The Trouble with Peacocks
By Karen F. Buchsbaum
Photography by Don Elliott*
Peacock symbolism has been evident throughout the world’s cultures for centuries. In all forms of art, painting, mosaics, tapestry and carving, as well as literature, the colorful birds have been treasured and worshipped. But in Pinecrest, and surrounding neighborhoods, they represent controversy: People either love them or hate them, and there is generally no middle ground.
“I love the peacocks,” says Pinecrest resident Jana Higginbottom. Originally from Brazil, Higginbottom feels, “In this big metropolitan area, to have these gorgeous wild birds walking among us just makes Pinecrest an even more special place to live.” Even her Welsh terrier, Fergus, seems to respect the peacocks, stopping to watch them on his daily walks. “Few people can see something like this, so I think we are blessed.”
The local population of peacocks are technically Indian peafowl, a hybrid of blue, green and white varieties. According to the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count Database, 71 peacocks were in the Kendall area this December.
Brian Rapoza, from the Tropical Audubon Society, estimates just over 200 peafowl in the area, and suggests that Pinecrest residents participate in the annual bird count and eBird reports to help document numbers. Check out tropicalaudubon.org and ebird.org for more information.
Veterinarian and avian expert Don J. Harris, says peacocks are not wildlife; they are considered imported fowl, and they are not native to the area. “South Florida provides an ideal habitat for peacocks, but clearly we have factors that are controlling the size of the population,” he says. “The most impressive fact, in terms of potential population growth, is that, if all of her eggs hatched, survived and reproduced, and all her offspring repeatedly did the same, one female is capable of producing 7 sextillion [that’s 21 zeroes] descendants during her lifetime. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of eggs and hatchlings fail to survive.”
Harris believes that most of the current local population were generated from a store that sold peacocks years ago in the area of the Four Fillies property. When they went out of business, they simply opened their doors.
The biggest complaints are noise, droppings and property damage. The birds sometimes will attack a car surface or glass door when they see their reflection. And yet, experts tell us they are less of a health threat than water fowl, who are more likely to spread disease. Peafowl are not a danger to the local ecosystem.
“They are not like pythons and don’t pose any environmental threats,” Harris explains. “Peacocks inhabit an unoccupied niche and don’t compete with or threaten anything. And they’re not doing harm to native fauna.”
In Miami-Dade, local authorities are tasked with responding to peacock complaints. You may capture them on your own property, but not on any other private or public property. It is, however, illegal to release peafowl, or any domestic fowl, into the wild. The only state regulation is the same as interstate poultry transport and is in place for disease control.
Good luck finding someone to relocate them. Todd Hardwick of Pesky Critters won’t trap them and doesn’t know anyone who will. “By the time you grab them, they are on someone else’s property, and it’s like a peacock embassy,” he says. They would need to be taken to a farm setting with a lot of acreage. Harris says he knows of some Florida birds that now reside in Kentucky.
In 2010, the Pinecrest Council agreed to help relocate peacocks from the Four Fillies Farm area. Councilman Bob Ross reports that “gratefully” there have been no issues about peacocks brought before the council since.
Originally from Asia, natural predators of peacocks include tigers and leopards, big cats that are thankfully in short supply around Pinecrest. In past years, the fox population kept them under control until canine distemper virtually wiped out the local fox population. Today, their remaining predators are coyotes and cars. The more vulnerable eggs and chicks frequently fall victim to hawks, raccoons and owls.
Some residents are feeding the peafowl, and that can cause some serious problems for the neighborhood. Peafowl are omnivores and eat plants, insects and small animals. Aside from their beauty, the birds have gained considerable stature in many cultures because of their ability to eat poisonous plants and venomous snakes without consequence.
“There is not much you can do to discourage them, but you don’t need to feed them,” Harris says. “Keep garbage contained, don’t leave cat food out and have a manicured garden.”
“It’s a real quandary,” says Pinecrest resident Kay Waltman. “I don’t fault people for their emotions, and I like the birds, but it appears to be getting out of hand. When it affects the whole neighborhood, people need to give their actions a second thought. They are beautiful, but disturbing and noisy, and when they nest in my window boxes, they kill the plants.”
Sometimes an air horn or spraying them with water can cause them to move on, but they don’t move far. There is a bird food with contraceptive properties, but it would impact other local bird populations.
Mating season never really ends in South Florida, but it’s at its height between February and July. The peacocks’ mating dance includes far more than the display of its fluorescent tail feathers. Males circle, fluff-up and quiver the shorter beige feathers located under their tail and emit a low-frequency sound inaudible to humans. The screeching cries also are part of the ritual, some during actual mating and some to make the other peafowl think they are mating.
“They are beautiful creatures and the beauty they contribute is an impressive thing,” Harris says. “Think about it, South Florida’s natural environment is pretty bland; the native trees are green and most native birds are shades of brown or grey. Peacocks add a lot of color.”
Why did the peacock cross the road? … and answers to other pressing questions.
• Peacocks refer to the male of the species, peahens the females, peachicks the babies; together, they are known as peafowl.
• Peafowl roost 20 to 30 feet up in trees. In the Pinecrest area, oaks and royal palms are favorites.
• The average lifespan for South Florida peafowl is 25 to 30 years.
• Only males have the distinctive, fan-shaped display of feathers. At about six months, the males will begin to change color, distinguishing themselves from females, but it will take up to three years for their tail features to reach full adult length of up to six feet. The tail can be 60 percent of a peacock’s length.
• Microscopic crystal-like structures reflect light and create the iridescent colors for which the birds are known. Hummingbirds and some types of butterflies also exhibit this striking quality.
• Oh, and about that first question, “Why did the peacock cross the road?” All this author knows is that they sure spend a lot of time in the middle of the road.
China: Power and beauty
Buddhism: Wisdom and purity
Christianity: Rebirth and immortality
Ancient Romans: Dedicated to Juno, goddess of the sky and stars
Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology: Eye of feathers, all-seeing
India: National bird, royalty
Jewish folklore: Allegorically representing stories of trial and triumph
Negative references: Vanity