As proud citizens of Key West, we are always glad to help bewildered-looking tourists with directions or to answer their more than familiar and often entertaining questions. Besides are all time favorites— “Is there water on the other side of the island?” and “Do you have a sunset every night?”—we are amazed by how many people ask us, “What’s up with the chickens?”
Often called Key West “Gypsy” chickens or Key West “Free-Range” chickens, the number of chickens on the island took a big leap in the 1860’s when waves of Cubans followed the cigar industry to Key West. Cockfighting was an extremely popular sport in Cuba and the immigrants brought their chickens with them. When cockfighting was finally outlawed in 1970, the chickens were emancipated, protected by law, and free to roam the island.
We have a love/hate relationship with the chickens. The roosters’ gorgeous plumage often warrants our highest compliments and we have marveled at the tenacity of many a hen when her chicks are being asked to lunch by a hungry hawk. Choice words have flown when a daydreaming rooster has suddenly stepped into the path of our bikes or after moving in next door, an early riser has awakened us before sunrise. Good or bad, Key West’s “Gypsy” chickens have attained celebrity status and are as woven into the colorful fabric of the island as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Jimmy Buffett.
Keith & Dean