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Peafowl run afoul of Rancho Palos Verdes residents

Sure they're pretty, residents say, but they don't make the best neighbors. The city is negotiating with trappers to capture some of them and make sure they are given homes elsewhere.

July 06, 2009|Jeff Gottlieb

The sight of peacocks, especially as their green-and-blue tails fan out 5 feet in diameter, can lend a beautiful, exotic touch to a locale -- but for many people in Palos Verdes, the birds are a pain in the peninsula.

The most recent community to take them on is Rancho Palos Verdes, where the City Council last month voted to spend $15,000 to reduce the number of peafowl who make the wealthy seaside town their home. The city is negotiating with trappers to capture the birds and make sure they are given homes elsewhere.

They may look good, but peafowl may not be the best neighbors. "They have become more than just a casual nuisance," Councilman Steve Wolowicz said. "They have begun to interrupt life."

Peacocks are the males, who use their tails to attract peahens. The birds' high-pitched screeching can start at 3 a.m. during the spring mating season, waking residents. They tear up gardens and rip up roofs. Mature males, which can weigh up to 13 pounds, become riled when they see their reflections, sometimes scratching cars or smashing through sliding glass windows.

"Drive around the peninsula and you'll see homes with beautiful marble fountains draped with blue dropcloths because they're tired of scraping peafowl droppings off them, to families that can't allow their grandkids to sit on the lawn because of peafowl droppings," said Francine Bradley, extension poultry specialist at UC Davis.

Cities have adopted different methods to deal with the problem. In 1985, Palos Verdes Estates adopted a program that allows two flocks of birds to live in different neighborhoods. If their numbers grow too large, some are removed.

Despite the policy, the peafowl issue has sometimes led to tensions in Palos Verdes Estates. Residents sued to force the city to remove all the birds in town, but in December 2005 an appeals court judge ruled for the peafowl.

Several months before the decision, five peafowl were found dead. Necropsies found that two of them had been poisoned.

Bradley, who was hired by Rancho Palos Verdes in 2000, discovered 134 of the birds in the city. One of her former students updated the census last year and found the number had increased 53%, to 205.

Bradley says those figures are a minimum, since many peafowl could be living in barrancas, ravines and the underbrush or are being protected behind the gates of some residents' homes.

"I would say it's the most widespread problem with the largest number of birds that I'm familiar with," Bradley said.

Wolowicz said he used to see one or two birds a month in his Vista Grande neighborhood but now sees families of five or six mature birds, along with chicks and adolescents. "The other day I counted 12 walking down our street," he said.

Despite the problems the birds cause, some residents have gone out of their way to shield them from capture. They've left them cat food and peanuts or freed them from traps.

So the first step the council took was to pass ordinances making it illegal for people to feed peafowl and interfere with trapping.

The council voted to hire a trapper to winnow down the birds in Vista Grande, where their numbers have increased by 207% in the last eight years.

Peafowl are not indigenous to the area, originating in the Indian subcontinent. In her report, Bradley said the original Palos Verdes peafowl belonged to financier Frank Vanderlip, the area's first developer. When he died in 1937, she said, his heirs probably had less interest in the birds, which consequently began to establish homes elsewhere.

Wolowicz said the problem seemed to worsen about a year and a half ago, when residents started dropping by his house to complain.

"When they see the plumage, it's a treat for people, but when you're living with them every day, it becomes less pleasant," he said.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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