Community News

Max the Rooster & Other Chicken Facts

Say the word “chicken” in Key West and most likely you will get one of two very emotional reactions.  You might hear “I hate those stupid birds!”  from someone  dealing with pre-dawn  crowing or a hen and chicks excavating  a well-manicured garden. We get it! We understand that normal chicken behavior sometimes gets in the way of normal human behavior. But for every person who “hates” our island chickens, there’s a person who’s totally in love with these birds.  Like religion and politics, the topic of Key West chickens can be an intensely polarizing one, at times creating nasty conflicts between neighbors in our  community.  

We don’t claim to have solutions to every conflict over chickens. However, sometimes with more knowledge comes greater understanding, which can then lead to greater acceptance and  kindness toward others, no matter what form they take. As the highly popular author and researcher Brene Brown says (paraphrased), “It’s hard to hate close-up. Move in!”   ​She suggests that getting to know someone better can be a path to changing the way we feel about them. Maybe this applies to chickens, as well as to the people we don’t favor.   

A few facts about chickens that might surprise and maybe even impress: 

  • Chickens have very keen eyes and ears, along with their loud shrill voices. All evolved to keep them safe in the tropical jungle environments from which they originated so long ago.
  • Chickens are sensitive to infrared light and can detect daylight before we can. 
  • They can recognize people by their faces. 
  • They have over 30 distinct communications.
  • “Locator calls” help members of the group stay in touch with each other. If a threat is detected, “alarm calls” are sent out to inform others of danger. The alarm call may even vary if the threat comes from above (a hawk) or on the ground (raccoon or fox), helping the chickens know what to prepare for.  There is also an “all clear” call when the danger has passed. Members of the flock look out for each other, and roosters can be highly protective of their family groups.
  •  Chickens are generous with their group when it comes to food and let others know when they find something good to eat. The communication can change based on the quality/amount of the food. The “Hey everybody, come over here; I just found the mother-lode of delicious bugs!” call can sound different from the call about something much less exciting.
  • Chicks start communicating with their mother and siblings about 24 hrs. before they come out of the shell to synchronize hatching. Biologists call this “clicking.” This helps the mother hen know how long to remain sitting on the nest.
  • Chickens are anything but “chicken” when it comes to courage. Hens will fight to the death to protect her babies, no matter how big the threat!  A mother will call them to her and provide cover for them by spreading her wings to create protection.

Chickens are social, loyal, protective, curious, intelligent, and affectionate when given the chance. Like other animals, there is much more to them than we realize. At the shelter, we’ve had the opportunity to “move in” and get to know one very special rooster. Max has been a “teacher” and an advocate for his kind. He has single-handedly or rather “single-roosterly” changed the minds of many who thought chickens were just dumb birds.  

Max was rescued by a very caring person when he was an orphaned chick  on the streets of Key West. He lived with her as a well-loved companion bird for his first three years and during that time impressed her with  intelligence, loyalty, and affection. He was also protective. With an uncanny way of knowing who was a friend and who was a stranger, Max would alert her if anyone approached the house. When she had to move from the Keys ,  Max came to stay with us.  We fell in love with his big personality and  handsome looks. He’s now 6 yrs. old and our resident  rooster. He recognizes his friends, comes when he’s called (sometimes) and enjoys cuddling (when he’s in the mood). He likes car rides, digging in his dirt box for worms, and visiting with his wild chicken friend Jeff who visits every day.  

Recently his favorite person who raised him moved back to the area.  When she came to see him, it was immediately obvious that Max had not forgotten her. As soon as she picked him up, he layed his little rooster head against her chest and closed his eyes. In all the time we had him, we’d never seen him do that before! Their connection was as strong as ever! She can’t have him where she’s living now but that doesn’t stop her from visiting every day.  He’s always happy to see her and quickly settles into her lap with a soft trill of peace and contentment. A chicken never forgets!

Chickens are complex and unique in many unexpected ways.  Max, an ambassador for his kind, only asks for kindness and tolerance for his friends as they carry on their day-to-day lives among us.