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Fallbrook's royalty or royal pain?

Due to recent interest in the history of peacocks in Fallbrook, this article is being republished from March 2006.

Debbie Ramsey

Special to the Village News

Great Britain has Queen Elizabeth; Jordan has King Abdullah II; Monaco has Prince Albert; and Fallbrook has – peafowls? Local historians confirm the regal peacock has enjoyed the Fallbrook environ for many decades, as recounted in journals and stories written by Fallbrook's early settlers.

Love 'em or hate 'em, peacocks are part of Fallbrook's collection of wildlife. Adored by many as the beautiful specimen of nature they are, there is a faction of the population that abhors the peafowl's screaming call and tendency to be a bit messy.

Local resident Jeri Dinnel has seen firsthand the controversy over the bird.

"When my husband and I purchased our home on El Nido Drive approximately eight years ago, it was common to have 20 peacocks in our yard at any one time," said Dinnel. "Though the birds can be noisy and messy, we thoroughly enjoyed them. They were great at keeping the snail population down and we felt the positive outweighed the negative in having them in our neighborhood.

"However, one of our neighbors obviously disagreed and began a trapping program that we did not become aware of until all but one were gone. We have been told that all the neighbors wanted them gone and that is definitely not true. In fact, every neighbor that we have personally spoken to was against any trapping."

Dinnel said the one remaining peacock, fondly called 'Jake' by some and 'Peter' by others, is welcome in her neighborhood.

"Our biggest fear is that he will be carted off to the great unknown," Dinnel noted. "My husband and I both feel the peacocks were one of the charming things about this area and we miss them."

Fallbrook resident Ed Rutherfurd, who maintains a few chickens on his property, says a wild peacock flew into his yard about five years ago and appears to have made it his home base.

"Since that time, he has become our pet," said Rutherfurd. "He has come to trust us and he even permits us to walk with him around our property. He spreads his beautiful tail and shows off to the chickens and to us frequently. He is an excellent 'watch bird' and readily sounds off to warn us of coyotes, stray dogs or other intruders in the area."

Rutherfurd admits the peacock does make his share of noise.

"In the spring he is noisily sounding off in hopes of finding a girlfriend," he said. "His peacock cries are perhaps disturbing to some who can hear him." Rutherfurd is correct in that statement. In another Fallbrook neighborhood, resident Scott Page says he has been trying to figure out what to do about the disturbances.

"I realize peafowl are pretty to look at, but of the many noises they make, I don't feel any are enjoyable to listen to," said Scott Page. "The ones that really bother me are the loud screams in the middle of the night. They start making noise in January and continue until about August." Page admits that while he finds the sounds annoying, they are not consistent.

"They don't scream every night or make the same noises every time," said Page. "Their favorite time at night is about 3 a.m. and they can be loud!" Page said, unfortunately, he is a light sleeper and finds it necessary during certain times of the year to wear foam earplugs to get a decent night's sleep.

Page says he and his neighbors have contemplated why the problem is so significant in his area.

"There are neighbors around me who think the birds were displaced by the Gavilan Fire," said Page. "I know for a fact that they were in my yard about three weeks before the fire. They moved around a bit, then settled across the way from me when a neighbor started feeding them. I don't think people realize what a problem they are creating. I talked to an animal control officer who told me, 'Whatever you do, don't feed them!'" A 33-year resident who said he truly enjoys wildlife, evidenced in the way he and his wife feed wild quail and hummingbirds, Page said the peacocks are just a bit too much to tolerate.

"We don't mind being awakened by the owls or the coyotes or our bobcat friend or any other occasional wildlife call. I even salute the helicopters when they fly over. I just think the peacock infestation is something I shouldn't have to deal with for the rest of my life. They appear to be multiplying pretty fast. I do believe a number of my neighbors are starting to realize we may have a serious problem brewing. I guess my next step is to contact the county to see what their policy is about these birds."

It seems a shame that such a beautiful creature could create such discomfort for residents and a division of opinion in the community.

I remember, as a kid growing up in Fallbrook in the '60s, I would be sitting in our living room when I would suddenly see something out of the large sliding glass door – something proud, something stately – walking the walk of the elite down our driveway. Holding my breath in awe I would gaze at the creature with its head held regally high, posture finishing school perfect, and its grand artist's palate of tail feathers perfectly folded like an exquisite oriental fan. "Look," I'd whisper to my family, "a peacock!"

More frequently seen splaying across our television screen touting a major network, the routine visit from real live peacocks seemed magical, creating the feeling that a fabulous miracle was sure to follow.

Peacocks had a very special place in my childish heart, unlike the nervous squirrels, frumpy-looking possums, hideous tarantulas and unassuming rabbits that frequently passed through our yard. They were fully aware of their elevated status and their precious God-given gift. Unlike a stray dog or cat, we never sought to chase a peacock from our property, but we also never fed them. They merely passed through on their way to another destination. Experts say some of the birds live to be 40 years old.

Some other residents' youthful memories concerning peacocks are not as fond as mine.

My friend Mary Rivers, local historian and devoted volunteer of the Fallbrook Historical Society, said her most vivid memory of experiences with peacocks during her youth while growing up in Fallbrook was walking home from school past the Masonic cemetery and hearing peacocks in the neighborhood screeching.

"It sounded like they were yelling 'Help, help' – I would always hurry past the cemetery because it sounded so eerie," she recounted.

While Fallbrook still has its share of peafowl after all these decades, they are not native to this area.

There are two naturally occurring peacock species - the Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus from India, known as the Blue peafowl, and the Green peafowl Pavo muticus, found in Burma, Thailand, Indo China, Malaya and Java. It has been documented that the Phoenicians brought the peacock to Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. The Romans raised peafowl as a delicacy for the table as well as for ornamental purposes. Reports say that after turkeys were imported from Mexico, peafowl were discarded as a primary table bird. If anyone in Fallbrook raises them for culinary purposes, I am not aware of it.

Whether you enjoy sharing the Fallbrook area with peafowl or you are opposed to it, I'm not sure how significant your (or my) opinion is, because these are birds with a very healthy opinion of themselves.

The male, known to favor shiny surfaces so they can see their own reflection, experts say, is a bird with a mind and agenda of its own – perhaps that is why they feel so comfortable in Fallbrook.


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