In an effort to draw more tourists into their small south-central Georgia town, officials in Fitzgerald are planning something big. And we mean something really, REALLY big — a 62-foot-tall (topiary) chicken!

A Great Idea Is Hatched

Just after taking office in 2018, Fitzgerald Mayor Jim Puckett found some leftover special tax funds just waiting to be spent. When he learned that he could use these funds to promote tourism for the city, he came up with an idea: “Why don’t we just build a big-ass chicken?”

The $150,000 topiary, which will be a world-record height for topiaries, does seem like a good way to attract an audience of tourists. After all, it worked for Gainesville in 1977 when they built a chicken monument in their town square to honor their position as the “Poultry Capital of the World.” And no talk of Georgia and chickens would be complete without mentioning Marietta’s Big Chicken — a whopping 56-foot-tall, googly-eyed bird (and tourist attraction) built in 1962 that makes up the façade of the local KFC restaurant on Cobb Parkway.

The Big Chicken in Marietta, Georgia Image: Stephanie Stuckey

Along with luring tourists to Fitzgerald, a small town with a population of nearly 9,000, Mayor Puckett hopes some will stay. He’s even included a small apartment inside the chicken that he hopes will entice tourists to spend the night (Yes, inside the chicken!). He proudly says that he’s had quite a few people call about renting it for their honeymoon night.

World’s Tallest Topiary

The giant bird is being built by world-renowned topiary artist Joe Kyte — also known as Topiary Joe, a man who has made elephants, giraffes, and other topiary animals on a giant scale for clients all over the world. However, the Fitzgerald chicken, reinforced with an estimated 16 tons of steel, is obviously the biggest he’s worked on. When completed, it will surpass the current “tallest” record-holder, the Mickey Mouse located in Dubai’s Miracle Garden that’s just over 59 feet tall.

Topiary Joe and his crew are running around like chickens with their heads cut off to try and finish the giant bird by the end of the summer.
This image and cover image courtesy of Brandy Elrod, Director of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Fitzgerald, Georgia

 Some Townsfolk Crying “Fowl”

As you might imagine, there are a few citizens of Fitzgerald who are clucking their tongues at the idea. It reminds them of the unintended reason Fitzgerald became known as a chicken capital in the first place.

Back in the 1960s, the Department of Natural Resources noticed that the quail population was diminishing in Georgia. As a result, they made an attempt to introduce an alternative game bird, the Burmese chicken, into some parts of the Peach State. At the same time, they hoped it would attract wild game hunters to Fitzgerald and the surrounding area. Hundreds of the birds were flown in from Southeast Asia and added into the wildlife population in the forests surrounding the small town.

The birds soon disappeared, with many believing they had just been killed off; that is, until they started noticing that the chickens were now roaming the streets and neighborhoods of Fitzgerald. Other people began to take notice, too. The unintended effect? Fitzgerald, much to the chagrin of some of its citizens, became a Burmese-chicken haven, as well as a tourist stop on many a family road trip so that Mom, Dad, and Junior could get a good gander at the colorful cluckers.

 The Big Deal

Today, with few natural predators, these chickens have taken over the town. They (allegedly) chase dogs and small children down the streets of Fitzgerald, and locals say that they are too tough and gummy to eat. Some of the citizens are taking the population control of the chickens into their own hands, smashing their eggs and running them over with their cars (a misdemeanor within the city limits).

Nevertheless, the Fitzgerald topiary chicken will undoubtedly cause their fame to grow. Construction began in 2019 but was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic; it is expected to be finished sometime later this summer. In the meantime, you can watch it being built via the City of Fitzgerald’s “Chicken Cam”.

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