The prevailing theory as to why peacocks flocked to suburban Pinecrest is that, like many Floridians, they went in search of better real estate.
Long a bohemian mainstay of Coconut Grove, a Miami neighborhood up the road, non-native birds have started heading south in recent years, local officials suspect, as Grove’s old cottages were turned into huge homes. modern ones that chipped away at the luxuriant tree of the region. canopy. In the affluent village of Pinecrest, the peacocks found larger grounds with lots of greenery that were much more to their liking.
The birds, however, weren’t much to the liking of their new human neighbors. Peacocks scratched the roofs of stately homes, pecked at the paint of luxury cars and defecated on manicured driveways. Their screams – “aa-AAH! aa-AAH!” — often woke residents before dawn.
So Pinecrest devised a new plan: peacock vasectomies.
Cut a male peacock, it is thought, and he will no longer be able to fertilize the eggs of the female peacocks in his harem.
“Peacocks are true polygamists,” said Dr. Don J. Harris, the vet hired by Pinecrest to perform the procedure. “We’re going to catch a peacock and probably prevent seven females from breeding. This is going to have an exponential benefit.
No one knows if, or to what extent, the Pinecrest pilot program will work. But in balmy South Florida, where people have no choice but to co-exist with native (alligators, sharks) and invasive (pythons, iguanas) wildlife, it’s a new way to try to solve an old problem.
“I sure wouldn’t want to kill them – God, no,” said Gerald Greenberg, who has about seven peacocks living in an oak tree in his front yard. But, he added, “We have to do something.”
What makes Florida different, said Ron Magill, director of communications for Zoo Miami, is that in most other parts of the country, winter will kill off most exotic species.
“When these animals come out here in South Florida, they’ve entered Club Med,” he said. “It is paradise.”
Iridescent peacocks have roamed some of greater Miami’s neighborhoods for decades, with little consensus on what to do about them. To their defenders, they are majestic and beautiful. To their detractors, they are a relentless nuisance.
In 2001, when the peacock population was much smaller, Miami-Dade County made it illegal to kill or capture them, except for owners who can remove the birds from their property without harm. Many municipalities, including Miami, are bird sanctuaries.
So over the years, when neighbors complained about peacocks pecking at them, local officials sided with the birds. Miami, after all, is a city where chickens and roosters roam freely on certain streets and, since the coronavirus pandemic, have proliferated around the federal courthouse and other downtown buildings.
But last year, as more communities complained about property being destroyed by peacocks, a split county commission voted to allow municipal governments to submit “peacock mitigation plans.” Pinecrest, a village of about 18,000, was the first to do so with its vasectomy plan, which county commissioners approved last month.
The office of Raquel A. Regalado, the commissioner whose district includes Pinecrest, agreed to pay about $15,000 for veterinary equipment to perform the vasectomies. Pinecrest has budgeted $7,500 per month to implement the plan.
Vasectomies would allow peacocks to continue to act as dominant males, displaying their dazzling feathers and assembling their harems, although they could no longer fertilize any eggs. But trapping peacocks, with their sharp beaks and talons, isn’t easy. And while endoscopic avian vasectomies (where the vas deferens is cut) are less complicated than full castration (where the testicles are removed), surgery is still surgery.
Dr. Jim Wellehan, a professor of zoological medicine at the University of Florida, recalled performing endoscopic gonadectomies at a zoological institution years ago to control the mallard duck population. “In the beginning, there were so many challenges, and it was difficult,” he said. “But before long we had it.”
“To be honest, the expense of trap and release programs is really hard to justify,” he said. But people are often reluctant to simply euthanize animals.
Earlier this year, the euthanasia of aggressive Muscovy ducks in Palmetto Bay, south of Pinecrest, sparked so much outrage that some locals held a candlelight vigil for the deceased.
No similar affectionate displays have taken place for the Pinecrest peacocks, although Shannon del Prado, the councilor who came up with the program, said a few people had written to say the birds should be left alone.
“‘You’re trying to eradicate the peacock,'” she said, someone told her. “That’s really not the case. I have a rescue cat, but she’s cured.
Others reacted like David O. Markus, a 16-year-old Pinecrest resident who calls the peacock a “plague.” A peacock attacked his Tesla, leaving it scratched. (The males are thought to see their reflections in the paint, misidentify them as rivals, and peck.)
Mr. Greenberg, a lawyer, said he would sometimes be on a Zoom call and a peacock would screech.
“People from other parts of the country will stop and ask me what that noise is,” he said. “I will explain that they have pigeons – and we have peacocks.”