What are the rules about keeping chickens in residential areas?

Regulations vary widely from city to city. Check with officials in your community.

How much does it cost to keep chickens?

The coop is the single biggest expense, ranging from about $100 for a basic coop to $3,450 for a Henspa Deluxe model with "architectural" roofing, invisible feeding and watering systems and custom colors (www.henspa.com). Or you can build your own coop from a kit. Baby chicks and chicken feed are relatively inexpensive.

How much time do chickens take?

Not much. "They're pretty simple pets," said Chris Magnuson. "It's easier than having a dog." Melissa Driscoll, who has three hens, estimates that she spends "five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night," plus periodic cleaning of the coop.

Are predators a concern?

Yes. "When you have birds, predators come out of the woodwork," said Peat Willcutt. Loose dogs and raccoons are probably the biggest threat to urban poultry. Driscoll said she once left her coop door open overnight. "The whole coop was dead in the morning."

Can urban chickens spread bird flu?

Not likely, said university poultry expert Jacquie Jacob. "The bad bird flu is not even here, and they'd have to be exposed to migratory birds with bird flu. It's more likely to be a problem in the country with large-scale pasture-rearing. In the city, I can't see it. They don't interact enough with other birds."

Should I or shouldn't I?

A chicken is a long-term commitment, said Mary Britton Clouse, who operates Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis. A hen's egg production peaks at about 18 months, she noted, while its lifespan is 12 to 14 years. For more information, visit www.brittonclouse.com/chickenrunrescue.