In what may be the most unusual fowl play in Philly history, a city man put 2,500 baby chicks in a substandard "pop-up chicken farm" on an Olney lot he didn't own and quickly discovered that being a chick magnet is not all it's cracked up to be.
Of the 2,500 chicks the man told investigators he started with, Pennsylvania SPCA officials found just 700 alive when they responded to the site Saturday, said Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement for the PSCPA.
Wilson said one of her colleagues who has been on the job for 35 years said he'd never seen anything like it.
"Sure, we've dealt with chicken farms outside the city and individual chickens in the city, but to have someone think that they could create some kind of pop-up chicken farm operation in city limits on a lot adjacent to a shopping center" is highly unusual, Wilson said.
According to Wilson, the man — whose identity was not released — purchased 2,500 chicks outside the city early last week, intending to flip the birds and sell them for food. He erected a makeshift cage out of chicken wire and a plastic tarp under a billboard on the 5500 block of Whitaker Avenue near the Northeast Tower shopping center.
"He did not own the property," Wilson said. "He read theories on the internet how you could rehab a property and take over the lot."
Wilson said the enclosure was too small for all the chicks and did not contain a heat source, which the birds require at this time of year. Many of the chicks succumbed to the elements, overcrowding and predators, Wilson said, but a few flew the coop and succumbed to Philadelphia's streets.
Realizing he'd made a foul call, the man then tried to give away the remaining chicks by posting about them online, which prompted concerned citizens to call the PSPCA.
Human enforcement officers arrived on scene Saturday morning to spring the chickens and took custody of the surviving birds. Of the surviving 700 or so, six had to be euthanized and 30 remain in the SPCA's shelter hospital, Wilson said.
The rest are being housed in the PSPCA's rear transport center, which had been set up to take in victims from Hurricane Florence but has been modified to maintain the chicks. The PSPCA even purchased heat lamps to keep them warm, Wilson said.
While the PSPCA officers were on scene, the owner of the birds showed up with egg on his face.
"I think he was happy to see us there," Wilson said. "Obviously, he at some point recognized this was a completely ill-conceived plan."
The PSPCA's investigation is ongoing but Wilson said the man will face charges for such things as providing insufficient medical care and insufficient shelter, which would likely result in fines.