NEW YORK - Behind a chain-link fence in the lush green crescent known as Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, a four-note cry pierces the softness of dawn.
Across the street in the apartments that line Plaza Street West, sleepers toss in their beds and smile to themselves, or curse quietly, or both.
Day is here.
Many dawns ago - most residents say a month or two; city animal-control officials say a year - a handsome, rust-maned, greenish-black rooster took up residence in the enclosed greensward that crowns the main entrance to Prospect Park.
Most residents embrace him, or would if they could get to him behind the fence.
"He reminds me of my childhood, spending summers on my grandparents' farm in North Carolina," said Ron Klokke, 51, on his way to teach school the other morning.
No one is sure how the rooster got there. Some wonder if he escaped from an animal-sacrifice ritual in the park, or if someone's Easter chick grew too unruly to keep around the house. A middle-age man who withheld his name because of the forbidden knowledge he harbored said the fowl was definitely a former fighting cock. "You can see his comb has been cut," he said, pointing at the rooster's lopsided red cap.
Wherever the rooster came from, he seems reasonably content in his adoptive home. He stands in the slanting morning light in a shower of cherry blossoms, pecking at something indiscernible among the purple violets and daffodil stems, clucking to himself, issuing periodic outbursts and lending the scene the surreal look of a gardening catalog shot by David Lynch.
One woman said the rooster was nothing less than a herald of biblical prophecy.
"Just before I first saw him I was reading a passage in the Bible that talks about a rooster," said Linda Roma, 50, who runs a welfare-to-work program. "Jesus says, 'The rooster's not going to crow until I'm denied three times.' To me that was a real sign from God, that I'm going to stand in my truth."
Others have ascribed material benefits to the bird. "He's brought up property values," said the doorman at 47 Plaza Street West. "The property now comes with an alarm clock."
But some residents bemoan the clock's lack of a snooze button, to say nothing of an on-off switch.
'He's killing me'
"He's killing me, man," said Marty Kleinman, a publicist who was walking his dog at 7 a.m. on a recent Tuesday. "He starts at 5 in the morning. I'm not a farmer. I can't deal with this."
This being the city that never seems to get enough sleep, several would-be late risers have complained to the authorities about the rooster.
The authorities have responded - ineffectively. Kleinman said he recently saw two women in uniform chasing the rooster through the underbrush, one with a big net, the other with a walkie-talkie. The rooster sought refuge in a thorn bush and got away.
But the rooster's days in Brooklyn are numbered. Doris Meyer, the spokeswoman for the city's Center for Animal Care and Control, said the agency's bird catcher was building a special humane trap in his garage and would take it to Grand Army Plaza soon.
The city's parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, said that peaceful deportation was the best course for all involved.
"For a domestic animal like a rooster or chicken," Benepe said, "out in the park they're at risk for a couple of things. One is falling into harm's way at the hands of humans or other animals. The other is that he could go into the street and get hit by a car. And they pose a possible danger to children, because they can be very aggressive and territorial."