Peacocks in Surrey accused of fowl play

The early bird may catch the worm, but in this case, it also gets the choice of real state.

For over a decade, a community of Indian Peafowls (Pavo cristatus, also know as blue peafowls) have been calling Surrey’s Sullivan Heights neighbourhood their home. With a population of more than 100 birds, they’ve become somewhat of a quirky local attraction.

“Originally there were acreages in that neighbourhood, somebody just had these birds on their property, “commented Jas Rehal, Manager of Public Safety Operation for the City of Surrey. “When the development happened, a few birds were left behind, and now their presence has grown and there are simply too many birds in the area.” 

As the peafowl population has grown, it has also managed to ruffle some feathers, garnering accusations of unruly behaviour. 

Some of the complaints the City of Surrey have received include that the fowls are loud, they are aggressive, they urinate and defecate in bothersome areas, and they have attacked people and cars.   

While some species of peafowl are endangered, such as the Congo peafowl, there are no such wildlife species protections afforded to Surrey’s roaming Indian peacocks and peahens. Equally, the birds are not permitted to be kept as pets on residential properties, so for years, the city didn’t really know what, if anything, should be done with the birds.

Left to wander Surrey’s streets and parks, the bright blue and turquoise peafowls have proven to be versatile and adaptable. 

“They are opportunistic generalists and are found today throughout India, often near human-altered habitats and agricultural land,” explained Dr. Roslyn Dakin, postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. “They prefer semi-open areas to dense woodland. They do very well on farms and in suburban areas. For that reason, there are several places in North America were a few escapees have founded large populations. A good example is the population I worked with in Arcadia, California, but others can be found in other parts of California and Florida.”  

There’s little flight risk, however, of these birds packing up and flying to sunnier climates. The Peafowls are non-migratory, but they are capable of launching their bulbous bodies into the air over short distances. Once they’ve settled in a neighbourhood, they tend to stay. After becoming familiar with food sources and found protection from predators, they tend to stick to areas which they have become accustomed to. 

Unfortunately, the local human residents of the Sullivan area do not always appreciate having to cohabitate with these birds, calling out the flamboyant birds for some aggressive behaviour.

According to Dr. Dakin, the fowls are only aggressive while courting a mate.  This is the display we see when the peacocks shake their tail feathers to bring shimmer to their trains, notably the covert feathers which includes a round, jewel-toned oculus (or eyespot). It is that iridescent shine of the eyespot that distinguishes one cock from another and the strongest cock will have the larger and more impressive tail. 

“In the early spring, the adult males establish their display courts – a small patch of land where they will raise their train and court females – and they will fiercely defend that spot from rivals,” said Dr. Dakin. “This defence against rivals can mistakenly include their own reflection, which they seem to mistake for another peacock. That is really the only time I have seen aggression. Unlike a real rival, the reflection doesn’t back down, so a male will sometimes fight a chrome vehicle bumper all day, even to the point of serious injury.” 

On the subject of potential harms, Surrey has sometimes been known as a tough place to grow up for human youths, but urban peachicks face even more challenging odds.

While peahens might rear 5-8 chicks in a year, only 1 in 10 chicks will survive to adulthood. This morbidity rate constrains the natural peafowl population growth rate, but Surrey’s strong and growing peafowl population likely speaks to the community’s resilience.

“It is a very unique situation with these birds,” commented Mr. Rehal. “They don’t belong in a residential neighbourhood, so we have to take action. There are opinions split on it, however, we have to make sure we are dealing with it.”

The plan to deal with the birds will be to relocate them, but Mr. Rehal explained that setting traps in a residential neighbourhood is problematic since safety is a consideration. Fortunately, a lot of people have indicated they are interested in providing suitable homes for the birds elsewhere. With that list in hand, the city will work their way through relocating the fowls once their breeding season is done.  

For blue peafowls, they mate during March and April, their nesting period is between April and May, and the chicks hatch between May and June.