Science

Why Los Angeles County Is Going to War With Peacocks

Peacock standing on a bench in a garden
Narinder Nanu/Getty Images

Los Angeles County officials have decided that they’ve had it with peacocks. Southern California residents have long considered the feral population of beautiful blue birds a nuisance, and the onset of the pandemic meant that peacock relocation programs were paused for months, leading the population to grow even more. As residents have spent more time at home in the past year, the peacocks have become increasingly visible (and, to some, annoying), and many Pasadena residents are at wits’ end. According to the Washington Post, Los Angeles County officials are now preparing to prohibit the feeding of peacocks in an attempt to curb the population.

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Slate spoke to Dennis Fett, aka Mr. Peacock, to learn more about peacock behavior and what it’s like to live with them. Fett is the co-founder and director of the Peacock Information Center the author of two self-published books on peafowl (that’s the general word for peacocks, male and female). He’s also been called to cities across the U.S. for his peacock expertise, including to Southern California in both 1992 and 2000. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Sofia Andrade: Why are there so many peacocks in cities? Should they be there?

Dennis Fett: You will not find anyone in the whole world who loves peacocks more than I do, but they have no place being in the city. Urban sprawl caused the problem in Southern California. It encroached on their territory, and basically the peacocks stayed in the trees—generations of them. In some places, it’s almost impossible to capture every single one of them.

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What’s the problem with having them there?

The biggest problem that I’ve discovered is that often you have a person who hates the peacocks in the family and [someone] who likes them. And unbeknownst to the other spouse, one is feeding them while the other one is chasing them away. And if you [are feeding them], they’re going to roam to your neighbors. And they’re going to eat their flowers, or maybe defecate on their walkways and swimming pools, and sometimes a peacock will even see his reflection in a car and peck at it. Peacocks are eating the excess bird seeds that the birds kicked out of their bird feeders onto the ground. Peacocks also go to overflowing compost piles to eat insects. And, in Southern California, they’re going on roofs all the time and causing problems.

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Residents in Pasadena have said the issue is very polarizing, with some folks being devout peacock lovers and others wanting desperately to get rid of them. One resident called it “more divisive than national politics.” Has this been your experience when working with peacocks?

Yes. They either hate them or love them. [It’s like] when I hear crickets in the house, the pitch bothers my ears and drives me crazy. But my wife, in the same room, isn’t bothered by it. Now the sound that the peacock makes, the yelling sound, there’s some people who might be overly sensitive. It’s not their fault that they hate that sound—it just annoys them. Whereas somebody else in that same house would hear this sound and it doesn’t bother them. I think that’s what polarizes people. Peacocks have been polarizing people since the beginning of time. But geese are noisier, anyway.

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A Pasadena resident compared their sound to “babies being tortured through a microphone.” Why do they shriek like that?

It’s crazy. My most popular video on my YouTube is peacocks yelling.

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When you hear the yelling, that sound is done during the mating season by the male. And sometimes the male just indiscriminately does it—I think he’s showing off. People have all kinds of theories behind it, but their theories don’t make any sense to me. Now, if you’re in the nighttime, and you hear peacocks yelling, you better watch out because there’s a stranger danger happening by you. Peacocks are better watchdogs than dogs. They hear things that you don’t.

In Los Angeles County, the focus is on making it a misdemeanor to feed peacocks. Would that make any difference?

No. They’re going to have to tell people they can’t use their wild bird feeders in their backyards, that their compost piles in their backyards must be covered and maintained properly, or peacocks are going to go there. If they feed their dog or cat outside, which they do, they’re inadvertently feeding the peacock. That’s not going to be a good choice for folks. They can make all the laws they want to make out of it, but the birds are going to continue to [seek out food]. They’d have to ban certain flowers, too, because if they’re going to ban them feeding the peacocks, but people have flowers in their garden, the flowers are going to be the source of their food, because they love to eat certain flowers

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What would be your advice to folks in cities who live near peacocks?

It’s very simple: You either capture them out of existence or learn to live with them. They need to learn to live with them. I love peacocks, and even I get annoyed with them. And here’s another part: They pick up on your behavior. If people are angry and really pushy to the birds, the birds mess with them. Sometimes I think they’re dumb, but then sometimes I think they’re way smarter than me.

You have to know how many birds you have. You have to know how many females to males you’re going to have. And you have to decide if you’re going to capture them or not. And if you’re not, you need to decide what you are going to do and set up a group of volunteers who love birds to work with them. Then you get someone who knows their behaviors, like me, to help them. There’s no solution to the birds, other than to live with them.

Are peacocks really the jerks folks make them out to be?

No. I think if people are referring to peacocks being jerks, that means that they’re being mean and being terrible and doing bad things—people are usually the ones who have created the problem themselves. The peacocks are not the problem. First of all, they shouldn’t be there. But second of all, if they’re there, they’re doing something in their normal behavior.

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