GREAT BARRINGTON — In April, a Sumner Street family bought some chicks at Agway.
In June, they had a feeling one was a rooster.
And by July, the authorities were at their door. The suspect has wattles and a comb, they said. He's out back — waking up the neighbors.
Some residents in this Castle Hill neighborhood perched above the downtown had complained about the noise coming from the yard of Julie Anidjar, Perry Grebin, and their daughter Ellie Grebin, 7.
It starts at around 5 a.m. with about 30 crows an hour in the morning, and a slowdown to about half that as the day wears on, said one irritated abutter.
Another problem: while chickens are allowed on lots smaller than 5 acres as long as you aren't selling their eggs or meat, roosters are banned from these smaller properties, even though the town is a "right to farm" community.
And here begins the saga of Speckle the rooster, which came into the world as a black chick with a yellow spot on its head. The drama began with noise complaints, and pecked its way into a townwide debate about the right to keep farm animals in neighborhoods.
While the family has made plans to give Speckle away, they also submitted 100 signatures to Town Hall for a vote at the Sept. 15 annual town meeting dedicated to citizens petitions — this one will allow residents to weigh in on whether the 5-acre plus rule should stand.
For a week the petition sat on a small table in their front yard next to hand sanitizer and an offering from their peach tree. It was also circulated by several other residents.
It's not the first time roosters have found themselves lightening rods for human affairs. In 2013, Uxbridge roosters had "town government paralyzed," as officials fielded complaints for more than five years and struggled with enforcement. In France, the sound of the coq in the countryside, which sends quiet-seeking vacationers into a rage, has prompted lawsuits.
In Great Barrington, the dust-up has sparked talk about how life should be in what is historically a farming community, but where homes are close together — and all during a pandemic, when many have taken up radical homesteading.
"It's turned into a referendum," said Anidjar, an archeologist, "about where we want this neighborhood to go in in terms of rural character. Or do we want a suburban life?"
She points to a wild rabbit lingering near a flourishing lettuce patch.
"It's like Beatrix Potter," she said.
And as she speaks, workers are blasting a foundation for one of several houses under construction nearby. Down the street, a leaf blower whines.
But these mechanical sounds can't start before 8 a.m. — per the town's noise ordinance — three hours after Speckle begins his day on a most exuberant note.
Sean Macken, a 19-year-old chemistry major at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said Speckle is a torment that wakes up the entire household at around 5 a.m. every day. He lives next door, and his window overlooks the Anidjar/Grebin yard. He said he hasn't had a conversation with the family about Speckle, and said there have been some other disagreements between the families about yard issues that predate the rooster flap.
"Sometimes I'm able to sleep in but sometimes it's going hard at its crowing thing," Macken said. "It isn't a place for farm animals. It's a dense neighborhood."
The debate also unfolded on the neighborhood email group, TheHillGB, and residents staked their positions. Most rallied for Speckle — though most also do not live right next door.
Some said the crowing is charming and "stirs longing and nostalgia." Others prefer the sound of nature to that of construction and landscaping machines. Another said he wished he could hear the crowing instead of barking dogs. Two others mentioned France, and the fights over roosters there.
And one supporter recalled an earlier crisis up the street in which "they came to get Linda's rooster."
Another earlier rooster dust-up on Grove Street had engaged the Planning Board.
"Nothing came of it," said Jonathan Hankin, a 23-year board member. "We basically left it that, if you're going to get chickens you speak to your neighbors and make sure they're OK with it. If you get a rooster, that's a little dicey."
Edwin May, the town's building inspector, said it isn't that roosters are specifically targeted by town code; it's that roosters invariably spark complaints.
Otherwise, May said, a passel of chickens is considered "accessory to a single family home," as long as there's nothing commercial going on.
"Only if I'm cooking the eggs in my kitchen," he said, noting that state and local laws are the same on this.
And hens are mostly untouchable by the authorities, as long as they are kept healthy and aren't free-ranging beyond their owner's land, said Rebecca Jurczyk, the town's Health Agent. Jurczyk has received two complaints about Speckle from the same person, and said they wanted to remain anonymous.
That there wasn't a direct conversation troubles Anidjar, whose daughter Ellie has grown attached to Speckle.
But she is hopeful that the petition will engage the town in meaningful civics. That morning, she watched from her window as two garbage men stopped to sign it while on their route.
"It may be unwinnable," she said. "But it is an exercise in democracy, and learning to ask for what you want for your community."
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.