Dear Bird Folks,
Any idea of the story behind the peacock that has been hanging out with the turkeys in my neighborhood?
– EG, Brewster, MA
Not again, EG,
I almost made it an entire week without being asked about the crazy peacock in Brewster. That bird has been visiting Brewster neighborhoods for years and has somehow avoided coyotes, winter storms and the pandemic (probably because it got the vaccine early). The only thing it hasn’t avoided is detection. Anyone who hasn’t seen this bird probably hasn’t been to Brewster, which is too bad. Brewster is a nice town, especially if you like peacocks.
To begin with, it should be pointed out that peacocks are real birds and not a streaming TV service or some weird thing PT Barnum created for the circus. They actually live in the wild and can be found roaming freely in India, where it’s the national bird, plus Asia, Africa and now Brewster. It should be also pointed out that the term peacock is specific to the male and peahen is the female. Peafowl refers to either gender and their babies are called peachicks (how adorable). Also, a group of several peafowl is known as an “ostentation,” which makes it sound less like a bird from Brewster and more like one from Chatham or Osterville.
There are three distinct species of peafowl in the world, with India’s Blue Peafowl being the most widely known and the one that is currently roaming in your area. When most people think of a peacock they think of his massive tail and its fanned display of feathered eyeballs. But actually the bird’s tail is rather ordinary; it’s the feathers on the back that produce the ornate fan of color. (From now on though, I’ll just say it’s the tail. It’s much easier that way.) Like the birds at our feeders, peacocks annually molt their feathers, including those long lavish ones. While it seems like a bit of a waste to lose all those fancy plumes each year, it is actually a good thing. The fashion crowd loves to collect peacock feathers and if the birds didn’t routinely give them up voluntarily, some people would take them by a non-friendly method. That wouldn’t be good, even in the name of fashion.
The purpose of such showy feathers, as you might have already guessed, is for mate attraction. Like our tom turkeys, the breeding peacocks strut around with their “tails” spread out in the hope of impressing the ladies. Then, as if their dazzling feathers weren’t enough, the birds begin to shake them, which produces a rattling sound and this is a major come on (if you’re turned on by that sort of thing). The peahens stroll in between all the fanning and rattling and typically pick the peacock that puts on the best show. They figure the peacock with the longest and brightest tail not only must have the best genes, but also has the best survival skills. It takes a particularly fit bird to be able to survive in the forest while also dragging that ridiculously long feathered train around. After mating, the hen goes off by herself to lay her eggs. The male goes back to strutting and never knowingly sees his own peachicks. (That’s not so adorable.)
Peacocks aren’t small birds, often weighing nearly thirteen pounds. Yet even with their colossal trains weighing them down, they are quite capable of flight. They use their wings to avoid danger and to fly up into the canopy at night. Peafowl (like turkeys) roost off the ground in the relative safety of trees. Because they are so large, the national bird of India only has a few enemies, with one of those enemies being the national animal of India, the tiger. That’s right; India has actual tigers to deal with, so we all should stop stressing about coyotes…and squirrels.
In addition to their famous tails, peacocks also have distinctive voices. Their call is both very loud and a little eerie. The first time I ever heard the sound of a peacock I was traveling and spending the night in a small town somewhere. Just as the sun came up, I started hearing what I thought was somebody screaming. I went to the hotel lobby to inquire about the noise and the woman at the front desk, who just happened to be from India, said with a smile, “Oh, those are just the neighborhood peacocks.” I smiled back and thanked her, but didn’t dare tell her what I did for a living. Not knowing the call of one of the world’s most recognizable birds wouldn’t have looked good on my résumé.
Peafowl aren’t native to North America, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have them. They can be found in zoos, on farms and in people’s backyards. A quick search online shows there are several companies that will happily sell you a peafowl or two. This includes one business called the “Cackle Hatchery,” which sounds more like a comedy club to me. Maybe they sell peacocks that also do a stand-up routine. Even I’d buy one of those.
As for that famous Brewster bird, EG, it most likely walked away from its owner’s pen and is now exploring the highlights of Brewster, which apparently includes your yard. It probably won’t hang around for too long, but if it becomes a nuisance, there’s one thing you can do to scare it away…get yourself a tiger. A tiger roaming in the neighborhood would not only solve the problem, it would also give people something new to talk about besides coyotes, squirrels and that one peacock.