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October 24th, 2019

Peacocks in Southern California

Almost anywhere you go in Los Angeles, San Diego or surrounding counties, there's a remote chance you might notice the colorful feathers of a Phasianidae (order Galliformes), more commonly referred to as a "Peacock." A Peacock is a distinctive member of the pheasant family, and alive and well all over Southern California, yes,. "Peacocks in Southern California!"

The male is a peacock, the female is a peahen, and both are "peafowl." Three distinct species of peafowl exist, and originally came from several areas in the Old World such India, Africa and Myanmar (formerly Burma). They are also found in zoos and wild animal parks all over the world.

The Peacock's Arrival

So how did they arrive in Southern California? Just the fact that a large exotic bird lives in the suburbs of a large city like Los Angeles and San Diego is enough to make anybody wonder. But the fact that a sizable number of these so-called "Peafowl" casually roam the streets, parks and rural areas of California is enough to cause someone to go one step further and do a little research. At one time, the proud birds were a status symbol for members of the upper echelons of American society. But a fierce debate over what to do about the birds has been nagging California residents for decades, and unfortunately for bird lovers (and for the Peacocks), those long colorful tail feathers just aren't as appreciated like they used to be.

The first known introduction of Peacock into the United States was in 1879, when Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin brought three pairs to his sprawling ranch in the San Gabriel Valley. Today, groups of wild Peacock (some in private captivity) thrive in California, mostly in the southern portion, as well as in Florida and Hawaii. And even now Houston has a reported problem with wild roaming Peacocks, considered an evasive species anywhere in the U.S.

So now we know when Peacocks were first introduced to California, but how and when were they first allowed to roam the valleys, parks and streets? Lets examine...

A few theories to consider...

Let's examine the story of the California Peacock and consider a number of theories...

  • Wild Animal Park - Some say that around the 80's, a few Peacocks escaped from the Wild Animal Park, or that someone brought home a couple of Peacocks and they got out and survived. This theory suggests that Peacocks have only been around the LA area since 1980, and that time frame might be a bit to narrow.
  • Edwin W. Sargent - Some say that the owner of the Los Angeles Abstract Company named Edwin W. Sargent could be a possibility. If anybody was in the right industry to have Peacocks as a pet, it was certainly Edwin W. Sargent. As the founding partner to the Angeles Abstract Company, he was part of one of the first institutions to provide authoritative titles to land parcels and issue certificates of title in real estate transactions in Los Angeles. There isn't much documentation of Sargent's personal involvement with Peacocks, however, he may have kept just a few as pets, or kept them in captivity for breeding purposes and then introduced them to the area either intentionally or by mistake.
  • Elias "Lucky" Baldwin - According to a 2010 Times article, the first Peacocks were introduced to Southern California by a real estate magnate Elias "Lucky" Baldwin. He made his home on a large 8,000-acre ranch that now makes up most of Arcadia. Here, he cultivated a lush oasis of fruit trees and exotic vegetation, and in 1880, he introduced to the estate a few wild Peacocks he had purchased in India. Soon, about 50 of the peafowl roamed the grounds-much to the delight of Baldwin, who apparently was quite a bird lover. After Baldwin died in 1909, his vast property was slowly sold off in sections, and as the borders of the estate shrank, the peafowl that roamed it began incorporating themselves into the San Gabriel Valley communities.
  • Frank Vanderlip - He was banker who purchased the 16,000-acre Rancho de Los Palos Verdes estate in 1913. What isn't clear is where he got them. Peafowl expert Francine A. Bradley tells the Times that her research suggests that Vanderlip received the birds as a gift from the daughter of chewing gum tycoon and William Wrigley Jr. The birds were apparently taken from Wrigley's property on Catalina Island.
  • Filmmaker Vicki Mack - The producer of a recent documentary on Vanderlip, Mack tells Los Angeles Magazine that she is "ninety percent sure" it was the daughter of Baldwin, not Wrigley, who gifted the peafowl. Ironically, before receiving the birds, Vanderlip apparently complained that his new home was a bit too quiet for his liking. Now, it's the shrill squawks of the Peacocks (along with the sizable piles of excrement they tend to leave around the neighborhood) that have Rancho Palos Verdes residents up in arms.

Animal Escapes

Other aspects to consider are the zoos, animal parks and animal refuges in the southern California area. The San Diego Zoo for example, is a very large Zoo surrounded by rolling hills and thick brush, and there is a possibility that a few Peacocks may have escaped. The zoo has been in existence since 1920's, and since then, there have been many animals that have escaped from the SD Zoo alone, including a three-time escapee known as "Ken Allen" a Bornean Orangutan, two Striped Hyenas and a Koala Bear.


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