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 large cities 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.
Let's examine a number of theories as to how the Peacock became a free-roaming bird throughout the valleys, streets and parks of Southern California...
- Elias "Lucky" Baldwin - The earliest 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. Baldwin was a real estate magnate who 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 a banker who purchased the 16,000-acre Rancho de Los Palos Verdes estate in 1913. What isn't clear is where he got his pet Peacock. Francine A. Bradley, a Peafowl expert, tells us that her research suggests Vanderlip received the birds as a gift from the daughter of chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. The birds were apparently taken from Wrigley's property on Catalina Island.
- Filmmaker Vicki Mack - Vicki Mack, the producer of a recent documentary on Frank Vanderlip, 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.
- 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 of 1887, 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.
- Wild Animal Park - Some say that around the 1980's some Peacocks escaped from the Wild Animal Park, or that someone brought home a couple of Peacocks and they got out and survived. However, this theory suggests that Peacocks have only been in California since 1980, and that time frame seems to be much too late.
Other Animal Escapes
Along with wild animal parks are the zoos and animal refuges to consider, all 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 the 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.
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 Peacock Problem
With the colorful array of Peacock colors comes an array of Peacock problems. According to some local residents around Southern California, Peacocks are loud, destructive, and a traffic nuisance. Peacocks are omnivores, which means their diet includes a wide variety both meat and vegetable sources. According to one California resident,.
"If you want to plant a garden and grow vegetables, they'll eat everything there is."
But they also like ants, millipedes, crickets, termites, centipedes, locust, scorpions, small mammals and snakes. If you have a flower garden, be aware that they will also consume seeds, flower petals and berries as part of their diet.
When a Peacock enters your yard, it's not the same as songbirds in your trees, or robins hopping around on your lawn, no, it's more like avian trespassing! Sometimes people are afraid of them as they fan out their feathers and start shaking them. Peacocks have gained the perception as being "vain," and they are not shy to preen in front of reflective windows. They are very prideful.
According to the Eastern Sierra Fish Report..
"Using a weapon to intentionally kill a Peacock is a felony in California. Punishment can include a fine and up to three years in prison for each killing of the bird. Peacocks are considered domestic animals and not a game species in California. If you believe they are feral in your area, you need to check with local law enforcement and/or animal control to see if they belong to a nearby property owner and whether they have any other concerns. Peacocks can also be considered personal property and are not regulated by DFG. However, safety laws, such as discharging a firearm within 150 yards of any occupied dwelling without the consent of the owner, would still apply for an authorized take (Fish and Game Code, Section 3004(a))."
The Los Angeles County and surrounding area is now home to a wide array of non-indigenous wildlife, including feral pigs, parrots, snakeheads (fish) and Peacocks to name a few. The community of Rancho Palos Verdes has initiated a plan calling for up to 150 birds to be captured and re-located to places not disclosed to the public. This comes after a series of Peacock killings in nearby Rolling Hills Estates. For the past two years, nearly 50 Peafowl have been killed by BB guns, arrows and poison. This was reported by the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
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 reported problems with wild roaming Peacocks, and are considered an evasive species everywhere in the U.S.