The peacock wars have started again in the woodsy neighborhoods of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, this time in Rolling Hills Estates where flocks of the exotic birds roost in tall pines and troop majestically across well-tended yards.
While the peacocks have their ardent defenders, not everyone is thrilled by the sight of the big, brilliantly plumed birds. Nor does everyone like the sharp, plaintive calls that sound very much like a cry for "elp! 'elp!"
"They sound like a dying woman," said Libby Watts, a resident of shady Buckskin Lane. "There are just too many of them. . . . They poop on the patio, dig holes in the lawn, eat your flowers."
In an effort to head off a peacock battle like the one that rocked nearby Palos Verdes Estates in 1985, with shouting matches among neighbors and allegations of poisoned birds, Rolling Hills Estates has established a peacock subcommittee of the City Council and has surveyed residents about the birds.
Nearly half of those polled beseeched officials to "do something" about the peacocks. However, the other half of the 175 respondents to a survey in the peacock-infested areas want the city to protect the birds and let them roam freely.
"They're beautiful and we are privileged to have them," said Mona Nardone, who lives on winding Strawberry Lane. Holding out a handful of kibbled cat food to a bird, she added: "We love the peacocks."
The city is still studying the matter and may solicit help from a peacock expert.
Technically, the birds are called "peafowl" and experts say they are native to India. The first peacocks were released on the peninsula about 70 years ago. Now there are flocks of them throughout the area and, periodically, their increasing numbers cause problems.
In Palos Verdes Estates, after a number of loud public hearings, the city set a limit on the number of birds that would be tolerated and created a management plan to control the flocks.
"It really became a heated issue," said Councilwoman Ruth Gralow.
Palos Verdes Estates now takes periodic surveys and if the bird count exceeds 67, some peacocks are trapped and the Humane Society supervises their placement elsewhere. "We've satisfied both sides," Gralow said.
Reaching a similar compromise in Rolling Hills Estates may not be so easy because half of the people polled want the birds left alone.
"We're walking a very thin line here," said Richard Gill, the city's point man on the peacock problem. According to a recent census, there are 141 peacocks in the city, most of them roosting in the wooded Dapplegray neighborhood along Strawberry and Buckskin lanes.
The birds seem to concentrate where they are fed, Gill said. He reported seeing 30 to 40 peacocks roosting in a single tree, and during the day these same birds roam through nearby yards, eating flowers and causing a mess.
"We really need to do something to help those people who are truly impacted by the peafowl," he said.
So what can be done?
"We don't know," Gill admitted.
Nothing seems to work, not barking dogs nor sprays from garden hoses. Some have suggested killing the birds, but that is against the law in Rolling Hills Estates, he said.
Officials have asked Gill to find an expert to advise the city. He has a possible candidate in Dennis Fett, an Iowa farmer who raises peafowl. A kind of Pied Piper of peacocks, Fett claims that he can help lead the troublesome birds to other areas where they would be less nuisance.
"He's sure he can solve the problem and he's willing to come out if we pay his travel expenses and maybe $200 a day for three or four days," Gill said. If Gill cannot find an expert closer to home, he said, he will ask other peninsula cities to share the costs of hiring Fett for a few days.
Peacocks are creatures of habit, Fett said in a telephone interview. By using behavior modification techniques, he said, the birds can be lured to new nesting areas away from populated areas.
However, people must also make some changes. Residents will have to stop feeding the birds or they will come back, Fett said.
The first peacocks on the peninsula were turned loose on the estate of Frank A. Vanderlip around 1920, according to a son, John Vanderlip, 76. Legend has it that the birds were a gift from a family friend who thought the nights on the then-rural peninsula were too quiet.
"The problem is, they've multiplied," Vanderlip said of the peacocks.
The birds are not afraid of people and like to hang around where they find food. He said one aggressive bird even attacked his wife, Suzanne, flying and pecking at her hair and forcing her to flee to safety.
As for keeping the birds out of yards, Vanderlip suggested that homeowners buy a fierce-looking plastic owl or two, the kind with the reflecting eyes. He said it is well known that peacocks fear owls.
That may be true in Rancho Palos Verdes, where Vanderlip lives, but it certainly does not work in Rolling Hills Estates, said Betty Belsky, a Strawberry Lane resident.
Upset because dozens of the big birds roost on her roof and damage her yard, she bought a plastic owl and set it out for guard duty.
"One of the peacocks just walked right up and started pecking the owl," she said in disgust. "I don't know what we're going to do."