As It Happens

Man who relocates peacocks in California says people either love him or hate him

Southern California residents tend to either love or loathe the peacocks that roam their neighbourhoods — and they feel the same way about the man who takes them away.

Residents are staunchly divided about the birds and the man who takes them away

Mike Maxcy, right, is a retired zoo curator who relocates peacocks, like the one pictured on the left, from residential neighbourhoods in California. (Cultura/Susan Gary Photography, Submitted by Mike Maxcy)

When Mike Maxcy does his job, he says people tend to either hug him or curse him out.

The retired ornithologist traps peacocks and removes them from California neighbourhoods where, according to the Washington Post, the birds are proliferating. The birds in the San Gabriel Valley area are descendents of peafowl that were brought to the area by a wealthy entrepreneur in the late 19th century.

They've become such a nuisance that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has proposed an ordinance that would ban humans from feeding them. 

But getting rid of the birds has proven divisive. According to the Post, residents either love or loathe the colourful creatures — and they feel the same way about the man who takes them away.  

Here is part of Maxcy's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Mike, what's not to like about seeing a peacock strutting around in your garden? 

Oh, they're beautiful to look at, especially when you're looking at them across the street at your neighbour's house. But when you have a dozen of them in your backyard or on your roof or in the front patio, then they can be a little bit of a nuisance. 

You could have as many as a dozen in your yard?

Oh, yeah. We've had residents that we work with complain about having over 15 birds visit their backyard on a daily basis. 

And what are they doing?

Well, peacocks are being peacocks. You know, they're foraging through the yards looking for food, whether it's plants or bugs or maybe some seeds. 

But, you know, they're very large birds, so their droppings are large. And they love to dig up gardens and eat your plants and take dust baths in there. And they'll even jump up on your roofs, and sometimes they break the terracotta tiles that are up there.

And I understand they also might poke at your car.

During this time of year, during springtime, the males are full of testosterone and they're trying to defend their territory and protect their females. So when they see their reflection in something shiny, like a silver car or a hubcap, they'll attack it. And they've been known to do several thousand dollars worth of damage on cars with their sharp talons and beak. 

So it's mating season right now?

Yes, it is. 

OK, what's that like? 

This is probably when the cities that have these peafowl in their neighbourhoods get the most complaints, because this time of year the males are very vocal and they'll go up to the top of the trees or a rooftop and they will call and call and call. 

They're trying to attract females to their harem, and they're also trying to warn other males that this is their territory. So sometimes they will call into the night and through the night, and almost always are calling all day long 

A peacock shows off its colourful tail feathers in California. The birds are either beloved or loathed by residents of the neighbourhoods where they roam free. ( Mimi Ditchie Photography/Getty Images)

[The Washington Post quotes] one woman in East Pasadena who said: "They wake me at dawn. They sound like babies being tortured through a microphone, a very large microphone. And that's just the beginning of my complaints." 

Yeah, I read that, too. And I guess it depends on how close they are. You know, they like to roost in tall trees. And if you happen to have a tree right next to your second-storey bedroom window, it could be awful. 

If they're, you know, several houses down and, you know, off in the distance, it's more of a little haunting loud call as opposed to something ear piercing.

What is it that people want you to do? 

Most of the cities that I work with, they want to be able to manage the population. They don't want to remove the entire flock. They just want to bring the numbers down so there are less complaints from the residents. 

Usually what I do is I'll survey the area in question. I'll do a census on how many birds are there in the area. And then I'll work with the city to come up with a number that will hopefully keep the people who want them out happy, and also the people who want them to stay happy. 

So we usually try and reduce the population by maybe 50 per cent. And that way it's a little more accommodating for the folks that live there. 

Tell us a bit more about those who like the peacocks, want the peacocks to stay, and those who want to get rid of them. What is the split there? 

The problem seems to be that the people who like them like to feed them. And now what you're doing is you're, besides attracting large crowds, you're also manipulating the population. The more access there is to free food, the more likely they're going to breed in higher numbers. 

And those people that feed the birds tend to be surrounded by neighbours who now hate the birds because they'll routinely have, like I said, 15, 20 birds near their backyard because someone is feeding them there. 

So that's why the subject kind of becomes polarizing. It's not evenly spread out. You have these huge flocks that will meander through the neighbourhood and they'll spend most of their time where the food is. So if you happen to live next door to someone who's feeding the birds you're going to have to deal with these very large birds in and around your premises forever. 

So what kind of reaction do you get when you show up to start taking the peacocks away? 

They either love me or hate me, to be honest. The people that can't stand the birds, you know, I get hugs and tears when we remove birds from their property. And the people who don't want the birds removed will give me a dirty stare or maybe cuss me out. 

It's all part of the job. I just wish everyone understood that, you know, these birds are going to foster homes. They're well taken care of. They're going to places where people are looking forward to spending time with them, [where] they don't have to worry about being run over or poisoned or shot at, which is all the things that happen when tempers flare when the populations get too high. 

Is that happening? 

They get run over all the time. Whether it's intentional or not intentional, I'm not sure. But sometimes some of the residents I work with, they get so frustrated, they talk about, "I wish they were all dead. I'm going to kill them myself if you don't do something about it."

Have you seen this kind of divisiveness before about the animals? 

Every city that I've worked with that [has] peafowl issues, it's very divisive like this. And neighbours end up hating neighbours because of it. 

How did you end up becoming the peafowl man? 

It's funny because I started this 20 years ago, just trying to help out a city that had an issue, and because of my experience with birds, you know, being an ornithologist at the Los Angeles Zoo for 33 years, I understood the behaviour in the patterns of the birds. And I had no idea that 22 years later I would still be doing this, and I would be in higher demand now than ever.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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