Chickens roaming the streets of Key West

When I last visited, I was surprised by how many wild chickens roam the streets of Key West. I developed the habit of spending New Years there in T-shirt and shorts rather than shivering up North or in London. It's not just the streets they roam, either. They inhabit parking lots, and come into bars and restaurants. The roosters are particularly magnificent, and have been adopted by the city as part of its image.

They are called "gypsy chickens," and are descended from two sources. Inhabitants kept chickens for eggs and food in past days, and released them when supermarkets provided food with less bother. The Cubans brought their fighting cocks to Key West, and turned them loose when cock-fighting was banned in the 1970s.

The result is a large population of street birds that roam at will. They are protected by law, and have no fear of people. They cross the roads in the gaps between cars, and motorists stop to let them pass. If numbers occasionally grow too large, the city provides traps to catch some of them, and some are sent to farms outside the Keys if the recipients agree to keep them as pets instead of using them as food.

Countless times I've had them around my feet in a bar, pecking at scraps of food on the floor, completely oblivious to my presence. They now form an endearing part of the character of the city.