By Isabelle Jeng, Environmental Reporter
Top two photos by Margaret Rust
Everyone says you either love them or hate them; regardless, peacock and peahen, or, male and female peafowl, are here to stay.
According to Vicki Mack, who authored the only known biography of Frank Vanderlip, an early twentieth century Palos Verdes Peninsula developer, they were introduced to the area as gifts from Elias Baldwin’s daughter.
If he sounds familiar, it’s because Baldwin Park and Baldwin Hills bear his name; Baldwin was a wealthy investor and entrepreneur who settled in Southern California in the late 1800’s. Upon encountering an ostentation of peafowl in India during his travels, he imported the exotic pheasant species to southern California; his daughter would eventually gift a few pairs to Vanderlip in the early 1900s.
Eventually, peacock population would grow uncontrollably, as they have no known natural predators on the peninsula.
Kelly Miller, a current Malaga Cove resident of twenty-two years, says peacocks have become a permanent fixture to the home she shares with her husband.
“I love seeing peacocks but don’t like the craziness they bring,” she says. “They scream at night and in the morning and sound like screaming babies. They’re dirty, sit in the trees, and leave droppings everywhere.
“I think they’re beautiful. I think they’re stunning. One time, two peacocks walked into what we call the grand room acting as if they owned the place. So, I herded them out of [there]. They’re very bold. They know I won’t let my dog outside, so they come up to the window to taunt him.” She keeps her doors shut now.
She even needs to replace her damaged roof tiles as frequently as every five years due to the peacocks, who land on her and her neighbor’s houses. At any given moment, she says there are at least three to ten peacocks on her property.
It’s impossible to expect residents to cease any bird-feeding activities or ban the flowers that peacocks are known to consume. Those who also feed their pets outdoors will continue to inadvertently attract the annoying birds.
Now, have peacocks become part of the natural environment, or do they affect it? The answer is quite complicated. According to Dennis Fett, the cofounder of the Peacock Information Center in Minden, Iowa, “People are usually the ones who have created the problem themselves. 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 within their normal behavior.” In an interview with Slate, Fett emphasizes that this pheasant species will respond to humans accordingly. “They pick up on your behavior. If people are angry and really pushy…the birds mess with them.”
Peafowl are omnivores that eat insects and reptiles as well as plants and seeds. On the one hand, according to the “Pavo cristatus; Indian peafowl” entry on University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, they help regulate the numbers of venomous snakes, lizards, and insects to maintain a stable ecosystem. But peafowl are a carrier of lice and microorganisms. And, according to Christine E. Jackson, author of Peacock (London: Reaktion, 2006), where peafowl have been introduced and allowed to roam free, they may disrupt the ecosystem, if they feed on endangered lizards, for example. “This could result in irreversible and expensive damage. A high density of peafowl can easily cause destruction to farmers’ crops or flowerbeds.” Here in Palos Verdes, homeowners are often aggrieved with peacocks’ taste for flowers, their oversized droppings and piercing screeches.
As peafowl populations in certain neighborhoods expanded to the point that even their flamboyant glamour became too much of a good thing, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes stepped in. In 2015, a peafowl management plan allowed up to 150 birds a year to be trapped and relocated. When the program was paused in 2020, the population surged, so trapping was reinstituted in 2021.
For the non-locals and tourists who visit the Palos Verdes Peninsula to enjoy its abundance of hiking trails and nature preserves, quiet beaches and ocean backdrop, the peacocks can be quite an exotic surprise. As unmanageable as they have been, however, they have certainly given culture and character to the peninsula.