Here a Cluck, There a Cluck

Blue Heaven Resident

Blue Heaven Resident

Key West is known for its wild nightlife. Today we talk about its wildlife, or more specifically, its resident fowls. Anyone visiting the island, sooner or later, will come across these feral chickens. Some may have to stop their vehicle to allow a hen and her chicks the right-of-way, others will see them roaming the streets and yards throughout the small city. And pretty much everyone I’ve talked with who visits the fair island has been woken at one time or another by the energetic crowing of an energetic early rising rooster.

Isn't he beautiful!

Isn’t he beautiful!

Personally, I love watching the chickens. When I eat lunch at Blue Heaven, I happily observe them roosting in nearby trees and pecking at errant cornbread crumbs on the brick patio. I’ll often stop my bicycle as we’re rambling along side streets to take photos. Once, I even interrupted our Duval Street  stroll to video a mama hen teaching her babies how to dig for insects.

Cute animal video aside, I don’t live there. I don’t have to worry about these birds bringing disease to my backyard or their burgeoning population encroaching onto my private property. I’ve heard and read mixed reviews from the locals about the chickens’ presence. Some embrace them, most seem to tolerate them, but others are quite vocal about what they refer to as the “chicken infestation.”

The Key West chicken is a hybrid. When Cubans moved to the island, they brought their cockfighting fowl with them. The sport was outlawed by Florida in 1986 and the Cuban species was let loose. They bred with domestic chickens on the island left behind by former owners and voila–we have the modern Key West chicken.  (For more information about the birds’ history, you could read this article from Key West History Magazine.)

Fowl practices?

As human and chicken populations increased on the tiny island, the City of Key West found the need to address the issue and, since 2009, has assigned monies to help ease the concerns of residents regarding the animals’ health conditions and overcrowding. Approximately 1,000 of the 3,000 chicken residents were trapped and relocated to the Florida mainland that first year but the practice ended a year later. Some sources I researched claim that Key West residents were angered to learn the bird “retirement” homes was actually the site of a slaughterhouse. Other sources cite that holding pens were instituted but that practice was abandoned due to contamination of nearby waters from chicken waste. According to the Key West Wildlife Center  website, their new management (as of June 2011) has sought to “provide rescue, medical care, re-homing and adoption services.” Whatever the case, this debate over the Key West Chicken appears to be far from over.

What do you think about the issue of animal habitats conflicting with humans? Do you have a similar concern in your area? If so, how is the problem being handled?

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Julie Glover
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 08:29:33

    This is fascinating, since I just saw five chickens inexplicably roaming a neighbor’s front yard just yesterday. I have no idea where they came from.

    I didn’t know other places have a feral chicken issue. Very interesting.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2013 @ 09:40:50

      Hi Julie! Thanks for weighing in on the issue. Here on Long Island we have concerns about geese and deer. I know there’s been quite a debate about how to handle the deer problem, but I think we’re still just tolerating the bird overpopulation. Soccer fields are covered in goose waste.

  2. Marcia
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 22:21:22

    We have no animal or fowl problems in my area but, I think something should definitely be done about Key West’s chickens. Disease should be the main concern. I don’t know what their other options could be but hopefully they will continue to re-home them and eliminate the possibility of people getting sick. Only humane choices for the chickens should be employed, of course.

    Interesting problem. Thanks for sharing, Jolyse.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2013 @ 09:46:09

      I agree on all counts, Marcia. I like the Wildlife Center’s recent efforts to re-home some of the chickens to the Florida mainland as natural pest-control for an organic orange orchard (Say that three times!).

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Donna Coe-Velleman
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 00:48:54

    I don’t know of any problems around here but heard swan nests were being destroyed in certain areas because their numbers were too large. That would have been a bit dangerous considering how protective swans are of their nests.

    Longboat Key, Florida has a problem with wild peacocks.
    And believe it or not LA

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2013 @ 09:50:12

      Interesting, Donna. I suppose the residents of LA and Longboat Key would prefer a peacock problem to the problem some sections of New Jersey face. My daughter was visiting a friend in the northern part of that state last weekend and was warned about going into the backyard. Apparently, black bears live in the woods adjacent to their development and have been known to enjoy the area swimming pools and garbage.

      In the Adirondacks, there is a wild pig problem. Imagine that!

      • Donna Coe-Velleman
        Aug 20, 2013 @ 22:18:36

        If I’m not mistaken, part of the reason for the bear problem is human encroachment into their habitat. Just like the abandoned chickens and peacocks, this was started by humans.

  4. Jill Weatherholt
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 06:53:33

    If I were a resident, I would be concerned about disease, etc. But as a visitor, I think the roosters are beautiful. I’ve never realized they’re so colorful.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2013 @ 09:52:33

      I’m a fan of the chickens, but understand the residents’ need to control the population and care for those diseased animals so as to prevent human or pet contamination. I agree. The roosters are quite handsome (and proud of it!).

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