Upon arrival in Key West one thing is sure to stand out - chickens & roosters roaming the streets! Key West is home to these wild birds and over time they’ve become an icon to the island. You can hear the roosters crowing at all times of day and night! But when did they get there, and how did they arrive? In this blog post we break down a brief history on how a large population of these feathery friends came to be on the island and why they remain to this day.
We’ve all heard the saying that chickens are descendants of velociraptors, and that isn't too far from the truth! While an exact pinpoint in time can’t trace the arrival of the chickens on the island, it’s theorized that they're related to the jungle fowl that originally inhabited areas of the Caribbean & Cuba.
Throughout the years settlers inhabited the land and began building their lives and homestead, including the domestication of these wild birds for their recourses in order to survive. Once inventions like railroads and bridges were incorporated into society as means of transportation, it was less crucial that residents grow their own food an keep chickens as livestock. Over time domesticated hens and roosters from private homes were released (or escaped) onto the island. With few natural predators on land, the chickens thrived.
In the 1960s, Cuban families fled their homes due to the Ten Years War, migrating to Key West. With them came new cultural entertainments, including the sport of cockfighting. Until it was banned in the 1970s, the aggressive, territorial roosters were kept and raised to participate in the fights and for breeding. Once cockfighting was outlawed, the birds were set free into the streets, left to their own devices. To this day chickens roam the streets of Key West… they’re not exactly friendly, but they’re also not a threat… except perhaps to an unattended plate of food!
For a few decades the Key West chickens & roosters have reigned supreme, crowding the pedestrian streets and sidewalks. Locals are proud of their tiny unofficial island mascots. The roosters & hens are protected under law, with fines to pay if caught harming them. These fiesta fellas continue to bring laughter to newcomers who can’t help but ask, “Why do chickens cross the road?”, to which we respond: "because you're in Key West!"
Bring home a "lucky chicken" souvenir from Tucker's Provisions, a general store/gift shop that carries trendy Key West rooster inspired merchandise. Marrero's offers complimentary 'cock blocker ear plugs' to our guests, so you don't have to awake to a rooster as your alarm!
Thanks for reading ,
The Marrero's Team
Traveling elsewhere in Florida? Visit our sister property in Treasure Island FL.