The two-sided tail of the Peacock

Have you ever encountered the Indian Peafowl? It is notoriously famous for a showy, elaborate dance to lure its female, the peahen. The male peacock adorns himself with an ornate appearance. Just observing one is breathtaking. A fan-shaped crest sits on top like a jeweled crown, a brilliant blue glistening neck making way for an exquisite train of metallic bronze feathers decorated all over with bright purplish green markings; hence, aptly chosen to be the National Bird of India. Such a royal treat to the eyes is not a novelty there. I vividly remember growing up with peacocks all around me back in my country. However, the United States had never seen the non-native peacock until a few wealthy Americans brought the glittering bird to their estates. Undoubtedly, it is a marvelous sight to behold when a peacock struts around in your backyard but this story, based in Florida, unveils a different perspective.

 

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“Peacock; Pinole Park” Photo credit: Nick Fullerton

 

Everything was perfect in the picturesque and upscale Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami-Dade County until our feathery friends moved in. Initially, the residents perceived them as a treasured addition to exotic Miami. Not long after, the peacocks proliferated and were spotted everywhere. Living so close to people, the birds began displaying aggressive behavior. You never know what these birdbrains might perceive to be a threat. They pecked at shiny, expensive cars mistaking their own reflections as rivals. They devoured flowers, indulged in loud sex, dug holes in lawns, and were just being themselves – squawking, noisy birds. Due to no fault of their own, they came to be known as the ‘nuisance birds’.  While some residents were fed up with their reckless behavior, others graciously hosted them, feeling privileged. This led to discord between the haters and lovers, disturbing the joy and peace of life in Coconut Grove. This was a common trend in all places home to the peacocks like California and Hawaii.

 

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Distribution of peacocks in North America and Hawaii. Image via Kannan and James (1998)

Things really got out of hand when a bunch of peacocks were found, injured and dying from bullet wounds. It appears that a flustered neighbor took the matter into his own hands, shooting the poor birds. This might have happened because there is no common law dictating how to handle peacocks. California does not count them in its list of protected species and Florida classifies them as domestic livestock. Each county in Florida can have its own regulations. Miami Dade County allows owners to remove peacocks from their property as long as no harm is brought to the bird. Since releasing non-native species, such as peacocks, into the wild is a punishable offense, you cannot get rid of them unless someone is willing to take them in. It’s a tricky situation, but harming them for not being well-behaved is downright outrageous. We can certainly think of a better non-violent solution to the ‘peacock problem’. 

Something that doesn’t bode well is when peacocks, while warmly welcomed in one part of the world, are proving to be a problem in another. Firstly, peacocks are never an environmental threat. They do not disturb the ecosystem, flexibly occupying an uninhabited niche. They don’t compete with other animals, foraging mainly on fruits, buds, and small insects. We need to realize that they can never be domesticated like our pets. They shouldn’t need to learn the human ways of life, rather, we can practice simple habits. A few tips to ensure our peaceful co-existence are as mentioned; Never feed them. As an alternative,  setup abundant feeding stations in the woods. Avoid growing plants in your garden which are appetizing to peacocks. Cover compost heaps so that they won’t come foraging near your house. Mark the few persistent trouble birds and relocate them to someplace away. Feel free to admire this stunning species, but remember to do it from a distance.

In a nutshell, it might be difficult to get along with peacocks because they reflect human behavior in ways like they are diurnal, vocal, and resilient. We don’t like getting disturbed, and neither do they. Give peacocks their own space and remember to live and let live!

Featured Image Credit: Drew McLellan via Flickr

unnamed-3-2 Ankita Roy is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia working with bean roots. She plays mommy to two kittens and can whip up a curry to fire your taste buds in no time. True to her cooking skills, she enjoys trying out new cuisines to satisfy her passion for everything flavorful. She is an executive member of the Indian Student Association. You can reach her at ankita.roy@uga.edu. More from Ankita Roy