The solution to Miami’s polarizing peacock problem could be a man known as Mr. Peacock who has generously offered to adopt the unwanted birds at his four-acre farm in Iowa corn country.
Dennis Fett and his wife, Debra Joan Buck, a.k.a. Mrs. Peacock, keep up to 250 peafowl on their property, so the squawking, pooping, landscape-devouring, car-scratching habits of the birds that drive Miami residents crazy don’t bother them. In fact, Fett and Buck run the Peacock Information Center, write books such as “The Wacky World of Peafowl,” compose songs and produce videos about them — including one in which Mrs. Peacock screeches in harmony with their flock.
They understand how peacocks are ruffling feathers, again, with the discovery in Coconut Grove — ground zero for the peafowl wars — of several peahens mortally wounded by BB gun pellets. They have consulted on conflicts in New York, Hawaii, California, Tampa and at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
Not only is peafowl murder against the law in Miami-Dade County but it isn’t going to eradicate the birds. Nor is stealing eggs, also illegal.
“I know it’s a hot, emotional issue between peacock lovers and peacock haters,” said Fett, a retired clarinet player and music teacher. “But if you’re mad and want to kill them, they’ll sense that, hide and move. They’re resilient. They’re obstinate. If you study them you’ll find they’re like people. One reason humans don’t like them is because they reflect human behavior.”
If you study them you’ll find they’re like people. One reason humans don’t like them is because they reflect human behavior.
Dennis Fett, who runs a peacock center in Iowa
Fett is willing to conduct educational seminars in Miami. He recommends learning how to control the population and co-existing with the beautiful but very loud birds. He’s also willing to show people how to safely catch, box and ship — by Priority Express, with a nutrition gel pack — peafowl and peachicks to his place in Minden, Iowa, where they will no longer be treated as poop-producing pariahs.
He’s confident he can find loving homes for them.
“I give practical advice so people can get past the anger,” he said.
The only things more confounding than peafowl are the laws regulating them. To animal advocates, the iridescent birds are a treasured representative of what makes Miami exotic. To those who loathe them, the invasive species is a nuisance representative of what makes Miami annoying.
While some residents believe it is their right to get rid of peafowl that damage private property by eating plants, defecating on walkways, tearing screens and pecking at roofs, a county law protects peafowl. In Miami, section 6-3 of the city’s code declares the city a bird sanctuary and Section 6-4 makes it “unlawful for any person to shoot, trap or in any manner kill or destroy birds within the city.”
So while it may be disgusting to walk out your front door in a sleep-deprived state only to have poop squirt on your head from the peafowl roosting in your trees, there’s not much you can do except squawk back at them. At which point your pitying neighbors will know you’ve been reduced to your tormentors’ birdbrain level.
Adding to the consternation, peafowl, native to India and Sri Lanka, are nonnative, just like the Burmese python and lionfish, which are being hunted in government-authorized efforts to reduce their numbers.
But the state, curiously, classifies peafowl as domestic livestock, along with cattle, pig, chickens, sheep and – get this – camels and water buffalo.
Therefore, peafowl “fall under the jurisdiction of local government,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson Katie Purcell. In some counties, residents may shoot and kill peafowl that roam onto their property, but not in others.
Miami-Dade County doesn’t allow taking, capturing or hunting peafowl, an offense punishable by up to $500 in fines and 60 days in jail. But wait: It makes an exception if the peafowl are removed “in a manner that does not physically injure” them. And the peafowl must be transferred to a location where they’ll be protected. Yet when the county tried to implement an organized trapping campaign, it could find no animal sanctuaries or farms willing to accept the birds – and it inquired at nine places.
Nonnatives cannot be released into the wild. That’s why Lloyd Brown won’t rehabilitate injured peafowl brought to his Wildlife Rescue of Dade County.
“I will euthanize them, I will put them down — not that I enjoy doing that but I am obligated not to release them into the wild,” said Brown, who is raising a peafowl chick. He recalled how when he visited Sri Lanka and Borneo to teach rescue classes, he was surrounded by peafowl. “If you live in South Florida, you have to learn to live with them.”
The city of Coral Gables is taking a proactive approach as the peacock invasion advances across its borders. Commissioners have drafted an ordinance recognizing that peafowl cause property damage, create noise pollution, transmit parasites and act aggressively and that “proliferation of peafowl within the city harms public welfare.” The city, exempt from the county code, intends to “take any remedial action deemed appropriate.” South Miami plans to issue $500 fines to residents who feed the birds and treat them like pets.
Rancho Palos Verdes in southern California has a management plan to control its peafowl population that could be a model for other cities. It targets the humane removal and relocation of up to 150 birds per year. When the city first tried trapping 50 in 2001, only 19 were caught “due to sabotage to the traps by peafowl enthusiasts.” After the population grew 53 percent, the city instituted another trapping operation and prohibited interference by those enthusiasts.
In 2014, when a peafowl census showed the population was up by 69 percent, Rancho Palos Verdes implemented a detailed plan that prohibits feeding and suggests deterrents such as: Using sprinklers, hoses or motion-sensor activated water sprays to ward off the birds; encouraging dogs to scare them away; placing cat repellent or mothballs around flower beds and walkways; hanging balloons in trees; closing compost containers or covering gardens with rocks or gravel to prevent peafowl from luxuriating in their daily dirt and dust baths; not leaving birdseed, pet food or bread outside.
The city lists plants and vegetables that attract peafowl , such as begonias, impatiens, lettuce and tomatoes, and those they turn up their beaks at, such as bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumbago, ferns and roses.
For Miamians who feel powerless about purging peacocks, Mr. and Mrs. Peacock offer their aid. At their headquarters they have created a haven for the bejeweled but extremely noisy birds that former Paterson, N.J., “city boy” Fett became “mesmerized” by when he moved to Iowa. If you miss having them on the roof of your car or house, you can order peacock feathers from the farm, ranging in price from $17.50 to $109.99.
“Hey, there goes one prancing by the window acting like it’s summer when it’s 35 degrees out here,” said Fett. He’s confident he can find plenty of peacock fans on his website who would adopt any birds who need to relocate. “We just love them. And we’d love to help Miami.”
There you have it. A truck ferrying carefully packed peacocks from Coconut Grove to Iowa. Or the U.S. Postal Service making special deliveries. Mr. Peacock could be the answer to the prayers of the pooped.