold manner. “I wanted to help. I didn’t want the bully chickens to hurt my fellow islanders.”

In his first-person film, Johnson crouches against a tree in a wooded area where the roosters gather. With dead-pan delivery, he looks at the camera and says he’s going to “post up here and see if we can’t get these ‘coopacabras,’” a cheeky reference to a legendary blood-sucking creature in Latin American folklore called “El Chupacabra.”

He even had a plan to draw the roosters out.

“I figured I needed to set up a decoy to bring them in,” Johnson said. “I had available to me palm fronds and a KFC cup.”

Johnson fashioned together the palm leaves and cup, making a decent likeness of a chicken, considering the materials he had available. Later in the video, he “camouflages” himself with Spanish moss and awaits the fabled feathered ones before cutting to a scene of himself frantically running back to his truck.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” he exclaims as the shaky, handheld video shows him running back to his pick-up truck.

‘SOMETHING HAS CHANGED’

It’s clearly a comical affair, but Gilfillan’s real-life story is backed up by the accounts of others.

Jay Carroll, a St. Simons Island resident who jogs in the same area where Gilfillan was accosted, said he’s had more than one similar rooster-related ruckus.

Although he’s been scratched by the roosters a few times, Carroll doesn’t think the animals present any real danger. In fact, he’s fond of his feathery friends.

“They have a lot of character, and a lot of personality,” said Carroll. “They are delightful animals. … At the end of the day, they’re wild animals. I’m not surprised if you get too close and they jump out at you.”

Polly Dean, a cyclist whose route takes her past the roosters’ stomping grounds, felt the same way. After hearing reports of talons and attacks, she’s had some second thoughts.

“I’ve been riding by them for about three months,” Dean said of the roosters. “For the first two months, they were friendly. They recognize me. I have photos of them coming up to my bike wheel.”

Her Instagram account is peppered with colorful photos of the roosters flocking to her bike. Recently, the birds’ demeanor has darkened, she said.

“In the past four weeks, something has changed. They’ve gotten a little more aggressive,” she said with an uncomfortable laugh. “I try to slide by them, now.”

‘A PERCEIVED THREAT’

The roosters’ behavior may be perplexing to most people, but Dr. Jaclyn Luckstone, a veterinarian on St. Simons Island, is not too shocked.

“Roosters can be some of the meanest little things you’ve never met,” she said. “Most roosters have a big spur, kind of like where a thumb would be on us, and it’s sharp. If they have enough force, they can do some damage.”

Luckstone said a few factors might explain the roosters’ bad behavior. One aspect could be the birds’ ages, she explained.

“I don’t know how old they are, but if they’re 5 to 6 months old, they’re coming into sexual maturity,” she said. “You’d expect a rush of testosterone, and that can cause more aggressive behavior.

“If that’s not the case, then a lot of times it’s a learned behavior, and it’s territorial,” she continued. “From what I’ve heard, they’ve probably staked out that territory and anyone going by or through it is a perceived threat.”

ROGUE REIGN CONTINUES

Regardless of her attacker’s motive, Gilfillan said she doesn’t want the roosters banished from the island.

“I love the natural, wild character of the island,” she said. “Some people may think I’m from out of the area and want to change the character of the island. I don’t want to. I like it.”

She’s also glad to see people having a good giggle with the story.

“I celebrate it,” she said. “I nearly fell off the chair laughing the other night. I do think it’s very funny.

“And I love living on the island,” Gilfillan added. “We look out for each other, but we also celebrate the right to say what you want. If they make fun, that’s OK, I really don’t care. It’s part of our society.”

As for any impending rooster removal, the prospect looks unlikely. Julie Holmes-Taylor, the director of Glynn County Animal Control, said her agency doesn’t handle livestock like roosters.

“The only ordinances we enforce are Glynn County Animal Control, and that only encompasses dogs and cats,” she said.

Glynn County Police Lt. Brian Scott also said his department doesn’t typically handle rooster-related complaints. He’s not aware of any attacks - other than Gilfillan’s - anywhere on St. Simons Island, or the county at large, for that matter.

It seems, at least for now, the roosters are free to roll on with their rogue reign.

___

Information from: The News, https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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