The Hidden Risk in Feeding Key West’s Chickens

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If you’ve been around Key West you probably know how the local chickens can basically be found everywhere. They’ve been here since the 1800’s when they were first brought over for food and for cock fighting. Chances are that you’ve also seen signs to not feed the chickens. Sure, giving them free food seems innocent at first with no hidden risk to it whatsoever. Well, how entirely sure are you that you’re not actually infecting the chickens?

According to city and local wildlife rescue workers, you’re actually hurting the poor birds when you decide to give them some of your food. You see, when you toss food onto the ground, the bacteria in the soil gets into it, and later into the chicken’s body. This is exactly why barn animals such as cows eat their food from a trough, as to not get sick. This sort of example also led to the creation of the “five-second rule”, the rule in which you shouldn’t eat a piece of food on the ground if it’s been there for more than five seconds.

In fact, so many chickens are falling ill that neighbors are accusing each other of poisoning the birds. “It’s not poisoning, the chickens are just sick. It happens every year,” said Tom Sweets, executive director of Key West Wildlife Center. If people care about the chickens, they’ll stop giving them food, he said. However, don’t think that because Wildlife Center wants to stop the bird’s illness means that they want to keep them on the island. The city and the Wildlife Center over a 11 year mission have safely relocated 15,000 feral chickens. 

“They’re doing more harm than good,” Sweets said. “They don’t need to be fed. We’ve never seen an emaciated healthy chicken here that was part of the feral chicken population. For some reason, people think they have to feed them.” Despite the city’s best efforts, the numbers still continue to rise.

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