Cock-a-doodle-do Roosters in Paradise! Chickens are a wild bird in Key West.

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So, there are six-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway’s House, and on the island there are also chickens.  There are brightly colored, noisy roosters well, everywhere! Roosters parade in the yards, fly and roost in the trees and pose on the fences. They strut through Mallory Square where everyone gathers to see the marvelous sunsets. They squawk and fuss their way from place to place with their bright plumage shining in the sun.

We saw a mama hen and the remaining two of eight chicks making their way around tables in the outside Cuban restaurant where we were having lunch.  The waitress named Suzy shooed her off and shared, “They are okay out there, but not in here.  Last week she had eight chicks, but this is hawk season and now she is down to two.”

The hawks and falcons are about the only ones allowed to swoop up these feral chickens.  According to an article on www.KeyWest.com, ” For now, they are protected by law, although occasionally the Key West “Chicken Catcher” is employed to round a bunch up and move them to a nice rural retirement home on the mainland.”

The motto for an ad I saw for Key West said, “It’s not a destination, it’s a frame a mind.” Since this is the home of Margaretville and Jimmy Buffet I tend to agree.

Key West is known for being different and following the beat to their own drum.  When the federal government set up an ongoing blockade checking for drugs and illegal aliens, this impinged on traffic and tourists coming onto the islands. After trying to get the government to stop the blockade unsuccessfully, the Islanders took matters into their own hands.

The said they were being treated like foreigners and the might as well act like foreigners so on April 23, 1982, Key West seceded from the union and established the Conch Republic.  When they finished sending Cuban bread and conch fritters at a coast guard, they quickly surrendered with a call for federal aid!

The event caught the attention of the press, thus embarrassing the federal government and they quickly and effectively got their point across and the barricade was removed.

It’s kind of that way with chickens, they do their own thing and are left alone.  There are traditional long necked roosters and short no-neck roosters. There are colorful hens and drabber hens, but they are plentiful and protected on Key West and we heard and saw them throughout the island.  One man while waiting in line to get his picture taken at the Southernmost point in the Continental US complained that he couldn’t sleep.  He and his companion were camping and said the roosters crowed all night long. The myth that they crow only at dawn is just that, a myth.

The noise and the chicken droppings cause some to complain.  There is the worry of contamination and health risk, then there is the other side of the argument that the “gypsy chickens” are linked to “Old Key West’s” charm and should be left alone.

The chickens were first brought to the island by almost two hundred years ago when pioneers arrived bringing them as a source of meat and eggs. When thousands of Cubans fled the Revolution in the 1950’s, many found refuge and employment in Key West’s lucrative cigar business, the chickens came too.  Some were used for cock fighting. When that was banned and as meat and eggs became readily available in local markets, the need for individual families to keep chickens disappeared and many set the birds free to roam and multiply, thus the chicken population quickly grew.

The chicken theme has taken on a life of its own.  On the island you will find them showing up in artwork and on T-shirts and  just about anything with a Key West theme.  Colorful, noisy and independent, surmises both Key West and their beautiful chickens!