Letter To The Editor / Tradition or Nuisance


 By Roger Kostmayer


How long does it take for something to become a “tradition” in Key West?  It can happen overnight if a slick PR person gets a hold of it and markets it to our naive tourists and new comers.  The recent Citizen Voice hype expounding on the wonderful “tradition” of our free roaming chickens has prompted me to write this letter.  Sorry, but I must dispel the myth.  As a native Conch who grew up here in the ‘40s – ‘70s, I can speak with some credibility.



Sure folks had chickens back then, but they were kept in coups; covered at night and we ate the eggs — an effective form of population control.  Older Conchs will tell you that the beautifully colored roosters and hens that we see now roaming the court house and post office grounds are descendants of the Rhode Island Red chickens that were brought to Key West during the early days of the city (1820s) to rid the island of the palmetto bugs and scorpions.



So, yes, it is correct that the chickens have been here for almost 200 years, but they have only been free roaming for a few decades.  And, I cannot remember ever being woke up at 2:30 a.m. by a crowing rooster until recently.  Our neighbors, who had chickens, also had the courtesy and good common sense to keep them in coups at night and covered up.  This practice calmed our little featured friends and kept them quiet so everyone could get a good night’s sleep.  When Old Town properties became popular investment projects in the mid 1980s, the developers and new owners destroyed the coups and let the chickens go. The result is the burgeoning population of free roaming chickens that delight the tourist and annoy most of the locals.  They are a nuisance and possibly a health hazard, but definitely not an island tradition.



Attached you will find a poem that offers one solution for the blurry eyed and sleepless in Key West.  This one’s for you, BeBe.





Roosters crowing in the dead of night



Can’t get any sleep near Garrison Bight.



Has the residents tossing and turning



In the cemetery hood.



Too bad we can’t train ’em



To chase that burglar away.



Scratching and dusting



Destroying our gardens.



Keeps the landscapers working



And leaf blowers whining.



It’s the great Key West



Noise Pollution Conspiracy.



Poncho & Lefty showed up around Thanksgiving.



Decided to roost in the Mango tree



Three feet away from my bedroom.



Poncho is a very loud tenor,



Who starts crowing at 2:30 a.m.



Crows for about 5 minutes,



Just enough to wake you up.



Then crows every hour on the hour until day break.



Lefty is his smaller side kick



Who backs him up in a shrill soprano.



Sometimes you can hear their cousins



Crowing in the distance in The Meadows.



The sound floats through Bayview Park



On the North Beach breeze.



Reminds you of a far away



Freight train in the middle of the night.



Some people say the free roaming chickens



Are a Key West tradition



More sacred than the Holy Grail.



Well, I finally trapped Poncho & Lefty.



Took me three months.



They are now at the Wild Bird Rescue Center,



Nice digs, good food, lots of friendly hens.



They’ll be deported soon



To Spring Hill or Ocala.



Living the good life on the main land.



The neighborhood is quiet now



But, it’s just a matter of time



Until one of those Harvey Center Roosters



Discovers the security of the Mango tree.



Fear not my little feathered friends



The trap is still baited.








Founding Member Key West Poetry Guild



(a/k/a Jean Gregory)



1109 Georgia St.


Key West

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