Peacocks ruffle residents' feathers

Richard HarrisOliver Purnell

To some, the two dozen peafowl who remain wild in the hillside area above Angeles Crest Highway near tiny Glenola Park are inspiring for their novelty and beauty.

To many others, the noisy, messy birds make for lousy neighbors.

But neither side in the years-long debate over whether to allow wild peacocks and peahens to remain in La Cañada is likely to stop squawking anytime soon.

Following a series of impassioned arguments from a dozen residents who spoke both for and against total peafowl removal, City Council members decided Monday to step up efforts to trap and relocate some of the birds — only not in great enough numbers to harm the flock's ability to reproduce, leaving neither side completely satisfied.

"I think it's a very flawed compromise that we have. We're not making anyone happy, but maybe it's the best we can do," said Councilman Steven De Guercio, who along with Councilwoman Laura Olhasso ultimately favored Mayor Donald Voss's middle-ground approach.

Councilmen Dave Spence and Greg Brown, on the advice of City Attorney Mark Steres, had recused themselves from the hearing because they reside in or around the impacted area.

A census of peafowl by the Pasadena Humane Society and Los Angeles Zoo Principal Animal Keeper Mike Maxcy found 25 of the birds — four peacocks, 10 peahens and 11 juveniles — in the area north of Vista Del Valle Road that includes Haskell and El Vago streets, White Deer Drive, Big Briar Way and Ridgecliff and Vista Lejana lanes.

City Council members want to see that number reduced this year to just three peacocks and six peahens.

The city had already reduced its target flock size from 18 to 14 in 2008 before ratcheting down to 12 last year, with flocks tending to double their size during the summer mating season, perpetuating the need for further trapping.

As Olhasso, who moved in favor of the compromise figure, surmised of anti-peafowl complaints: "It's gotten better, but not great."

El Vago Street resident Lisa Phelan, who said peafowl regularly invade her yard in groups of five or even 10, complained that the birds destroy landscaping, interfere with traffic and leave behind fecal matter to the extent of it becoming a public-health hazard.

Carol Martin argued that residents of El Vago Street were due special consideration because the flock tends to be most intrusive there.

"We cannot talk to each other when our sliding doors are open. We can't hear the TV from all the [birds'] screaming going on outside. How many of us does it take for it to really be heard that we have a problem?" Martin asked.

Peafowl are removed each year by Maxcy at a cost $150 per bird — too much of an ongoing expense for Hayden Carney, who along with James Lyon was critical of peafowl for tearing up flowers and of Spence and Brown for leaving the debate.

"The problem may be local, but the solution is going to impact the entire community, by that I mean economics. Why not trap them all?" Carney asked.

For Ron Horwitz, the answer is simple: "I love them. They bring me and my family great joy," he said. "I want to teach our children diversity and tolerance, and, when it comes to wildlife, removing this species teaches the opposite."

Though council members discussed a possible ordinance against feeding peafowl, cited as a significant factor in their clustering on El Vago Street, Del Guercio dismissed the idea as overly invasive and difficult to enforce. The city instead will send a letter to residents urging voluntary restraint from peafowl feeding.

Maxcy said that reducing the flock from 12 to nine birds runs a risk of limiting genetic diversity, which could make future peafowl generations more susceptible to disease. But then again, he said, conditions here have been extremely favorable for peafowl population growth.

Wild peafowl have roamed parts of the city since a former ranch owner released a small flock after selling his land for development.

"We have worked through floods and worked through fires, and we will work through this as well," said peafowl preservationist Richard Harris, who favored continued population management efforts by the city.

Martin wasn't as certain, predicting another confrontation at the city's next annual review.

"We'll see you next year," she said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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