The Midwestern pied piper of peacocks will not be helping besieged residents of Rancho Palos Verdes get a good night's sleep after all.
Last month, in response to a storm of complaints that wild peafowl are destroying gardens, leaving an unholy mess on cars and shattering the night with their distinctive cry of "elp elp," City Council members voted to fly in an Iowa peacock expert to advise the city on how to live with the wild birds and keep them out of yards.
But city officials said Wednesday that the $5,000 deal is off with Dennis Fett, a teacher who runs an Iowa peacock farm and a bustling mail order business in peacock feathers. The arrangement fell through because city officials decided they couldn't pay Fett's expenses and fee in advance or wire him money for a plane ticket, said Gina Park of the city Planning Department.
"There's other people who do his line of work," she said. "Or the council may decide to do something different. . . . The residents just want the problem solved."
She said city officials may turn to a poultry expert at UC Davis who has used more traditional methods such as trapping to rid Northern California cities of peacocks.
Legend has it that peacocks were brought to the wealthy, semirural Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1923 because a visitor thought the place was too quiet. Now, no one knows exactly how many birds roam the four upscale cities of Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, but almost everyone agrees that the population has increased into the hundreds. Peafowl have no natural predators on the peninsula, and many residents who love the sight of the beautifully plumed birds feed them. This has led to fights among neighbors in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Fett said he was angered and confused by the city's refusal to pay his expenses and fees upfront.
"My services were requested by the city, so why in the world would I, or anyone else for that matter, pay their own air fare, pay their own lodging, pay for their own rental car, pay for their own food, or wait up to 45 days to be paid for the work?" Fett asked.
In 1992, he advised Rolling Hills Estates on its peafowl problem, offering tips on what flowers to plant to keep the birds away and how to identify "peafowl hot spots" and prevent birds from returning. Many in that city found his services useful, while others complained that the birds remained as annoying as ever, Park said.
Officials in Rolling Hills Estates paid Fett's expenses and fees before he came, he said, adding: "I fail to understand why Rancho Palos Verdes was unwilling to do the same."
In exchange for a plane ticket, a rental car, a hotel room, money for meals and a small fee, Fett had promised to figure out exactly how many peafowl are living in Rancho Palos Verdes and hold community meetings with residents to teach them how to make the peacocks stay out of backyards. If city officials decided they had too many birds roosting, Fett offered to give unwanted birds a home on his Iowa farm. Already, birds from Rolling Hills Estates and La Canada Flintridge live there.
But many peacock-weary residents of Rancho Palos Verdes said they are not bothered by the fact that Fett won't be coming.
Far from hoping to work with Fett to find a way to live with the peacocks, many in the well-to-do community of 47,000 want the birds euthanized or quickly trapped and shipped out of town. Some also demand an ordinance that will keep peacock-loving neighbors from feeding the birds.
Barbara Arbuthnot, who installed double-paned glass on her windows in an effort to muffle the peacock's screeching, said she never did have much faith that Fett could help her.
In an attempt to protect her garden, she said, she has already tried some of his recommendations, such as planting marigolds, which peacocks do not like. It did not work, she said. The peacocks still picked the marigolds, but spat them out instead of eating them.
Over the next few months, city officials will try to come up with a solution, Park said. Fett said they have their work cut out for them. The peacocks on the Palos Verdes Peninsula are the toughest and hardiest in the United States, he said.
"I will be thinking about the residents, peafowl and human, in Rancho Palos Verdes," Fett said. "I will hope for the best."