The proud, preening, and very noisy peacocks of the Palos Verdes Peninsula are in for some changes, if a peacock farmer from Iowa has his way.
Like the Pied Piper on a house call, Dennis Fett was flown in from Minden, Iowa, to help the upscale city of Rolling Hills Estates find a way to settle its peacock war. He spent the weekend studying the 150 exotic birds that parade in squadrons around the city's Dapplegray area, feeding and roosting in the trees.
The regal creatures with the sharp, plaintive cry are loved and hated almost equally. But everyone seems to agree that their numbers are becoming a problem, and the city is paying Fett $200 a day for four days, plus expenses, for his advice.
Tonight, at a City Hall meeting, Fett is to outline his plan for helping to shoo the birds away from the homes of those who do not like them, and to teach peacock fans how to govern the birds' bad habits.
Fett is talking behavior modification. He is one of the country's few peafowl experts; he says he has used behavior modification with the 100 peafowl on his farm, and also in his part-time job as a special education teacher.
When he says "they've got to change their habits," he is not just talking about the birds.
He worries about residents who now hardly speak to each other because of the birds. "The problem isn't going to be the peacocks, it will be the people. . . . They've got to have patience and persistence."
The peacocks roam through the woodsy, boots-and-saddles neighborhoods near Dapplegray School. Traveling in troops of five to 10, they eat in the flower gardens, snapping off blooms, sleep in trees, and make a racket heard for blocks.
"They sound like a dying woman," said Libby Watts. "There are just too many of them. . . . They poop on the patio, dig holes in the lawn, eat your flowers."
A recent poll found that half the residents agree. The other half adore the peafowl, whose ancestors were brought in half a century ago and proliferated.
"We love the birds," said Hope Heib, who lives farther up Buckskin Lane. She puts out cat kibble, feeding 30 birds at a time. "They come running when they see our car pull into the driveway."
Fett said his plan is simple, if everyone works together. First, build feeding stations and roosting barns in woodsy areas away from houses.
"Then, every evening, somebody has to gently herd the birds down away from the houses into the feeding area. If they have water, food and a place to roost, the birds will learn to go there," Fett said. The peafowl on his farm are trained to go into the roosting barn each night, he said.
"We've found some marvelous spots and it should be easy to train them," he said. The downside is that the training must be consistent and will take at least a month.
Patience is essential, he said. If peacocks think they are being pushed or hurried, they will rebel. If anyone puts out unauthorized food in the wrong places, the birds will go there, instead of to the feeding stations, he warned.
While peacock enthusiasts see this as a compromise way of keeping the birds around, detractors are skeptical.
"I'm not convinced it'll work," said Pat DeGaetano, who lives across the street from Heib.
But he is willing to give Fett's method a try. "At this point, I'm open to anything."