KEY WEST, Fla—Feral chickens run free in Key West, just one of those things that keep the Southernmost City charmingly weird.
But what's delightful here and there becomes a nuisance when they're everywhere. With the population getting out of hand, city commissioners are taking action—not by hunting down the fixings for a massive tailgate party, but by going after their human enablers.
They're making it illegal to feed the free-roaming birds.
An ordinance unanimously approved on a first reading Wednesday said the Florida city's feral chickens can “carry and spread diseases, destroy property, and cause copious amounts of fecal deposits on public property.”
People who feed them would be punished with fines of $250 per day for a first violation and $500 per day for repeat offenders under the ordinance, which now awaits a second vote, the Miami Herald reported.
These chickens are fat, with little trouble finding meals. Tourists feed them popcorn or french fries, and some locals buy huge bags of bird feed for them.
“The fowl have a feast,” said City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who sponsored the measure. “They can pick and choose better than we can what they eat off their plate.”
Patricia Eables, an assistant Monroe County attorney, said her neighbor feeds them several times a day, resulting in droppings on the stairs, handrails, cars, and other surfaces, the Herald reported.
“We have done everything we can as neighbors to try to get her to stop doing it,” Eables said. “We started reaching out to code and learned there was no ordinance.”
Charles Malta said his street has been invaded by chickens.
“The population has literally exploded,” Malta said. “They’re being fed and when you ask anybody to stop it’s like you’re asking them for their first-born. It’s a heated thing on both sides.”
The city's wild chickens don’t need help finding food, Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, told the newspaper. The island is a bug-rich environment for them.
“Nothing is worse for the chickens than feeding them,” Sweets said. “I’ve never seen a skinny chicken in Key West unless it’s sick or injured. There’s really not a need. They’re quite capable of taking care of themselves.”
The wildlife center says it doesn't remove healthy Key West Chickens, but it did take in about 1,500 injured, sick, and orphaned chickens last year. So far this month alone, they’ve received about 180. The surviving birds are relocated to free-range ranches north of Lake Okeechobee and near Fort Myers, according to the center's website.
The feeding ban doesn’t apply to chickens kept in coops or pens, officials said.
The roaming chickens are fearless when it comes to approaching people, said City Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover.
“They’re becoming more aggressive by the day,” Hoover said. In her district, people have reported that when they go to put dog feces in the trash, chickens come up and attack them, thinking it might be food.