Tuesday 29 September, 2020

The Real Chickens of Cayman

I am told that over 135 different nationalities are represented on these islands of Cayman. The majority of the population is Caymanian, followed by Jamaican, British, American, Canadian, Filipino and Latin American-- but there is one more group that I think needs to be added, just by sheer size of population-- the wild chickens of Cayman...

These feral birds are everywhere and just about as plentiful as people! 

I recall landing in the Cayman Islands for the first time...

The first thing I noticed was how nice the cars were and… wait... what the heck are chickens doing in the street!? I soon realized that it wasn’t unusual to see a multi-coloured mama hen guiding her chicks across the street in the financial district of George Town or a cock leading a roaming brood in the parking lot of Kirk Market... dangerously close to the KFC... hey, why not, right?

Through my Jamaican eyes, chickens roaming everywhere is a sign of wealth and prosperity. In my country, just a hop, skip and jump over the ocean, a roaming chicken belonging to no one will belong to SOMEONE by dinnertime. However, experience has taught me to never make a shorthanded observation and definitely make no assumptions.

So how did Grand Cayman come to be famous for its feral chicken population?

The most common origin story I hear from the Cayman elders is that keeping chickens for food and eggs was the fashionable thing to do in the early days. In fact, most people had a chicken coop in their yard. The combined convenience of store-bought chicken and eggs along with new technology replacing the old in rearing chickens were the two biggest reasons that not as many people would rear chickens for food and simply let the fowls run wild. Others tell me that after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, chicken farms were destroyed, allowing the creatures to roam free across the island.

While roaming chickens on a Caribbean island adds character to the landscape and makes for perfect tourist photo opps, some folks report them as a nuisance. From crowing in the wee hours of the morning to causing traffic accidents; the fowls have even been blamed for wrecking gardens and stealing fruit.

There seems to be a growing number of Caymanians who have returned to capturing the wild chickens for food. Some of my Jamaican bredren admit to using the fowls to run “boat”, a quick and simple cooked meal. The nests of the Caymanian fowls are also raided for eggs which some have indicated are fresher and tastier than those available in stores.

Capturing feral chicken for food is a wild experience as their skills, resilience and social structure differ from their domestic counterparts. Heck, the chickens of Cayman are known to fly into trees to avoid danger and even chase people if their chicks are threatened!

For me, wild chickens are a beautiful sight. They add more colour and character to our surroundings. 

This is the only country in the world where I have seen a chicken chasing a dog or where a schoolteacher has told me that a student presented the excuse that a chicken ate her homework.

I think it is high time to add chickens to the list of reasons that Cayman's culture is so rich.

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