Gypsy Chickens, Huh?

When I first came to The Keys I saw my first Gypsy at the Winn Dixie in Marathon, I heard it crowing at first, I thought someone is raising chickens somewhere, but then I saw him wondering the parking lot.  I haven’t seen any since Hurricane Irma in Marathon yet, but took a trip to Key West and they were everywhere, cute little babies running all over.  So I decided to do some research about them.

They have no known predators in Key West and are protected.

A more detailed version that I have heard and read about has to do with cockfighting.  The following from keywestroad-trip blog is as follows:

During the mid-1800’s, chickens were big business in Cuba. Breeders purchased varieties of Filipino Fowl from Spain. They created their own breed called ‘Cubalaya’. The size and aggressiveness made them perfect for cock fighting.
1940’s Key West Cockfight
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By 1860, Cubans began to move to Key West during the Ten Years’ War and unfortunately brought their love for cock fighting with them. A large amount of Cubans followed, drawn by the cigar industry, bringing their chickens with them. By 1890, more than half of Key West’s population was of Cuban  origin. 

Luckily, the southernmost city outlawed cockfighting in 1970’s, putting the Cubalaya chickens out of business, and out on the streets of Key West. Domestic chickens on the island were losing their homes at the same time when their owners moved away. Now the roosters & chickens were left to roam free, and nature took its course. So, some forty years later, we now have what we call ‘Gypsy Chickens’. Like in the 1970’s, they are still protected, and make Key West the truly unique place that it is! 

Key West’s city government, beset by calls from disgruntled locals, have tried several times to “downsize” the chicken population.  In 2004, the city hired local man, Armando Parra, a barber and self taught bird catcher, to serve as “chicken catcher”.  The birds were supposed to be “relocated” to a free range farm in Miami-Dade.  Amid speculation that the birds were secretly being killed, local pro-chicken factions began tampering with traps and Parra was dropped from the city payroll.  In 2008, Assistant City Manager, John Jones, made some comments to the local paper urging fed-up locals to “humanely” break the chickens necks, outraging animal lovers.

Since then the City has formed a symbiotic relationship with the Key West Wildlife Center.  In exchange for financial aid, the KWWC, which aids in the rescue and rehabilitation of local birds and other wildlife, serves as a holding center for “nuisance” Gypsy chickens that have been trapped and brought in (traps can be borrowed from the center for a deposit).  The birds are adopted out to people outside of the Keys, who must sign an agreement stating that the birds are for pets and not meat.  Adopted chickens come with a signed letter from the City Mayor attesting to their authentic breeding as “Key West Gypsy Chickens.”  Read more here:

It also seems that someone saved many during the Hurricane.  A Key West good Samaritan helped rescue some of the city’s famous free-roaming chickens from the fast approaching Hurricane Irma, placing them in newspaper and putting them in the back of a car. The photo, which showed the chickens being rescued, went viral on Facebook and was shared more than 33,000 times.

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The Gypsy Chickens of Key West are very unique just like our Iguana Lizard population.  See my post here about Charlie the Lizard I befriended and loved when I moved here.  Here is where I now call home, and I LOVE IT!