BY LINDA ROBERTSON
Beneath the oak canopy, residents who lived for decades in a cozy, peaceful, jasmine-scented corner of north Coconut Grove walked dogs, tended gardens, exchanged recipes and followed the love-thy-neighbor commandment.
Then the peacocks moved in. And multiplied. When they weren’t fanning their regal plumage they produced prodigious piles of poop. They howled and shrieked at all hours. They pecked at the shiny paint of cars — birdbrains who mistook their reflection for a rival. They ate flowers. They pried off roof shingles. They paraded in packs. They roosted in trees and dug dusty holes in green lawns. They had chicks, who grew into defecating, squawking, scratching, denuding adults.
Double-decker tour buses began rolling through the lush lanes, disgorging passengers who took pictures and dropped cigarette butts in front yards.
Today, the neighborhood stands divided. A nasty feud has pitted those who adore and feed cat food to the pretty peacocks they’ve nicknamed Cookie and Peg Leg Pete against those who loathe and shun the nuisance birds. They have called the cops, accusing neighbors of poisoning or abusing peacocks. They’ve tattled to code enforcement for revenge.
“Arguments, insults, fistfights — it’s out of control, just like the peacock population is out of control,” said Frank Cabreja, former chair of the Coconut Grove Quality of Life Coalition who lives on Natoma Street. “Our street is an example of the conflict between people who think they are cute and people like me who see this as a serious health and hygiene problem. If we were talking about ugly rats instead of beautiful birds, something would be done. Let’s not wait until there’s a horrible incident between emotional neighbors.”
All because of the peacock, or — to use the less sexist term that includes peahens — peafowl, which is the national bird of India, a spectacular creature with its iridescent blue and green coloring, long tail feathers with distinctive eye markings and crowned head that makes it look like a bejeweled invitee to a royal ball.
The peacock was likely introduced to the Grove by homeowners who wanted a stunning yard ornament. They’ve proliferated to Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, up north to El Portal, down south to Palmetto Bay, causing tension wherever they flock.
Nobody from the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County or state seems to know what to do about them because the city is considered a bird sanctuary and county law prohibits tampering with eggs or trapping and removing peafowl unless they are transferred to a protected place.
Even Ron Magill, the Zoo Miami communications director who would never hurt a fly —and would probably build a fly conservation area if he could — does not understand the preoccupation with feeding wild peacocks — an absolute no-no. Like pythons and lionfish, peafowl are non-native species that have upset the equilibrium of nature — and neighborhoods.
“South Florida is a Club Med for exotic, invasive animals,” he said. “People think that instead of a plastic pink flamingo they can have a peacock in their yard. But peacocks do not belong here. They are vectors for disease and parasite transmission, property damage and noise pollution. They have no natural predators. Birds are the most aggressive vertebrates on the planet. Through no fault of their own, these beautiful chickens have become pests.
“Everyone’s heart is in the right place, but even the most passionate animal lover will lose his patience when he slips and falls in peacock feces.”
Cathy Moghari is an animal lover. Her neighbors call her the Peacock Whisperer. At least a dozen peafowl make their home at her home on Crystal Court. They eat sunflower seeds out of her hand and come to her when she clucks her tongue.
“I think of it as a gift to wake up and see these guys in the morning,” said Moghari, calling Blue by name. “It’s kind of a paradise here, and if you can’t bond with nature in the Grove you should live in a high-rise.”
She’s taken injured peafowl hit by cars or rocks thrown at them to the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. She’s seen hawks and foxes capture babies. She estimates that about 60 peafowl live in the neighborhood.
“You’ll see 20 follow me down the street,” she said as the birds’ screeching interrupted her. “They have 15 different calls and you’ll hear them answer back. We have a lot of car break-ins around here and they act like sentries, screaming to alert you.”
What about the poop? She shrugs and smiles: “All creatures poop.”
Moghari’s friend Gerry Smith also treats the peafowl like pets, feeding Cutie, Cuckoo and Cookie animal crackers and seeds in her driveway, where she’s placed a water bowl.
“There is no gray area with peacocks,” Smith said. “You either love them or hate them. But they are like Coconut Grove: They have character.”
She admits they devour all kinds of plants, so she’s put chicken wire around her garden.
“I don’t have to set my alarm clock because they wake me up. Our Florida room has a flat roof and skylight and we call it the peacock hotel because they like to mate up there,” she said. “Yes, they are noisy and messy. I have four kids and eight grandkids and they were messy, too.”
Now, this particular point of view stretches Carole Campbell’s nerves to the breaking point. Peafowl aren’t people. Nor should they be treated like people. Nor should they be more important than people.
Campbell is fed up with peafowl and the neighbors who feed them.
“It’s like chumming for sharks and then you have a feeding frenzy,” she said. “There’s more effort to clean up dog poop than peacock poop. They attack cars. They destroy landscaping.”
Every day, Campbell herds the peafowl away from her house with a large palm frond. She’s trapped in a feeding zone, but recently convinced one neighbor to stop.
“I wanted to make peace,” said Joanne Lynch, who was spending hundreds of dollars per month on cat food for the birds at the same time that some neighbors derided Campbell as La Loca. “I’m Switzerland in this neighborhood.
“I love peacocks and can’t sleep without the noise, but there are negatives and making up with Carole as a friend meant more to me.”
Rossina Adissi is on Campbell’s side.
“I hate peacocks,” she said while walking her two small dogs. Their droppings have wrecked the paint and sliding glass doors of her house.
Campbell blames the city for “lackadaisical” unwillingness to find a solution.
Commissioner Ken Russell said he’s starting an education campaign to discourage feeding.
“The peacock is a symbol of the Grove, dating back to the Peacock family who helped settle the Grove,” he said. “But in some spots there are so many it’s like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to control the breeding and spread of them.”
The Coconut Grove Grapevine blog suggests that one way to control the population is to eat the eggs. Editor Tom Falco linked to the BackYard Chickens website to advise readers on how to breed and raise peafowl. An anonymous reader responded that people could save money and make “yummy omelets, cakes, French toast and quiches.” Another called peafowl an “asset to the community” and declared “Leave the damn peacocks alone.”
But for desperate, sleep-deprived Grove residents like Stephanie Gordon, the peafowl problem has become overwhelming. She’s sent at least eight emails and made numerous calls to the city, the county and the county’s Animal Services Department and got the jurisdictional runaround with no resolution.
“The City created the problem and now it should fix it,” she wrote. “One more day of being woken up at 5 a.m. with peafowl calls before sunrise, all day long cries from these birds, continuously chasing them off of my roof, my car and my yard, and cleaning up the bacteria-infested droppings left behind on the sidewalk and I will be taking matters into my own hands. That means cutting down the tree in which they roost or having them removed by any means possible. Going to court over peafowl would be a tremendous waste of everyone’s time and money but I am not beyond it. I urge you, please do not continue to ignore this problem or hope it will go away. It will not go away and will only get worse.”
Animal Services has offered to remove nuisance peafowl, but only if residents locate a safe place to put them. They have not found a haven.
“We’ve reached a point of critical peacock mass and need to take action,” said county commissioner Xavier Suarez, who had to stop twice Wednesday for peacocks crossing the road.
Suarez and county mayor Carlos Gimenez asked Animal Services to investigate “humane and lawful” trapping and transfer of peafowl to a hospitable location. Nine zoological societies in Florida were asked if they would accept the peafowl — at no charge. All nine declined.
No one wants to adopt them? Campbell, yearning for a return to harmony in her corner of Coconut Grove, knows why.
“They even poop in my neighbor’s swimming pool,” she said. “They’re not pretty anymore. They are a menace.”