Bird Flu Fears May Clip the Wings of Key West Chickens

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
April 28, 2006

Locals might say no other American city loves—and possibly hates—chickens more than Key West, Florida.

The free-roaming birds are thought to have been introduced to the tiny island decades ago by Cuban immigrants for cock fighting. Today the chickens number about 3,000.

From the post office to the grocery store, the cackling fowl can be seen and heard just about everywhere on Key West, the southernmost island of a chain stretching off Florida's southern tip (see map).

But that may soon change.

City commissioners announced their intention last week to remove the chickens from all public places as part of a larger avian influenza plan being developed.

"It's just a reasonable effort by government to fill its primary responsibility, which is the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens," Key West Commissioner Bill Verge explained.

How and when the chickens will be removed hasn't been decided yet, he said.

Migratory Risk

Key West is one of many areas in the United States bracing for the arrival of bird flu, which is expected to hit sometime this year. (Read "U.S. Bird Flu Plan Taking Shape.")

Wild bird migration is one way scientists think the flu may be introduced into the country.

Some migratory waterfowl carry the H5N1 virus, experts say, and can pass it to poultry flocks that lie along their migratory routes.

That's a concern, Verge says, since Key West is on two major flyways.

Continued on Next Page >>


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