On the picturesque island of Oléron, located off France’s Atlantic coast, lives a rooster named Maurice. Come early morning, Maurice crows—he is, after all, a rooster. His regular cacophony so disturbed his human neighbors that they took Maurice’s owner to court, hoping to make her silence her feathery friend. But as Kim Willsher of the Guardian reports, a French court has ruled that Maurice can keep crowing to his little heart’s content.
Maurice’s human, Corinne Fesseau, is a permanent resident of the island, while the couple who brought her to court own a vacation home there. The plaintiffs, Jean-Louis and Joelle Biron, argued that Maurice was making an “abnormal racket” and disturbing the peace, according to Willsher. But a tribunal disagreed; it rejected the couple’s complaint and ordered them to pay €1,000 (around $1,105) in damages to Fesseau.
Before the verdict was issued, a court official stayed at the Birons’ home for three nights to assess the severity of Maurice’s noise, according to the Agence France-Presse. He found that the rooster crowed only “intermittently” between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m.—though the couple had claimed the racket started at 4 a.m.—and was “merely audible” if the windows were closed.
Over the two years that the case has been dragging on, it has come to represent much more than one bird’s right to crow. People in France see the dispute as emblematic of the tensions between the country’s rural and urban sectors—a problem that came into particularly strong light last year with the “yellow vest” movement, which was sparked by rural residents who feel that French President Emmanuel Macron does not understand their way of life. Another point of contention, according to the AFP, was “richer urbanites buying up property in declining farming villages.” Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, where Fesseau and Maurice live, is home to 7,000 locals, but the population soars to 35,000 when temporary residents arrive in summer, Willsher reports.
The French public did not prove sympathetic to the story of two retired vacationers periodically dropping into Saint-Pierre-d'Oleron and demanding that country life change to suit their needs. Some 140,000 people signed a “Save Maurice” petition, and some even took to wearing Maurice-themed t-shirts, adorned with the rooster’s picture and the words “Let Me Sing.”
In the wake of this week’s verdict, Fesseau told Reuters that “Maurice has won a battle for the whole of France.” She also burst into a victorious “cocorico”—the French version of cock-a-doodle-doo—outside the courtroom.
Vincent Huberdeau, who represented the Birons in court, has pushed back against the “urban versus rural” narrative that had come to define the case. His clients, he tells the AFP, reside in a part of Saint-Pierre-d'Oleron that is zoned for housing.
“It's not the countryside,” Huberdeau insists.
The AFP also reports that Jean-Louis Biron is himself a retired farmer. But Maruice’s plight has nevertheless been lumped in with a series of incidents seen to threaten rural life in France. Just this week, a woman was brought to court by newcomer neighbors irritated by the cackling of her ducks and geese. She lives in Landes, a hub of duck breeding. In 2018, the owners of a holiday home in the eastern Doubs region complained that the daily tolling of church bells near their vacation house started too early. In 2016, a couple in the village of Grignols was ordered to fill in a frog pond after neighbors complained that the amphibians got too loud during mating season.
Driven by such events, the mayor of one village has gone so far as to request that the Ministry of Culture issue heritage protections to rural sounds: mooing cows, braying donkeys, and the like.
“It's humiliating for rural folk to find themselves in court because of someone who comes from elsewhere," Bruno Dionis du Sejour tells the AFP. “When I go into town, I don't ask them to remove the traffic lights and cars.”
Fesseau is certainly on board with the idea. According to the Guardian’s Willsher, she suggested that any ordinances protecting rural noises fall under the umbrella of a “Maurice law.” The rooster's case, Fesseau opined, is “a victory for all those who are in my situation,” also noting that she and Maurice “certainly ruffled [the plaintiffs'] feathers.”