British Columbia·In Depth

'It's a love-hate thing': Why feral peacocks can't just get by on looks

They are beauty and beast all in one ostentatious package.

Surrey, B.C. birds become latest in series of musters with legendary ability to both bewitch and repel

This Sullivan Heights peacock may look dignified but it's time he owned up to the trail of excrement left behind him. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

This may be a story about peacocks — but it isn't going to be pretty.

Dennis Fett is the first person to admit the birds can be both beauty and beast.

The retired Iowan clarinetist and peafowl farmer calls himself the world's biggest peacock fan — and no, there's not really any way to fact check that — but he's also uniquely familiar with the freak behind the feathers.

Fett has composed songs and written books in praise of the birds.

He has also consulted with cities from Florida to California on ways to get rid of them.

He helped Hugh Hefner when peacock poo threatened to ruin photo shoots on the grounds of the Playboy mansion.

Because the birds really can be fowl; they like to defecate almost as much as they like to scream.

'Like we're living in a zoo'

"It goes back to the beginning of time," Fett says as he settles in to describe the ability of the birds to both bewitch and bewilder.

Clearly, this isn't going to be a short conversation.

"I get annoyed with them too, and I love them. It's a love-hate thing. It's the ostentatiousness of the bird. They kind of have a hypnotic effect on the people who see them."

Hugh Hefner kept peacocks at the Playboy Mansion, but peafowl farmer Dennis Flett says the birds brought their filthy habits with them. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press )

Fett feels the pain of the people of Surrey's Sullivan Heights neighbourhood who went public this week with their battle against a muster of anywhere from 40 to 150 peafowl.

The exact origin of the birds is uncertain. The impact isn't. Property damage. Scared children. And an excremental minefield on every lawn.

Local resident Jatinder Shergill says all the media attention has only intensified the problem. Now, carloads of the curious have descended on the streets to get an eyeful.

"We feel like we're living in a zoo or something," says Shergill. "People come with their kids and stuff, it's like — come on man."

Shergill says neighbours have rallied around a man who cut down a tree that was home to about 40 of the birds. The city of Surrey has issued him a fine for doing so.

But Shergill says they should be doing something to relocate the birds instead.

'C-U-L-L — not K-I-L-L'

Last year, the city of Miami struggled to deal with out-of-control peafowl. The birds have also been blamed for roaming loose and causing mayhem in villages across the U.K.

Legislators in the Indian state of Goa came close to causing a crisis in 2016 when they proposed declaring peacocks a nuisance animal. They are, after all, the national bird.

Don't be distracted by this peacock's fan. A beast lurks beneath the beauty (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Fett says the worst North American infestation he's heard of happened in California's Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County, where hundreds of peafowl wandered the streets at random.

Susan Brooks is the community's mayor. She says they came up with a plan to humanely relocate the birds to far away farms. They thought about birth control, but that would have decimated the songbird population.

Brooks says they never considered more drastic measures.

"You can have vigilante groups anywhere. Some people will say they taste good. Some people will say this that and the other thing," she says.

"They're a historic part of the peninsula. We're not trying to do away with them altogether. We're just trying to cull the crowd. C-U-L-L — not K-I-L-L."

'It's game over'

One Lower Mainland farmer contacted the CBC to say she and her husband had offered to take some of the Sullivan Heights birds several years ago. But they got no response. They're still willing to help.

The peacock's legendary fan can collect up to $2 a feather. They're prized among wedding planners and exotic dancers.

Fett says he'd happily offer his services. He says officials in Surrey should decide whether they want to get rid of the birds altogether and if not, how many they want to keep.

Finally, he says, they should develop an adoption plan.

Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

Shergill figures he could solve the problem in no time; chase a bunch of the birds into an open garage.

"Shut the garage door, it's game over," he says.

But catching the birds requires some expertise. Some people use large fishing nets or blankets. The farmer said she approaches them from behind and lifts them upside down.

Fett saw his own muster radically reduced in one fell swoop in 2014. But not by any method he'd recommend: a tornado hit his farm.

"The people up in your part of the world, I think would have been sad if it happened," he says.

"We had many of the birds just disappear."

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