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.
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.)
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?