Key West chickens

KEY WEST CHICKEN: History, Colorful just like Key West

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It’s likely that if you’ve ever wandered around Key West, you’ve come across the peculiar charm of the city’s chicken residents. They are all over the place, fearlessly walking into stores and eateries. As locals, we lovingly refer to this occurrence as the “chicken problem,” but to be honest,

we wouldn’t have it any other way. Known as “gypsy chickens,” these feathered companions bring a unique element to our energetic metropolis. They may have mysterious beginnings, but one thing is certain: they capture the essence of Key West—vibrant, colorful, and a little wild.

These birds, with their characteristic crowing and bold strut, are as much a part of our town as the sun and the sea. The gypsy hens are the real representatives of Key West’s charm, so look for them the next time you’re here.

Key West chickens


Origin of Roaming ChickensSome backyard chickens gained freedom after humans stopped cooking live chickens for dinner. Others were released since cockfighting was illegal.
Population Control EffortsKey West hired a chicken catcher in 2004 in an effort to control the growing number of chickens. Questions concerning the fate of caught birds remained after his resignation and the controversy surrounding his conduct.
Perspectives on Roaming ChickensSome people love having Key West chickens around, while others find them annoying because they always croak and poop, comparing them to some islanders who “don’t know when to quit.”
Arrival of Chickens in Key WestThough their origins are not well known, some claim that Key West’s wild chickens may have come from Spain during the 16th century or perhaps with Cuban immigrants in the 1800s.
Evolution and AdaptationKey West chickens were able to adapt to their surroundings over time, as evidenced by the vivid tropical colors that their feathers took on to match the lush surroundings.
Historical Role of ChickensKey West’s economy relied heavily on chickens because they produced meat and eggs. They also had a contentious role in cockfighting, which was essential to the cultural identity of the area.
Key West chickens

The Key west Chickens should not fed!

The Key West City Commission attempted to solve the “chicken problem” once more in January 2021 when they made it unlawful to feed the wild chickens. Fear not—the hens have lots of other food sources, including Florida insects, so they need not fear.

  • Peggy Coontz, animal care director at Key West Wildlife Center, suggests that giving chickens incorrect food can improve their health and prevent fights caused by large feed scatterings.
  • Coontz highlights instances where individuals drove into neighborhoods, scattered food for hens, and left, leading to conflicts among the birds.
  • The Key West Wildlife Center has implemented a Community Trapping Program to address “human chicken conflict,” effectively resolving issues surrounding the interaction between humans and chickens.
Key West chickens

What Going On With Chickens?

The locals refer to them as “gypsy chickens”. Some backyard hens earned their freedom many decades ago, when people stopped using live chickens for Sunday meal. When cockfighting was outlawed, other roosters were released. The number of chickens on this two-by-four-mile island swiftly multiplied,

since Key West is a no-kill island! But when they are everywhere, what was once enjoyable turns becomes a hassle.

Papulation Control

Regulation of Chicken Feeding:

City commissioners enforce a ban on feeding Key West chickens due to population control concerns, with fines up to $250 for first-time offenders and $500 for repeat offenders.

Feeding Habits and Enforcement:

Key West chickens, chubby and well-fed, are often given inappropriate food by tourists, leading to the proposed ordinance.

Population Control Measures

The Key West Wildlife Center provides humane traps for catching stray chickens, particularly during population surges or when predatory hawks threaten.

Rehabilitation and Relocation:

Stray chickens caught in traps receive care at the Wildlife Center before being relocated to mainland farms, where they serve as organic pest controllers and egg producers.

Role in Organic Farming:

  • Key West chickens aid organic farming by controlling insects. They are released into net tubes among crops, consuming bugs and enriching the soil naturally.
Key West chickens

From Key West to “Working” on Organic Farms :Key West Chickens

Conversely, Key West chickens raised on organic farms naturally ward off pests. To prevent the hens from eating the crops, they are placed into enormous net tubes that are positioned in between the planting rows. They can eat insects and improve this soil organically. Despite years of disagreement over how to

handle Key West hens, the strategy seems to be working. “For the first time, we were able to keep the chickens’ best interests front and center, all the while keeping the fans and naysayers happy.

What Does Key West People With “nuisance chickens”?

  • Residents can traps to capture nuisance chickens; captured fowl are fed and cared for, with a waiting list for traps due to the abundance of chickens.
  • Captured chickens are transported to farms in central and northern Florida once enough are gathered.
  • Efforts are made to find free-range homes for captured chickens, although chicken fanciers are uninterested in Key West’s feral fowl.
  • Key West chickens are protected, prohibiting locals from harming them, leading to divided opinions among residents regarding their presence.
  • While some embrace the idea of numerous free-roaming hens, others are deterred by constant crowing, excessive droppings, and scavenging behavior.
  • Despite occasional sparse sightings, chickens are prevalent across the island, given its compact size of approximately 4 miles long and 2 miles wide.

Cultural Significance

Key West’s hens are more than just a sight to behold; they have become an integral part of the city’s spirit and art, adding a lively burst of color and melody.

Key West chickens

Meet Key West Chickens on Your Next Vacation

Key West Wildlife CenterVisitors to Key West Wildlife Center may encounter various injured animals awaiting treatment or transport, including hawks, pelicans, osprey, herons, and egrets, offering a free educational experience.
Adoption of Key West ChickensNon-Florida Keys residents can adopt Key West chickens from the wildlife center under the condition that they are kept as pets and not for consumption; each adopted chicken comes with a certificate confirming its lineage.
Other Activities in Key WestIn addition to visiting the chickens, tourists can explore other attractions in Key West, including free activities such as glamping in the Florida Keys, providing opportunities to appreciate the stunning Gulf of Mexico views.

Key West Cockfighting

Cockfighting was a custom that once existed in Key West’s historical fabric. Imagine it as a high-stakes rooster fight, with spectators assembling to watch these bird fighters engage in combat. Bettors would wager on the results of the selective breeding and rigorous training of roosters to demonstrate their fighting skills.

  • Initially, cockfighting prevailed as a cultural phenomenon, reflecting past ideals, but declined rapidly due to evolving views on animal welfare and moral concerns.
  • Key West residents underwent a shift in perspective upon realizing the mistreatment of roosters in cockfighting, leading to a focus on preserving and protecting the island’s free-roaming hens.
  • With the decline of cockfighting and the rise of tourism, Key West hens transitioned into quirky attractions, captivating visitors who often stopped to photograph or feed them.
Key West chickens

Key West Breakfast With Chickens

Eating breakfast at Blue Heaven with the hens in Key West is a thing. They will usually keep to themselves, but occasionally, when you’re eating lobster benedict, they can be a little annoying.
The Key West Florida chickens leave a lasting impression on everyone they come into contact with,

whether it’s through the vivid colors of their plumage or the soothing chorus of their crowing. They serve as a live reminder of the island’s rich cultural history and close ties to the natural world.

Key West Chickens: Folklore, Art and Controversy

Chickens in Local Folklore and TraditionsA common theme in Key West mythology is the endurance and freedom of chickens, as exemplified by the story of Captain Cluckington, who bravely and determinedly led his flock against raccoons.
Key West Chicken ArtAs a symbol of Key West’s identity and inventiveness, chickens are frequently featured in local artwork. They may be found on sculptures, postcards, and souvenirs. Artists also frequently paint chickens in vivid hues, highlighting their aesthetic appeal and cultural relevance.
The Controversy Surrounding Key West ChickensDespite being protected, Key West chickens cause controversy in the community, with differing viewpoints and discussions over their existence and effects on the island arising.
Key West chickens

Key west Rosters

The residents of Key West that are most frequently photographed are the roosters. A rooster is a male chicken, and the word “rooster” came from American English. The majority of chickens “roost” in trees to sleep at night, therefore that could be the source.

  • Roosters in Key West are descended from fighting roosters bred in Cuba and the Keys, valued for their fighting prowess and colorful plumage.
  • Cockfighting, once legal, led to the release of many chickens onto the island when it became prohibited in the United States, contributing to the large population of Key West roosters today.
  • Key West roosters exhibit strong territorial instincts, prized for their protective nature against various threats.
  • The Key West Wildlife Center manages the rooster population through a community trapping program, relocating nuisance chickens to farms for egg production and pest control.
  • Relocated chickens contribute to pesticide-free pest control efforts in organic orchards and animal rescue ranches.
  • Funding for the Key West Wildlife Center relies on donations, with additional support from the City of Key West.
  • Key West roosters, with their distinctive crowing, are a defining aspect of the city’s unique charm.
Key West chickens

When To Seen Key West Chickens?

Key Westers have a very common and amicable relationship with hens. As a result, hens and roosters are regularly spotted all over the island.


Once, in 2005, a four-day event known as Chicken Fest was planned. Additionally, at least for the event, hens were proclaimed official island birds by the City Commission at that time. While Chicken Fest is no longer held, some residents continue to celebrate Fantasy Fest, which takes place in October and lasts for ten days every year since 1979, with a concept inspired by Chicken Fest.


  1. Why are Key West chickens famous?
    • The abundance of Key West hens is well-known, adding to the allure and culture of the island.
  2. How did Key West chickens become abundant?
    • The abundance of Key West chickens can be attributed to various factors, including the good climate and historical events.
  3. Are Key West chickens protected by law?
    • It is against the law to injure them in order to protect them, hence the answer is yes.
  4. Where can I see Key West chickens?
    • All around the island, including the streets and public spaces, they are free to roam.
  5. Can I feed the Key West chickens?
    • No, feeding them is prohibited since it may cause overcrowding and disturb their natural behaviors.
  6. What do Key West chickens eat?
    • As omnivores, they consume fruits, seeds, insects, and leftover food.
  7. How do Key West chickens contribute to the community?
    • They enhance the atmosphere and allure of the island while managing bug populations.
  8. In Key West, is it legal to kill chickens?
    • It’s against the law to hurt or kill the local hens in Key West. Because of the birds’ cultural value to the island, they are protected by law. Because they are important members of the community, the rules are in place to guarantee their safety and wellbeing.
  9. In Key West, how many hens are there?
    • There are a lot of chickens in Key West, but because they are so ubiquitous, it is difficult to pinpoint their exact number. It’s hard to say how many of these birds there are in the city because they are out and about and live in gardens.
  10. Key West Chickens lay their eggs where?
    • Key West chickens lay eggs scattered across the island, in gardens, hidden spots, and sometimes on rooftops, showcasing their resourcefulness in choosing nesting locations.
  11. Is it against the law in Key West to feed stray chickens?
    • It is now forbidden by the Key West City Council to feed the wild hens in Key West as of 2021. This implies that you risk paying large fines if you do give them a piece of your morning sandwich.

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