key west pelicans in water

Key West Wildlife

Oct 25, 2022

Key West, Florida is home to an array of different types of animals. Today we are going to explore some of the common types of Key West wildlife you will see in your adventures on the island…and a few unique ones as well. On the list of animals are: fish, birds, turtles, Key West chickens, the Key West coral reef and more! Planning a trip to Key West soon? Make sure that you are familiar with these and you will enjoy your travels that much more! 

Exploring the Waters of Key West

There are a ton of different sea creatures that live in and around the coral reef that stretches across the Florida Keys at a staggering 358 miles! “Coral Reefs are the most diverse communities on the planet. These tropical marine communities occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, but are inhabited by at least 25% of all marine species.” (Source)

Some of the various marine life that you might spot on your snorkeling adventures are:

  • damselfish
  • spiny lobster
  • parrotfish
  • manatees
  • angelfish
  • mahi-mahi
  • Atlantic bottlenose dolphins
  • barracuda
  • billfish
  • tarpon
  • nurse sharks
  • reef sharks
  • tuna
  • stingray
  • permit
  • yellowtail snapper
  • mutton snapper
  • dry tortugas
  • grouper.

WOW! That’s an exhaustive list of sea creatures. 


If you do come across barracuda’s be sure to observe from a safe distance. In addition to this, the same thing goes for the nurse and coral reef sharks. They are docile and will not attack unless provoked. It is best to stay with your tour guides and listen to their guidance on safe protocols. 

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful fish in Key West is the parrotfish. “These colorful fish are named for their parrot beak-like nose and the manner in which they use it to chomp on coral, cleaning it of algae and distributing coral sands to facilitate healthy coral spawning. Their varieties include rainbow, midnight blue and stoplight. They’re amongst the most beautiful tropical fish in the ocean.” (Source) 

Cowabunga it’s The Dry Tortugas Museum

dry tortuga museum

The Dry Tortugas Museum is located in Key West on Caroline Street. These sea creatures are so fun to learn about so make sure to check out the museum! Did you know that adventurer Ponce de Leon discovered an island 70 miles off the coast of Key West that was home to hundreds of dry tortugas? Fort Jefferson was built on the island and it was used as a prison in the Civil War.

Dry Tortugas National Park

It is now home to the Dry Tortugas National Park. You can board a ferry which is a catamaran named Yankee Freedom – a state of the art boat that can take 200+ people on tours from Key West to the island! Check out more info here. There is something to be said for the beauty of marine life! There are a lot of cool options for snorkeling tours and wildlife tours. Check out our blog Best Snorkeling In Key West to read more about it! 

Bird Watching in Key West

Bird watchers get your binoculars ready because we are now going to explore the different types of birds in Key West! Here are some common birds that you will spot while exploring the island:  frigate birds, seagulls, herons, brown pelicans, ospreys, cormorants, ibis, flamingos, and of course – chickens… yup you read that right chickens.  

Sugarloaf Key bird flying high

Frigate birds fly high in the sea wind currents and are able to soar in the air for weeks at a time. They feed on the fish that get chased to the surface and are very fast with their distinct pointed wings.

seagull on beach walking in sugarloaf key key west

Because of their unpopularity for stealing sandwiches…seagulls need no description as these beach bums cause enough trouble to anyone who is not paying attention when they are eating on the beach.

sugarloaf key bird egert

Herons are a massive and beautiful bird with long legs. You can find them strutting their stuff in the shallow waters looking for small fish to eat.

key west pelicans in water

There are eight types of pelicans and the brown pelican located in the Keys is the smallest of the pelican species. They love to dive with their large bill into the water to catch small fish. Pelicans are most commonly found in the winter months.

osprey in key west perched

While ospreys are a common bird to see in the Keys it is often mistaken for the eagle. It has a 71 inch wingspan and is a grand bird to see flying high above the water. This next bird can dive as deep as 40 feet below the water to catch its prey.

Cool Coastal Bird

perched doubled breasted cormorant

The coastal bird known as the double-crested cormorant is a black beautiful hunter of fish. They do not have waterproof wings so they will often be seen drying their wings after diving in for a meal.

ibis walking in key west

Another cool bird is the ibis has a special down-curved bill that is designed to make it easier to dig through the mud and sand to find crustaceans. Often found in flocks in Florida neighborhoods the ibis is a beautiful light pink and white bird to spot on your adventures.

The Most Beautiful Bird!

flamingo in water in key west

Next up are the wonderful flamingos! Previously mentioned in another blog post called Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory these pink and grand birds are not a common thing to spot in Florida. But when you do be sure to take it in and enjoy it! “During winter months, your best chance of spotting flamingos in the Florida Keys is offshore on shallow sandbars or mangrove islands.” (Source)

Chickens of Key West

key west chickens in town

While these are birds it’s a unique thing to have roaming about your town. The chickens of Key West have a neat history dating back to the 1800’s. Originally the settlers of the region had brought chickens to the island for normal things like eggs and meat. In the 1860’s during the ten year war in Cuba – many Cubans immigrated to the US and settled in Key West. The Cuban chickens were very aggressive and territorial so cockfighting became a popular pass-time.

Outlawed In The 1970’s

In turn, they came to Key West they brought the sport here and it was a very popular attraction until it was outlawed in the 1970’s. Most of the birds that aged out were just released into the wild and many of those birds would roam the town. Furthermore, many found wild hens and the numbers began to grow! Many call them Key West gypsy chickens and due to the large population the town has banned people from feeding them. Many locals find the chickens to be good luck and the birds have been adopted as a mascot for many Key West natives. 


Lastly, thanks for reading all about Key West wildlife. Click here and you will find a lot more articles on the region.