The Next NIMBY Battle? Peacocks.

Flashy Transplants to Pasadena Have Some Residents Crying Fowl

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Joshua Garroway keeps two Super Soakers in his front yard, always fully loaded and ready. This aquatic arsenal isn’t for unexpected water fights with his kids. It’s for the peacocks.

A big part of living in California is proximity to wild and feral animals. Coyotes, bears, and various birds of prey can be found almost everywhere, but it’s the peacocks that are becoming a problem for Garroway, a Hebrew Union College professor who lives just east of Caltech near Pasadena. “They squawk all the time. It’s very hard to sleep. They congregate on roofs; I’m convinced they’ve damaged shingles. We have scratches on our car. Our black minivan has peacock claw marks on it,” he says.

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.
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Kristine Garroway, who’s an assistant professor at Hebrew Union College, says that her and Joshua’s son developed a serious phobia of the beautiful beasts after a preschool classmate was bitten by one. Now 10 years old, the younger Garroway is afraid of other birds as well, she says.

Joe Marino lives east of the Garroways and says that the deodar trees that line the center median of his street are among the birds’ favorite places to roost each evening. That means that Marino, who recently completed his doctorate at Caltech, is routinely woken up by their calls. He says he’s had his vegetable garden pillaged and his car dented, and he’s had to clean up more peacock poop from his driveway than he can remember.

Gorgeous as their plumage may be, turns out life among the peacocks is not all it’s cracked up to be.

First, a point of clarification: the correct name for the species is peafowl; it’s only the males that are correctly referred to as peacocks. (Females are called peahens.) The Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus, known for the stunning blue feathers and elaborate train feathers (don’t call it a tail) that adorn the males, wasn’t always thought of as a menace deserving of an unanticipated blast of water.

In Buddhism, peafowl are sacred and hold meanings ranging from purity to wisdom. In Hinduism, the birds, called mayura in Sanskrit, are associated with a number of deities, including Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, luck, and beauty. Peafowl were drawn in early Christian artifacts to evoke the Garden of Eden. And the Hebrew Bible explains how the national bird of India was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, where it served as a symbol of King Solomon’s wealth. (Peafowl are also described in the Talmud as kosher.)

“Peafowl have been revered for many centuries,” says Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. “It was one of the first birds that was intentionally introduced into other parts of the world outside their native range.”

Peafowl were introduced to the Baldwin Estate (now the L.A. County Arboretum) in Arcadia around 1879. From there, they spread into Monrovia, Sierra Madre, Pasadena, and elsewhere. It’s likely that the birds that so frustrate the Garroways and Marino are descendants of these animals. Though other small feral ostentations—yes, that’s what you call a flock of peafowl—have likely merged with the original population, making it difficult to discern the precise ancestry of any particular peacock or peahen.

If the peafowl aren’t bad enough, now they’re attracting other unwanted critters: gawkers.

“People come from all over, drive through this neighborhood to try to see the peacocks, and they make it more difficult to live here,” says Marino. “People stop in the middle of the road with their car. People come here to feed the peacocks; they throw bread into my yard. I’ve had to tell people to get out of my driveway because they’re taking pictures of the peacocks or collecting feathers,” he says. “It feels like living in a zoo.”

Despite recent legislation in Los Angeles County to make feeding the birds unlawful and occasional efforts to trap and relocate the most troublesome individuals, the truth is that, regardless of how many times they’re super-soaked, the peafowl are likely here to stay.

“It’s just kind of what comes with life in urban L.A. and the way we’ve modified everything so overwhelmingly. We’ve got in any given area in urban L.A. quite a mix of native and non-native species,” says Garrett. “If palm trees made noise, people might want to get rid of them too.”

Some ranches and farms are willing to take relocated peafowl, but, Garrett says, “you don’t want to simply move them to another neighborhood or to natural habitats. And any kind of lethal control is generally frowned upon by most of the public.”

“I suppose if you harass them enough, they’ll just go somewhere else,” Garrett continues. “If you make life miserable for them, they’ll bug your neighbor instead of you.”•

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