On a morning a few weeks ago after a particularly fierce windstorm, Frank Langstroth was raking up the leaves and branches that littered the front yard of his house on Harter Lane in La Canada Flintridge.
Langstroth, who was muttering to himself about the damage the wind had caused, paused from his task and bent down to pick something out of the pile of debris he had gathered in one corner of his yard.
"Look, here's a little feather," Langstroth said, looking at a soft brown, downy feather with a brilliant flame of blue coloring at its tip.
Langstroth explained that it was from one of the wild peacocks that often parade up and down Harter Lane.
For nearly 18 years, peacocks have lived along a few secluded streets in a neighborhood just north of Angeles Crest Highway near Gould Canyon, high up on a ridge that borders the Angeles National Forest. Besides the people who live in or visit the area, few are aware that the birds inhabit the neighborhood.
Forage for Food
"I didn't even know peacocks were up here until I moved here," said Langstroth, who has lived on Harter Lane for 12 years.
Troops of peacocks and peahens often descend upon the neighborhood from their nocturnal roosts in the nearby deodar and eucalyptus trees to forage for food. But that morning, none of the colorful birds had appeared on a street residents have come to call "Peacock Alley."
"With all that wind last night, I don't know what they did," said Langstroth, who suspected Mother Nature of some sort of fowl play. "They must have been blowing out of the trees."
Langstroth tagged his remark with a slight chuckle, but his concern for the birds was genuine. As it turned out, the peacocks did show up later in the day, seemingly out of nowhere, to scratch and poke around in the well-kept yards along the street.
Like many of his neighbors, Langstroth has developed ambivalent feelings about the exotic birds, which, according to an old Indian saying, have "angel's feathers, a devil's voice and a thief's walk."
Many people admire the birds for their grace and beauty. But even some who appreciate the peacocks for the aesthetic quality they bring to their neighborhoods are beginning to complain that they can't grow gardens because the peacocks eat almost everything in sight.
"We have a love-hate relationship with them because they are really beautiful and unusual to have around," said Mary Marshall, who lives near Langstroth on Pizzo Ranch Road. "But they also eat all of our plants. I think some people even poison them and shoot at them because they get so frustrated. I've heard shots and thought, 'Oh-oh, somebody finally got mad at the peacocks.' "
Marshall is one of a small number of residents who have gone so far as to register their complaints with the city. But, according to Bill Campbell, assistant city manager of La Canada Flintridge, there's not much the city can do except to tell them to call the animal shelter.
Marshall said the problem is particularly frustrating for her husband, Mike, who is supervisor of grounds for Descanso Gardens and would like to have a flower garden at home. "I've tried to think of what could be done without killing the peacocks," she said. " I really don't have an answer."
Marshall said she even tried spraying her plants with a concoction she brewed from cigarettes. "That's supposed to keep anything away, but it didn't work with the peacocks," she said.
And, when the birds are mating and have more than food on their minds, they are known to let loose their "devil's voice," a high-pitched, shrill love call that echoes up and down the streets at all hours.
"It's very raucous," said Margaret Brust, who lives across the street from Langstroth. "It's not in keeping with their looks at all."
Residents estimate the size of the flock at 40 to 100 peafowl, which is the term for referring to the male and female birds collectively.
The size of the flock has been kept in check by coyotes from the nearby hills. But, in recent years, the birds have turned to foraging for food in the nearby neighborhoods rather than in the wild, where they would be easy prey for the coyotes.
With a steady supply of food provided by animal lovers, the size of the La Canada flock has been steadily increasing, residents of Peacock Alley and its environs say.
Longtime city resident Frank W. Doherty said the peacocks owe their existence to his father, Frank P. Doherty, who "liked everything that was wild" and began breeding the birds in the 1930s.
Native to India
Peacocks are not indigenous to the United States and those that have been bred here are descendants of birds brought from India, their native land.
In 1936, Frank P. Doherty bought a large estate that included the area where the birds now roam. Along with the land came three peacocks that were the semi-trained pets of the property's former owner.