California Has a Peacock Drawback


In July 2020, house costs in Southern California, by no means an affordable place to dwell, have been rising. There have been too few properties and too many consumers, and if you added a pandemic to the combo, it wasn’t straightforward for a first-timer to enter the market. That was the story for Darya Shumakova, an accountant dwelling in Los Angeles. She and her fiancé had been home attempting to find greater than a yr with little luck.

One morning, she perked up over a list for a three-bedroom in her worth vary. Located on a shady avenue in a neighborhood referred to as Chapman Woods, the ranch-style house featured a entrance porch the place, as the true property advert put it, one may “benefit from the breezes!” The yard boasted an inviting pool surrounded by pink and pink roses. It appeared superb, however because the couple reviewed the vendor’s disclosure type, one merchandise stood out: “peacocks.”

Shumakova had, the truth is, noticed a number of of the big birds within the neighborhood. It wasn’t the breeding season, so the males didn’t have their gorgeous, five-foot-long practice, however they have been nonetheless dapper with their blue throats and crown feathers that seemed like they might choose up AM radio frequencies. The peahens had the flowery headdress, however they have been a gray-brown coloration and have been typically trailed by a few peachicks.

In comparison with the true property horror tales Shumakova had heard, a flock of floor birds didn’t seem to be a dealbreaker. Fifteen different consumers made gives, however Shumakova and her fiancé outbid all of them. Doubts crept in instantly. Regardless of the house’s curb enchantment, the within wanted renovations. Then, just a few months after settling in, she seen that one explicit peacock had taken up residence in an oak tree’s branches hanging over the entrance yard.

The breeding season was ramping up and this male was an early riser. He would stir within the tree round 2 a.m. After making just a few hooting calls, he would tumble down onto the roof in a form of managed fall. If Shumakova hadn’t already been awake, watching her ceiling and questioning her life selections, she was now, as 10 kilos of chicken clomped round on her roof’s shingles and clambered atop the metallic chimney guard, belting out his honking music.

After riling up the remainder of the neighborhood peafowl, the one-bird marching band would gallivant over to Shumakova’s neighbor’s roof and proceed his clamorous efficiency till midday or so, when he would slip away to decapitate Shumakova’s roses or peck at his reflection in a window or a automotive door. Late within the day he would return to his roost and go quiet for just a few blissful hours.

Shumakova was working from house on the time, and Bob’s each day perambulations—she referred to as the chicken “Bob”—have been greater than an annoyance. Peafowl mating season in Southern California coincides with tax season, probably the most hectic time of yr for an accountant. “It was absolute distress,” she recalled just lately. As her Bob downside endured, she started spicing her flower beds with chili powder. When that failed to discourage him, she began aiming a water hose at Bob every morning, hoping to softly persuade him that her new house was not his house. Bob was not persuaded. He’d skitter away after which skitter proper again.

Although Shumakova simply needed to get again to work, she’d been drafted into an interspecies battle that prolonged far past her property boundary. As a lot as she began to resent the native peafowl, others in her group adored them, welcoming them into their yards and showering them with the seeds and nuts that allowed them to thrive. The drama unfolding in Chapman Woods, and all through Los Angeles County, was emblematic of a battle enjoying out in city areas across the nation—and the world. Peafowl aren’t native to North America, however they’re right here to remain. Because the birds flip neighbor in opposition to neighbor, the query for these troubled communities is whether or not they can preserve a extra copacetic relationship with their feathered interlopers.


right here’s no realizing how precisely Bob and his ancestors colonized Shumakova’s neighborhood, however it’s doubtless that Elias J. “Fortunate” Baldwin had one thing to do with it. Born in Ohio in 1828, Baldwin arrived in California throughout the Gold Rush and have become one of many largest landowners in Los Angeles. In 1875 he bought 8,000 acres in Southern California. Alongside his sheep, hogs, horses, and cattle have been peafowl, which Baldwin purportedly imported from India. They stored the snakes at bay and would make a racket if a predator like a bobcat got here close to.

A few many years after Baldwin’s loss of life, a bit of his ranch and round 100 of his gaudy birds have been reworked into the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Backyard, situated within the Metropolis of Arcadia, which named the peafowl its official chicken. The blue plumage of those Indian Peafowl distinguishes them from their sister species, the endangered Inexperienced Peafowl of southeast Asia. (The Congo Peafowl is a extra distant relative.)

Having been traded globally for at the very least 2,000 years, Indian Peafowl are actually discovered on each continent besides Antarctica. (The Bible describes the birds being delivered to the Holy Land on ships together with gold, silver, ivory, and apes.) Practically all over the place they exist, they make hassle. Even in India, the place they’re revered because the nationwide chicken, they could be a nuisance. Farmers despise them for raiding crops and tromping on seedlings. A examine on the Chulanur Peafowl Sanctuary in southern India discovered that experimental paddies the place peafowl foraged had rice yields reduce in half, in comparison with paddies protected by mesh. Final yr a viral video confirmed a chicken shattering the glass in an workplace constructing within the metropolis of Pune and getting twisted up in Venetian blinds.

In the US peafowl populations are most considerable in city areas in hotter areas, together with MiamiAustin, and Honolulu. Peafowl in California doubtless quantity within the 1000’s, however the state’s Chook Data Committee—the arbiter of official residents—hasn’t added them to its naturalized birds checklist. Kimball Garrett, a former ornithology collections supervisor on the Pure Historical past Museum of Los Angeles County, says that like naturalized parrots in Southern California, peafowl not often penetrate pure habitats and aren’t more likely to influence native species. Against this, Wild Turkeys, which have been launched to the state by hunters within the late 1800s, have been blamed for degrading woodland habitats by feasting on acorns and probably spreading the fungus that causes Sudden Oak Demise. “At this level, there isn’t any indication that peafowl are poised to be the following turkeys,” he says.

They nonetheless trigger loads of grief amongst human inhabitants. They’re scavengers, tearing up decorative gardens as they forage for fruits and seeds, bugs and slugs, and the occasional lizard. Territorial males have made headlines after scratching youngsters with their claws. Fed-up Californians have typically taken issues into their very own arms, purposely steering their automobiles into the birds. A decade in the past, the carcasses of greater than 60 peafowl have been discovered on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in southwestern Los Angeles County. Some have been killed with arrows and BB weapons. Others have been poisoned. The perpetrator was by no means discovered.

Recognizing the necessity to preserve populations below management, some communities across the nation have trapped and relocated birds. Florida’s Longboat Key used to have greater than 100 peafowl, till it shelled out $25,000 in 2016 to take away all however 12 of them. Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County has been trapping birds for greater than 20 years; it has introduced their numbers down from a excessive of round 300 birds in 2014 to fewer than 150 in recent times.

A number of California communities, together with San Marino and Rancho Palos Verdes, have explicitly made it unlawful to feed peafowl. Los Angeles handed a countywide feeding ban final summer time, punishable with fines of as much as $1,000 and 6 months in jail. The catch: The brand new legislation applies solely to public property, not personal yards. Helen Chavez, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, stated {that a} blanket ban “conflicted with personal property rights” and “would have been very difficult to implement.”

As Shumakova nicely is aware of, if any of your neighbors occur to offer handouts to the birds, they’re sure to stay round and trigger mischief. And it solely takes one Bob to trigger a headache. 


arly one morning I headed to the arboretum, a publicly owned park managed by a personal basis and the place the place the peafowl explosion started. I knew that love for the birds right here ran as deep because the smog was thick, however I used to be advised that one lady stood above the remainder when it comes to her devotion to them. After I arrived, Kathy Kerran was already there, standing within the members’ line, which gave her early entry to the grounds earlier than the Joe Schmoes crowded the place.

Kerran had warned me that she can be incognito, carrying a fake leopard jacket and a brown wig over her blonde hair. She stated she hoped to stop the birds from recognizing her and begging for the peanuts she used to deliver. “I’d like to, however I can’t,” she stated. It was now in opposition to the legislation and the arboretum director had just lately advised her she can be banned for all times if he ever noticed her doing it once more. A ban was the one factor worse than not with the ability to feed them. “Having a bond with them simply makes me really feel fulfilled,” she advised me.

After passing The Peacock Café close to the doorway, Kerran shared the story of how she first got here right here after shedding her job following the 2008 monetary disaster and was instantly enamored with the flamboyant birds. She has returned practically each morning since, taking footage and filming movies of the birds, which she posts on YouTube below the title peacocklover27. (Certainly one of her movies of peafowl mating has garnered 30 million views.) She has additionally self-published 5 books in regards to the birds, stuffed with footage and poetry.

An grownup peacock in midst of displaying his feather practice to draw a mate. Video: Tom Fowlks

We quickly got here to a nook surrounded by cacti, the place I noticed my first peacock, poised and self-serious, standing sentry in his clown garments. A feminine entered his subject of view, and his higher tail coverts, which had been hanging off his rump like a hoop skirt, exploded like a supernova. As his feathers shimmered within the solar, I couldn’t assist however succumb to his spell. It was like falling right into a rainbow. The feathers get their colours not from the standard pigments, which take up sure wavelengths of sunshine, however from microscopic constructions that act like a prism, separating out the varied wavelengths of sunshine passing by way of them. The males orient their trains at a few 45-degree angle with respect to the solar and the feminine they want to impress, producing probably the most vibrant blue-green coloration in her eyes.

After I met with the director of the arboretum, Richard Schulhof, he admitted that he had as soon as felt conflicted in regards to the hundred or so peafowl on the grounds. “After I got here right here, I simply instantly seen that there have been piles of poop, which, , might be a problem.” There was additionally the bodily harm the birds brought about to some vegetation. “However then,” Schulhof stated, “I started to see how a lot folks love them.” He now enthusiastically participates in “Peacock Primetime,” the breeding season festivities on the arboretum, which serves greater than 600,000 guests yearly. In previous years it has held a peacock trend present and a peacock name–mimicking contest. “Folks come right here particularly to see this glorious courtship show, so you possibly can’t argue with that,” he stated.

Maybe the one particular person in human historical past delay by the peacock’s wiles was Charles Darwin. “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, every time I stare upon it, makes me sick!” he wrote in an 1860 letter. Darwin was apparently at a loss to elucidate how such ungainly ostentations may evolve merely through pure choice. In spite of everything, such feathers are energetically pricey to develop and should definitely influence a chicken’s means to flee predators. 

Darwin and his acolytes ultimately reasoned that, at one time, an extended practice might need signaled to a feminine {that a} male was wholesome and had good genes. As females with a desire for longer trains mated with males with longer trains, they posited, the desire and the trait grew to become linked, a course of often known as runaway sexual choice.

Although the peacock’s practice has lengthy been a textbook instance of sexual choice, Roslyn Dakin, an animal conduct researcher at Carleton College in Canada, felt there was way more to be taught. Fourteen years in the past she got here to the arboretum for a part of her doctoral analysis and rapidly found simply how intense the competitors for mates was. Half of the 116 males she adopted right here and at a zoo in Winnipeg, the place she additionally labored, did not mate in any respect throughout her lots of of hours of observations. In the meantime, about 5 p.c of peacocks dominated every year, mating as much as 20 occasions apiece. The key to their mating success, nevertheless, had little to do with practice size or their variety of eyespots. As an alternative, Dakin discovered, peahens selected males with probably the most good blue eyespots.

The peachicks ensuing from these matings stick with their moms for practically a yr, which offers them ample alternative to soak up survival suggestions for all times within the burbs. The birds have a classy sequence of alarm calls, and when one spots a predator, like a coyote, one other denizen of the Los Angeles streets, they gang up on it and power it to go away. Likewise, if one chicken discovers a house owner offering meals, it received’t be lengthy till the others study it.

The arboretum regularly will get calls that one in all its birds has escaped, and staff patiently clarify that the birds are feral and may come and go as they please. In contrast to some nonnative species, peafowl’s unfold isn’t inevitable, should you take free meals out of the equation. However holding them in examine additionally signifies that somebody should intervene every time issues begin to get out of whack.


humakova suffered by way of Bob’s racket for weeks earlier than calling Los Angeles County. Somebody there gave her the variety of an organization referred to as Wildlife Providers, which focuses on peafowl removing. Over the previous 20 years, Michael Maxcy, the now retired curator of birds on the Los Angeles Zoo, and his protégé, a falconer named Jonathan Gonzalez, have inked contracts with a half dozen communities struggling to discover a center floor.

Maxcy received into the peafowl enterprise within the late Nineteen Nineties, when town of La Cañada Flintridge, situated within the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, requested him to conduct its first census. On the time, he was shocked to be taught {that a} pest management firm needed to cost town $1,000 to catch a single chicken. “That’s loopy, I’ll do it for $150,” Maxcy stated. Twenty years and about 1,000 birds later, his payment was as much as $200. “I’m not an economics main,” he stated with a sigh.

Yearly Maxcy and Gonzalez conduct censuses in downside areas, then got down to scale back peafowl numbers by way of trapping exterior the breeding season, so that they don’t orphan any chicks. It’s not a tough science, somewhat a unfastened calculation based mostly on the variety of complaints a metropolis receives and the variety of supporters the birds have. Most localities don’t need to do away with the birds fully. La Cañada, as an example, needs to maintain its peafowl inhabitants at three males and 6 females.

This yr Maxcy is planning to retire and hand over the enterprise to Gonzalez. “The very first thing I advised him to do was to up the value,” Maxcy advised me throughout one in all his ultimate trapping classes with Gonzalez in February. It was just a few weeks earlier than the breeding season started and so they had parked in entrance of a two-story home in La Cañada. The 2 males labored rapidly to assemble giant panels of chain-link fence right into a field in regards to the dimension of a Volkswagen Bus. Close to the bottom on one facet, a peafowl-size gap had been reduce into the fencing and wired to a mesh funnel main contained in the entice. Their aim at this location was to seize three surplus birds, two females and a male, to satisfy their quota for La Cañada.

Gonzalez secured a tarp over the cage after which opened a human-size facet door and tossed peanuts and corn kernels on the grass and pavement under. Lastly, he pulled out a secret weapon: blueberries, that are so irresistible to peafowl that he hesitated earlier than agreeing to let me publish the data. The concept was that the birds would progressively inch their manner into the funnel to get to the meals. As soon as contained in the bigger cage, nevertheless, they’d have problem determining the best way to get again out.

After ending their setup, Gonzalez defined the method to the house owner, Rose, who requested that I take advantage of solely her first title. If she noticed a peacock or peahen in there, she may unclip a flat piece of mesh that will flop down over the outlet and name Gonzalez, who would arrive inside 24 hours to gather it.

Rose relayed the now acquainted litany of ills the birds had brought about: sleepless nights, broken gardens, pungent poops. Her household deliberate to maneuver, and he or she was virtually apologetic in regards to the trapping. Her next-door neighbor often fed the birds and had no intention of stopping. “We love animals, and we love wildlife,” Rose advised me. “That’s what’s so unhappy about it, it’s simply not pure.”

“If we may get folks to cease feeding, it might be a lot simpler to handle the inhabitants,” Maxcy chimed in. When meals abounds, the birds double-clutch on this local weather. “As an alternative of hatching out three or 4 chicks, they’re going to have eight or 9.”

The final word aim was to sluggish them down and attain a wholesome equilibrium. Eight months after the passage of the feeding ban, it was too early to inform how a lot of an influence it was having in neighborhoods like this one. The county doesn’t appear to have handed out any citations, however Kathryn Barger, the native official who championed the ban, advised me that it had already proven promising outcomes just by “educating the general public.” On the arboretum, which has traditionally served as a supply inhabitants for birds on the east facet of Los Angeles, Schulhof stated he hadn’t personally seen a lot of an influence on this yr’s breeding season. Kerran, nevertheless, felt in another way. In April, she despatched me a despondent electronic mail about how few matings she had noticed. “Hardly any peahens round to mate with the peacocks,” she wrote. “I feel it’s as a result of folks aren’t feeding them right here anymore.”


n late March, Gonzalez stood on a driveway in Riverside County, about two hours east of Los Angeles. Behind him have been two boulder-strewn hills on the sting of a 3,400-acre pure reserve. He was wrestling a peacock out of a plastic canine crate. The chicken’s coverts have been bent, jutting in all instructions. “Transport,” he stated, “isn’t the best factor.”

Gonzalez was dropping off the three La Cañada peacocks in a spot the place they have been unlikely to be a nuisance to anybody. He cradled the primary male in his arms and carried it to the again of the property the place the proprietor, Elin Thomas, an artist, guided us to a fenced enclosure below two big pine timber. “That is the place the women dwell,” she introduced, stating the three peahens below her care. Thomas took a superb have a look at the brand new male in Gonzalez’s arms. “Oh, you’re attractive,” she stated. “I’ve missed that face.”

Gonzalez had given Thomas two males and 4 females final yr after she learn an article in regards to the peafowl disaster and volunteered to take some in. One of many males by no means settled down. He headed west towards his previous house however solely made it a mile away, to the College of California campus, the place he’s nonetheless sometimes noticed. The opposite male was spooked by a Pink-tailed Hawk and hopped the again fence together with one of many females, the place they doubtless grew to become a coyote snack. Again within the metropolis, there have been unfounded accusations that the beloved peafowl have been being offered to individuals who couldn’t presumably care as a lot in regards to the birds as their previous neighbors did. Thomas’s losses wouldn’t go over nicely with that crowd, however she advised me she’d preserve the brand new males locked up for 5 weeks in hopes that they’d acclimate.

A part of Wildlife Providers’ success comes from the truth that Gonzalez and Maxcy preserve an inventory of about 50 rural property homeowners like Thomas, who will take within the metropolis birds and sometimes chip in a transport payment. For now, this urban-rural peafowl pipeline appears to be sustainable. After the breeding season ends in July, and Gonzalez switches again to census mode, it might change into clearer whether or not the ban had any impact on stemming the stream of birds.

Gonzalez stepped contained in the enclosure and gently set the brand new male on the bottom. The chicken straightened himself out and took a sip of water from a bucket. His new harem stood uncertainly within the nook. Gonzalez famous that this chicken appeared extra comfy than the earlier males. There was danger all over the place, however the younger peafowl wrangler felt good about leaving the three birds right here. It was definitely higher than dodging minivans. “These birds,” he stated, “I feel they do have a fairly good future.”

This story initially ran within the Summer season 2022 situation as “Peafowl in Paradise.” To obtain our print journal, change into a member by making a donation immediately



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here