PALOS VERDES ESTATES — Last summer, a squabble before the City Council over the peafowl that have nested in the city for decades had all the makings of a civil war.
A former schoolteacher, wearing a home-made "Save the Peacocks" button, said it would be tragic to take this bit of nature and tradition away from children, who now can observe wildlife in their own backyards.
But another resident was all for expelling the exotic birds, whose screams have been likened to cries for help. "The squawking drives us nuts . . . we cannot sleep," she said.
The raucous meeting was complete with muttered threats and walkouts.
Middle Ground Sought
Calling a truce of sorts, the council appointed a 14-member committee and sent it in search of a middle ground. After months of work, the group hopes it has succeeded, although one dissenting member already has called that into question.
In a report given to city officials last week, the committee recommended that the birds, now officially counted at 61, be declared "wildlife of the city" and protected on both private and public land. Trapping should be done only by authorized agencies, the committee said. Yearly monitoring of the population also should be continued.
"Our experience has been that every form of wildlife at one time or another has come under attack by somebody, and if you simply eliminate them each time there's a beef, you soon have no wildlife," said Raymond L. Winters, an attorney and committee chairman.
But at the same time, the committee made some concessions to those who find the peafowl foul by offering some tips on how to shoo them away.
Keeping a large dog in the yard would do the trick, the committee said. And water can be used as a weapon. "A regular hosing with water or timed Rain Bird (sprinkler) will give them a message to stay away," the report said.
Feeding offered by people is a great attraction to peafowl and should be avoided as common courtesy in neighborhoods where some people object to the birds, the committee said. Peafowl, the report said, "can survive as wild animals and do not require artificial feeding."
The committee said these pointers, together with general information about peafowl, should be published by the city as a "resident's manual."
Winters said the committee began "with people diametrically opposed on many items" but months of work produced a consensus. Committee member Cora Lee Brannon, however, was not convinced and filed a minority report.
She said the bird population should be thinned and its future growth controlled. She also objected to protecting the peafowl through a city ordinance.
Brannon said there are residents "who will strongly debate" the committee's conclusion that natural predators and other factors hold down population growth.
"People have had over 15 birds in their yard during the day, sometimes that many at once," she said, adding that protecting the birds by law could increase any nuisance they cause "beyond anything yet experienced by Palos Verdes Estates residents."
The report has gone to the City Council, but William J. Fawell, acting city manager, said the council probably will not take it up until the summer. "It is a complex subject, there is a great deal of concern about it and the council wants to approach it in a thoughtful, deliberate way," he said.
Introduced 60 Years Ago
Peacocks were first seen on the Palos Verdes Peninsula about 60 years ago when developer Frank Vanderlip Sr. brought in six birds to add beauty to the area. Today, they nest in two areas of Palos Verdes Estates, one behind the Malaga Cove Library and by the eastern loop of Via Somonte, and the other by Dolores Plaza. They also inhabit neighboring Rolling Hills Estates. The committee's official Palos Verdes Estates peafowl count, taken last Nov. 3, is much lower than estimates made last year by Dr. W. Joel Pasco, a veterinarian and wildlife expert. The committee said 51 birds were trapped and removed before it began its work.
Brannon said that when the council begins considering the peafowl issue, it should hold separate meetings in each population area.
The committee concluded that "a large majority" of the city's population favors retention of peafowl, although residents living near nesting areas want then controlled and thinned if the population become excessive.
Winter said many see the birds as a "tremendous plus" and he includes himself in that group. "They get to know you and become friendly," he said. "They help you do yardwork. When you uncover a bunch of worms, they go after them. I use their droppings for fertilizer for flower pots. They're there every morning when I get the paper."
On top of that, he said, they're a distinctive part of the community: "People visit from all over the world and want to see the peacocks."
Brannon agreed that residents and visitors enjoy the peacocks, but she said they don't have to put up with the problems of people who live in the habitat areas: Having people roam through their yards to take pictures or pick up tail feathers, "washing droppings off of walls, porches or decks, or protecting bedding plants, or keeping peacocks from scratching picture windows because they see their reflection and keep pecking the glass."