The Rosa Parks Elementary School chickens one day after they were born in April. The two lighter-colored chicks, in the back left corner, were the ones that were stolen. (One of them is hard to spot and appears more like a blur.) Photo: Tanya Stiller
The Rosa Parks Elementary School chickens one day after they were born in mid-April. The two lighter-colored chicks, in the back left corner, were the ones that were stolen. (One of them is hard to spot and appears more like a blur.) Photo: Tanya Stiller

The Rosa Parks Elementary School community is asking for the safe return of two of its five chickens, which were stolen over the weekend just days after they were moved from a science classroom into an outdoor coop that’s visible from Eighth Street.

Garden teacher Tanya Stiller, known around campus as “Farmer Tanya,” said she discovered the theft Monday when she was heading outside to the chicken coop during a school solar fair.

“I ran into a science teacher who asked me, ‘What happened to the other two chickens, did you give them to somebody?’ I said, ‘What, they’re not there?’ I was pretty shocked, as were other people,” she said Wednesday evening.

Stiller reached the garden area to find a container of sifted compost tipped over, along with box of straw overturned. A water container had been pulled out and was lying on the ground. Someone had yanked up irrigation lines as well, uprooting at least one plant. Over at the chicken coop, a combination lock was still in place on one of two access doors, but a carabiner that held a smaller door shut was missing.

Two brownish-red chickens named Daisy and Chip, which are roughly quail-sized and 7 weeks old, were also gone. One of the missing birds has a nearly white head with longer feathers and a “majestic look.” A third chicken has been limping this week, and Stiller said she thought it might have been injured during the burglary.

“A lot of the kids were really excited about the opportunity to see the chicks, and the chicks growing,” she said. “They were fond of them and named them. To have a couple of them disappear, there’s a lot of heartbreak right now.”

Stiller, who has been working at Rosa Parks for seven years, said she received two grants — from the  Berkeley Public Schools Fund and a crowd-funding website called — to set up a program earlier this year to study the life cycle of chickens, from the egg to adulthood. She said she thought adding animals to the garden program would create another way for students to connect with the natural world.

One of the chicks that has gone missing from Rosa Parks School. Photo: Akasha

As the garden teacher, she works with close to 450 students, ages 5 to 10, at Rosa Parks, which is an environmental magnet school in the district.

“I can totally ‘nerd out’ on plants, but that doesn’t always reach all the students,” she said. “This lets me come at it from a different angle.” Stiller, who grew up on a farm in northeastern Oregon, said she thinks of chickens as “almost the defining animal on a farm,” and a bird that’s become increasingly popular and important as far as the urban farming movement. “I remember how we had baby chicks on my farm, and how impressionable it was on me growing up. I thought that would be the best way to reach the kids as well. For a lot kids, animals are really important to them.”

Stiller said four other Berkeley schools, John Muir and LeConte elementary schools, as well as Willard and King middle schools, also have chickens as part of their gardening programs.

In March, Stiller received her grant money and collected the equipment she’d need for the project. Biofuel Oasis held a workshop to teach how to build chicken coops. Stiller set up a brooder — a heated house for chicks — in the back of a science classroom where the chicks would eventually live after hatching. The fertilized eggs, from Riverdog Farm, spent three weeks in an incubator before hatching April 15.

The chicks lived inside from April until last Thursday, when they were moved outside to the coop. Stiller said she checked on the chickens and fed them on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but wasn’t on campus Sunday. She said she’s hopeful that someone will return the chickens. She has filed a police report, and is considering hanging posters in the area to alert neighbors about the lost birds.

Stiller said she hopes school security might be increased following the theft. The area where the coop was kept — which is known as the kindergarten yard — has a lower fence than the rest of the campus, and people routinely jump it to access the school basketball courts. She said there tends to be more vandalism in that part of campus because of the lower fence and a lack of surveillance cameras. She added that she’s asked the last three school principals to raise the fence in that area, but has been told it’s not an option.

(Berkeleyside has reached out to Principal Paco Furlan to find out more.)

Some of the children, who had come in to check on the birds daily during their life cycle, have been really sad about the loss, said Stiller. Others have expressed anger. She said the theft has been a learning opportunity for kids about how to deal with emotions about attachment and loss. She added that she herself is still struggling to understand the motivation behind the burglary.

“Why would anybody steal chickens from a school where 450 kids are really invested in them? I don’t understand the psychology,” she said. “To feed them and all of that, it’s expensive. And they’re not big enough to eat.”

Anyone with information about the burglary can call Rosa Parks Elementary School at 510-644-8812.

Pets abandoned in Tilden can become dinner for predators (05.02.13)
Podcast: Ain’t nobody here but us chickens (07.26.12)
Chickens let loose on Berkeley High campus reunited with owners (06.14.11)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...