KEY WEST, Fla. — Plump, feral chickens have roamed the streets of the southernmost city for decades; however, Key West city leaders are cracking down on the growing population of poultry, making it illegal for people to feed the free-range birds.
“They’re becoming more aggressive by the day,” City Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover said about the birds who have attacked people in her district who throw away dog feces, thinking it might be food.
City leaders unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that would prohibit feeding the feral fowl and impose fines of $250 a day for the first violation and $500 a day for repeat offenders, the Miami Herald reported.
The chickens “carry and spread diseases, destroy property, and cause copious amounts of fecal deposits on public property,” the ordinance reads.
The ban does not apply to chickens kept in coops or pens. The ordinance needs a second vote before it becomes law.
Tourists typically feed the birds popcorn or french fries. Locals are known to buy large 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.”
The move has split residents.
“They’re being fed and when you ask anybody to stop it’s like you’re asking them for their first-born,” resident Charles Malta said. “It’s a heated thing on both sides.”
Wildlife officials also said there is no need to feed them. The island is naturally a food-rich environment for the birds without the additional feast from human hands.
“Nothing is worse for the chickens than feeding them,” said Tom Sweets, director of the Key West Wildlife Center. “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 center took in 1,500 sick or injured chickens last year. It already has received 180 birds this year. The surviving chickens are relocated to ranches north of Lake Okeechobee and near Fort Myers. It doesn’t remove healthy birds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.