Travel Series: Key West, My Favorite Inhabitants.
My Favorite Inhabitants
My favorite inhabitants are the animals. There are the ubiquitous chickens, remnants of the cock fighting days of the 1930s, that have become a staple of Key West for both tourists and residents. They commence crowing at 2 a.m. to invite every Key Wester to enjoy the sunrise. The roosters establish a territory and welcome any hens who want to join. The hens appear to have developed their own cooperative as you will see one hen caring for many chicks while others are in search of food. The tourists love them; many residents do not. But I do, their colors and quirky behavior fit right into Key West. Every time I hear a rooster crowing, I know exactly where I am. The chicks that inevitably follow will soon be gone…snatched by the bald eagles, hawks or other birds of prey looking for an easy meal. It is nature’s way of keeping the population at bay and to pacify the residents. There is a wildlife refuge that attempts to re-home those who annoy residents looking for sleep.
Cats live throughout the city…also remnants of the 1930s…many are the offspring of Hemingway’s six-toed cats. Local residents have taken to feeding them and they are fat and free. They primarily reside in Old Town, staying away from the residential districts; but at night you can see them slinking through the streets. Many are friendly; others walk around the streets indifferent to the human occupants. They have no fear of Key West, today I came across one that was grooming and sunning herself on the street oblivious to cars and bicycles and defying them to run over her.
Dogs are owned…but are also free. Many restaurants look the other way when people bring their dogs. There are both official and unofficial dog parks. The official ones are scattered throughout Key West. My favorite is adjacent to Higgs beach. Since this is Key West, dogs also have their own beach at Louie’s Back Yard. The unofficial dog parks pop-up at different times, at the White Street Pier at sunrise and sunset and near Fort Zach for most of the day. Non-dog owning residents look the other way; because, after all, this is Key West. My dogs are enthralled with Key West; they love the morning walk on the beach and lounging on the furniture both indoors and out, and, of course, sleeping on my side of the bed at night.
The predominant birds that you will see are raptors and sea birds. The relentless spraying to curtail the mosquitos has kept only the most rigorous birds in Key West—catbirds, pigeons and doves (despite their use of “organic” pesticides). You might get lucky on a trip to the botanical gardens on Stock Island and observe migratory birds. I have seen a bald eagle and some other raptors there, but that is it.
The shore birds are another matter and live in abundance in Key West. The seagulls and terns are everywhere. I love to watch the terns’ staccato sprint on the beach as the waves crest and recede.
The anhinga, a water bird resembling a long necked duck, can be seen on posts, drying off by stretching their wings in a macabre manner...their black feathers glistening in the sun. They look like black zombie statues as they stand immovable and transfixed on a chosen pole while they dry off. They engulf the piers, buoys, rocks or other fixtures jutting out of the ocean, and their presence makes the ocean appear to be an unworldly graveyard.
The Great Blue Herons maintain their frozen stance oblivious to the tourists that walk past them. They show no fear or interest in the local human inhabitants. Their stealth-like pose can release and strike in an instant to catch their prey. Many are gray-blue, and others are white, but for some unknown reason, they are all called the Great Blue Heron.
The white ibis are everywhere; when not in flight they are foraging for insects on lawns. They travel in flocks, usually around 20. In flight you can see magnificent black wing tips that are obscured when they are on the ground. The combination of the white, black and blue of the sky while they are in flight creates a geometric pattern of black and white. On land, their curved, long beaks are used for expertly gathering insects. They are a peaceful lot, seeming to want nothing more than insects and coexist peacefully with each other and other inhabitants. Humans walking through the grass do not disturb them nor do dogs, dogs that try to chase them will elicit a fly away, but only when they are sure that they cannot remain without harassment.
(Click images below to enlarge.)
But my favorite flying creatures are the pelicans…I adore the chickens but I am inspired by the pelicans. They seem to gently watch over the piers on Key West. Their ungainly appearance defies their gracefulness in flight as they glide one foot over the ocean scanning for fish; their large and gawky shape completely in control. Often they fly parallel with other pelicans competing with the Navy pilots for precision and grace. Upon spotting a shadow, they quickly dive in and fill their disproportionately large bills with water and hopefully a fish.
What it is rare to see in Key West are flamingos, with the exception of a pair bred in captivity in the Key West Butterfly House. When settlers came here in the early 1800s flamingo was a staple of their diet. Flamingos were easy to kill because of their bright color and slow flight, so they quickly became extinct from the Island. There have been recent sightings of flamingos, but they are rare. Flamingos actually breed in Central America and migrate to the Keys. I hope that they will return, lured by the Key West pinks. They would be a welcome color addition to the ocean and sky.
Learn more about Key West in these posts from Angela:
My Favorite Inhabitants (This one)
My Second Favorite Inhabitants -- Flora
Key West Quirkiness
Key West's Spirituality