If you have ever visited Key West you have undoubtedly seen chickens freely walking the streets, at times even wandering into the occasional business or restaurant. Yes, it’s true: Key West has a chicken problem, and we love it. But where did these adorable little birds come from and why do they roam the streets freely? While their origins can’t be traced back to a specific moment or event, we have a pretty good idea of where the original gypsy chickens came from and why there are so many today.
The chickens found in Key West are descendants of the jungle fowl that was originally found throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba. Early settlers in Key West had a normal relationship with their chickens, keeping them in coups and using them for food. This was long before the railroads or bridges had been built, so having the means to feed ones self was extremely important. As Key West became connected to the mainland there became less and less of a need to raise your own food, and many chickens were either released or escaped.
In the 1860s during the 10 Year War in Cuba, many Cubans migrated to Key West bringing with them the sport of cockfighting. The roosters found in Cuba were territorial and aggressive, making them perfect for the sport. The sport thrived in Key West until it was outlawed in the late 1970s, leaving cockfighters with roosters they no longer needed. Many of them simply let their once prized roosters go, leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets.
Abandoned hen meet abandoned rooster! Nearly 40 years later Key West’s gypsy chickens are as much a part of Key West as the sand, sun, and ocean are. Due to recent spikes in the chicken population, Key West’s city commission recently voted to ban the feeding of these feral fowls. Regardless, locals love and protect their funky chicken pals. The rooster, which symbolizes good luck, wealth, good fortune, new day, and hope, has become an unofficial mascot for Key West.
Shop our collection of rooster hats and shirts or take one home as a souvenir on your next visit.