Of all the wonderful and interesting sights to see in Key West, there’s one feature that most people leave talking about - that large number of wild chickens on the streets.
Why are there so many chickens in Key West? It’s believed chickens were originally brought over from Cuba and the Caribbean Islands for food and cockfighting. When this practice was outlawed, excess chickens were left to fend for themselves.
Why Are There Free Roaming Chickens in Key West?
The free-roaming chicken population comes as a surprise to everyone visiting Key West that was not told ahead of time that the island is overrun with wild chickens.
As I mentioned above, cockfighting was popular on the island many years ago with the early inhabitants that came over from Cuba and the Caribbean.
They brought over a lot of Red Jungle Fowl, a common breed of wild chicken. When cockfighting was made illegal, it’s believed a lot of the chickens were abandoned for the most part.
Red Jungle Fowl are very adept at fending for themselves, they've done it in the wild for thousands of years. This is why the numbers grew. That and the fact that the local residents don’t want to cull them.
There are other breeds of chicken too now, not just Red Jungle Fowl. Which is why you’ll see a lot of different colors, looks, and types of chickens roaming around. - it’s really quite the sight.
This video shows you just how many of these chickens are often found in one place:
Are Chickens Protected in Key West?
The chickens on Key West are protected (somewhat), yes.
By protected, they are not allowed to be harmed by the residents. However, thousands of chickens are removed off the streets every year to try and control the problem.
The wildlife center on the island has a Community Trapping Program. Locals are allowed to either remove chickens that are causing them problems by burrowing a humane trap or call the center and they will help out.
The center then looks after the chickens until they are able to rehome them. Usually on farms, homesteads, and anywhere else they can find them safe homes somewhere in Florida.
Another way the population is reduced is by birds of prey. Hawks in particular attack and eat chickens on the island, and it’s not discouraged by the wildlife center.
Do Key West Chickens Lay Eggs?
Yes, they do lay eggs. That’s how the population keeps on growing!
Residents often find eggs under or around their homes. This is because chickens usually find somewhere quiet and a little more secluded to lay their eggs.
This often means in residential areas as there are more ‘‘hiding’’ places within people’s belongings and small places within structures.
It’s certainly a better option than open fields where predators are more likely to find them. Plus, the island isn't that big.
The wildlife center recommends residents discard any eggs they find or hand them in to be discarded. This is an additional measure to try and reduce the number of chicks being born.
In their advice leaflet, they say that the chickens lay the eggs over a period of a couple of weeks before starting to incubate them. So, it’s unlikely developing chicks will be discarded.
What Kind of Chickens Are in Key West?
The chickens on the island have been given the name “Gypsy Chickens” which describes them perfectly.
It’s thought, and it certainly looks like the population was started by the Red Jungle Fowl.
The Red Jungle Fowl is one of the oldest, most colorful, and iconic breeds of chicken. Which is why there are so many chickens with bright reds, yellows, blues, and greens on the island.
It’s clear that over the years other breeds of cross-bred or sex-linked to create a variety of hybrid chickens too.
Are the Chickens a Nuisance?
From what I can tell, there’s a divide between the locals that don’t mind the chickens and those who find them an annoyance.
You know how it goes, you can never please everyone. Having hundreds of chickens roaming free isn’t for everyone, and even though I’m a huge fan of chickens I can imagine it gets annoying.
Still, there are areas where you won’t see many. But on an island that’s only around 4 miles long and 2 miles wide, they are pretty much everywhere.
If you’re a tourist, it’s something to enjoy while you’re there. You can put the noise behind you after you leave. For residents, it’s something they’ve learned to live with.
It’s become part of what makes Key West such a special little getaway. That and the stunning architecture, cocktails, and breathtaking views out over the Gulf of Mexico of course.
Chicks of Key West - City of Key West-fl.gov
Red Jungle Fowl - Britannica.com