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Why Are There Chickens In Key West? The Interesting History.

Are you wondering why there are roosters and chickens wandering the charming streets of Key West? I was too! On our last, they were all over the place. I thought there were so many. Why are there chickens in Key West?

From the time we hit the island of the southernmost city in the continental United States, there were what seemed like thousands of roosters, hens, and chicks. I did see some on my previous visit but this time around it seemed like the chicken population more than quadrupled. 

So I did some research into why, and it is actually a very interesting story and these birds have a long history in Key West. I have found two different stories.

To be honest? I’m not sure which is correct or if either of them is correct but at this point, these birds are part of the cultural identity of Key West. 

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First, it is said the first chickens here today are actually descendants of the chickens that were found throughout the Caribbean Islands including Cuba in earlier times.

These early settlers including the Cuban settlers brought the chickens to the Florida Keys.

But local lore also states that these chickens were originally backyard chickens or part of cock fighting rings that were released when cock fighting became illegal.

Local residents are divided into whether they like these chickens of Key West or if they would rather go somewhere else. Almost a chicken war so to speak with half loving them while the other half hates them. 

However, you feel about it, they cannot be harmed and even the people of Key West are split as to how they feel. The local government of the city of Key West protects the chickens as they are part of the cultural heritage of the island.

The reality is there are a lot of feral chickens as well as colorful roosters running around the island of Key West including the residential areas. These feathered friends are definitely a quirky sight to behold. 

Ready? Let’s dive headfirst into the history of Key West and the hilarious world of the island’s colorful chickens. 

The Intriguing World Of Key West Chickens

So, why are there chickens in Key West, you ask? Well, it supposedly all started when these birds decided to escape from captivity. 

Centuries ago, when Key West was a bustling trading hub, the chickens were brought over to the island for their eggs and meat.

But guess what? These chickens did not want to be somebody’s dinner, so they made a run for it. And they escaped. 

Today, the official Key West Gypsy Chickens are the island’s mascot. The presence of the chickens on the island even has cultural significance. The roosters are thought to bring good luck, wealth, good fortune, and hope.

Today’s Chickens Are Street Performers

Key West’s chickens have found a new calling. They are funny street performers, a local attraction, and good back-alley entertainment. 

When you visit this part of the Keys and take a Key West walking tour, you will see small ones, big ones, chicks, and roosters strolling through the town’s streets.

Key West Gypsy  Chickens

You’ll often hear the unmistakable clucks and crows signaling the presence of chickens throughout the island.

They’ve even organized their own impromptu morning alarm clocks, just to make sure everyone is up. Not so much fun after a night on the town enjoying the many bars and restaurants on the islands.

Egg-cellent Souvenirs

And speaking of eggs, if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon one of these well-hidden chicken nests. These eggs are like golden treasures.

You may find locals and visitors looking for these free-roaming range chickens and their eggs. Almost an egg hunt as they look all over the island for these many colored eggs.

Who needs a grocery store when you can literally Easter egg hunt all year round?

The Key West Chicks’ Laid-back Lifestyle

You see, Key West’s free-roaming chickens aren’t just any old bird you know. They’ve fully embraced Jimmy Buffett’s and the island’s laid-back lifestyle. 

You may find yourself chuckling as you watch them strut their stuff down Duval Street and other parts of the iconic part of Key West called, Old Town.

They look like they’re walking the runway. I had to snap several pictures of these feathered friends. They even have a name. They are called “Key West Chicks” by the locals. 

Not to mention, they’ve become such a beloved part of the community that as I wrote above, there are even laws in place to protect them.

Yes, you read that right – there are laws to ensure these chickens can live in peace on the island. And they don’t have to pay a mortgage or rent!

Can you touch or pet the chickens?

Residents of Key West, farms including organic farms must cage or contain their own chickens while the Key West roosters and chickens run free along the many streets.

There is an animal cruelty law in place that bans “luring, enticing, seizing, molesting or teasing an animal.” 

On the other hand, though, you will also be fined for feeding the chickens. The Key West City Commission passed a law banning the feeding of these beloved birds in 2021 according to the Miami Herald.

How Many Chickens Are There In Key West?

No one really knows how many chickens are roaming the island. The Key West Wildlife Center reports seeing 1,500 per year.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  But Key West is not the largest holder of chickens. That honor belongs to the Hawaiian Islands with Kauai with the most chickens.

What Do The Chickens And Roosters Eat? Where Do They Sleep?

You can rest assured knowing these chickens and roosters eat quite well. The ones I did see were quite chubby, to be honest.

Their food sources include plenty of insects on the islands. They also find popcorn and birdseed at many resident’s homes to snack on.

The roosters “roost” at night. Meaning they sleep high in the trees and other things off the ground to protect them from predators. The chickens really do not have many natural predators on the island except hawks.

What Happens If The Chicken Population Gets Out Of Control?

The chicken catcher gets a call! In 2004, the chicken population was out of control and the city of Key West hired a chicken catcher.

Today, the Key West Wildlife Center will loan traps to residents to catch the birds. The birds are then relocated to farms and stables in other areas of the Florida Keys, South Florida, Central Florida, and Northern Florida.

The Peat Marsh Ranch, a large property just north of Lake Okeechobee, provides a large space for the chickens to roam. These birds are prized because they are a natural pest control.

On these farms, they will live the good life as free-roaming birds. Organic farms especially will take any of these birds they can as they eat bugs in an open area and naturally fertilize the land. 

Where Can You See The Chickens And Rooster On The Island?

You can see these guys literally everywhere. There are a lot of chickens roaming the island.

Folks like to eat outdoors at the Blue Heaven restaurant where they can watch not only the chickens but the many cats that roam tropical Key West.

Four-Day Festival

Yes, you read that correctly. The Key West chickens even have a four-day festival for you to enjoy. 

People “flock” to ChickenFest to celebrate chickens in the Old Town part of the old Key West. They dress like chickens, have competitions for the best drumsticks, and even a parade.

Key West Wildlife Center

There is one more thing you should know about the feathered friends of Key West.  In case you’re worried about their welfare, you’ll be glad to know that the Key West Wildlife Center ensures they’re well taken care of. 

This fantastic organization is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured or orphaned wildlife on the island, including our beloved chickens.

Other birds they rescue include pelicans, hawks, osprey, herons, and egrets.  They will also take in other wild birds and injured exotic birds if necessary.

They also take care of the white-crowned pigeon babies that are born each spring on the island. The mother and father pigeons have to fly quite a long way to find the fruit needed to feed the babies. Unfortunately, many do not make it back to the nests. 

They provide a safe haven for these quirky characters and help maintain the delicate balance of the island’s ecosystem and also work to rehome these wild chickens using professional bird catchers.

So, the next time you spot a Key West chicken strutting its stuff, remember that it might owe a feather or two to the caring hands of the Key West Wildlife Center!

The Cluck-clusion Of The Key West Chickens

And there you have it. The stories, since I am not sure which one is correct, of how the Key West chickens found themselves living on the island.

The next time you find yourself in Key West and hear a rooster crowing or spot a hen leisurely pecking at the sidewalk, remember that you’re in the company of Key West royalty, and they are truly wild party animals. 

These Key West chickens have shown us all that sometimes, the best adventures happen when you decide to wing it. Sit back with your flip flops on your feet, grab a slice of key lime pie and enjoy watching these funny birds as they walk by. 

But remember, there is a pecking order. Those Key West chickens are more protected than we are and part of the local community.  Be nice and enjoy them as they strut on by. 

The links below will help you plan your Key West Vacation. Be sure to include chicken watching!

Disclosure: I earn a commission if you make a purchase through my links at no additional cost to you! I would never recommend anything I don’t personally use, and the income goes to keeping this site updated and free for everyone!

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About Denise

Denise Sanger lives a life split between her love for fitness and her passion for travel particularly to the BEACH.  Denise also has a love of marketing and lives in beautiful Suwannee County, Florida. You can find out more about Denise here: About Denise

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