If you have been to Key West, you have seen the Key West chickens. They wander Duval Street, they patrol the airport, and they wake you up in the morning. Most people who visit Key West don't know anything more about the chickens than that they make a great photo op. But the chickens are worth knowing a little more about.
A rooster at the corner of Duval Street and Truman Avenue in Key West.
1. No one is sure how the chickens got to Key West.
Although no one knows for sure how Key West became home to a large population of chickens, people have come up with a couple likely scenarios. The first chickens probably arrived on Key West with the first settlers, who would have used them for their eggs and meat. Later settlers participated in cockfighting. Eventually, it is surmised that some of these chickens got loose or, in the case of those used for cockfighting, were released when cockfighting became illegal. However the chickens got to Key West, they decided life on an island suited them just fine and they have never left.
2. In 2004, the Key West Chicken Catcher quit due to the stress of the job.
Back in 2004, Key West decided to attempt to reduce the chicken population on the island by hiring a Chicken Catcher. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. Although he captured over 500 chickens in just a few months, the job was not without its troubles. People taunted him, the chickens proved elusive, and the Chicken Catcher didn't feel as if they city truly supported his efforts. Less than a year into the job, the Chicken Catcher claimed his nerves were frayed, and he quit the job.
A chicken looking to grab a bite to eat at El Siboney, a Key West restaurant.
3. Key West captures and removes over 1,500 chickens per year.
Since the Chicken Catcher quit his job, the Key West Wildlife Center has been responsible for trapping and removing problem chickens from properties around the island. Each year, they remove 1,500 chickens. Once captured, the chickens are trucked to organic farms in central and northern Florida, where they are used as egg layers and for pest control.
4. No one knows how many chickens are on Key West.
There are many estimates of how many chickens are on Key West. However, there is no definitive statement on the number of chickens on the island. The Key West Wildlife Center removes over a thousand chickens every year, and this seems to make no dent in the overall population of the birds. Suffice to say, there are enough chickens on the island to say that it is unlikely they will be disappearing from Key West any time soon.