Behold the Peacock: a fowl with the power to divide a B.C. neighbourhood

Residents in a Surrey, B.C., neighbourhood are embroiled in a row over what to do with a flock of dozens of peacocks who have set roost in their backyards and trees.

'Those birds aren't going anywhere,' says Lance Smart, staunch defender of the feathered residents

Peacocks have made a Surrey neighbourhood their home - roosting in trees and screeching in the early morning. While some residents welcome the birds, others want the feathered squatters to find a new place to live. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
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In a B.C. suburb that has been overrun by peacocks, there's no question where Lance Smart's allegiance lies.

His devotion to the feral peafowl has ruffled his neighbours' feathers — but his advocacy remains unwavering.

"These are beautiful birds that deserve to stay, and you know what? We love them. And the neighbours that don't like them, there's always another house somewhere else … sell it to a bird lover," Smart told CBC Vancouver's Rafferty Baker, who has been reporting on the peacock rift since May.

Lance Smart has been living in Surrey's Sullivan Heights since the 80s. He's probably the most staunch peacock lover you'll ever meet. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

City officials estimate there are between 40 and 150 peacocks clustered in the area between 150 Street and 62 Avenue in Surrey's Sullivan Heights neighbourhood.

"This is an area where the birds are. They've been here over 40 years," Smart said, who has been a Sullivan Heights resident since the 1980s.

But the City of Surrey believes the feathered squatters' origin only goes back to the 2006, after a hobby farmer abandoned the birds that later became feral.

Smart lives on an acre and a half of property owned by Mickey Rawlins, a man in his late 70s who is often out of town.  

It's safe to say the peacocks consider this place their headquarters, where all their basic needs are met.

Lance Smart near the bird feeder that neighbours have complained about. Surrey bylaws charge $250 fine for feeding peacocks. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Although some neighbours drop off bottles so Lance can exchange them to buy feed — a sort of peacock fund — many people blame him for giving the birds what they need to thrive and grow.

"He is very protective, very possessive of the peacocks," said neighbour Ryan Cragg.

Cragg and his wife Julie moved to Sullivan Heights 10 years ago. He remembers seeing a few peacocks outside when house hunting in the neighbourhood but didn't think much of it.

Like many of his other neighbours, Cragg wants the peacocks gone. He said he thinks they're beautiful birds, but can't stand anything else about them.

Sullivan Heights resident Ryan Cragg thinks the peacocks are beautiful but hates everything else about them (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
But there's only one peacock call Cragg's confident trying. He calls it ' the scalded cat.' 0:34
 

Cragg found out peacocks are early risers when a muster of the birds roosted in a tree in his yard. 

"Once they've chosen the tree to roost in, they're very hard to dissuade from that. They will end up roosting in that tree. So then the next battle would come in the morning. So they would start calling when the sun comes up," Cragg said.

Sullivan Heights residents have made formal complaints to the city, citing the birds produce too much noise and droppings, and even attack cars and property. 

The city responded by declaring the issue fell outside outside their jurisdiction — the feral peacocks were not considered pets.

T.J. Shergill lives down the block from Ryan Cragg. Apart from peafowl messing up his property and destroying his garden, it's the racket at unbearable hours that has him feeling defeated.

TJ Shergill is awakened by a chorus of early-morning peafowl calls in Surrey's Sullivan Heights neighborhood. 0:42

Many residents have been frustrated by the city's refusal to address the issue.

For people like Parminder Brar, who reached his limit of early morning peacock wake-up calls, his solution was to break the law.

In June, Brar applied for a permit to cut down the large coniferous tree in his yard where dozens of birds were roosting every night.

When the city refused, he did it anyway. He was later issued a $1,000 fine.

Parminder Brar was fined $1,000 for cutting down this tree without a permit. The tree was a popular roosting spot for dozens of peacocks each night. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A month later, Surrey bylaw enforcement officers responded to a complaint about a massive feeder on Rawlins' property.

During the investigation, the bylaw officer activated a panic button and multiple units were dispersed to the address.

"I think there were seven police cars, an ambulance, a fire truck and a helicopter," Cragg told Baker.

Court documents state Rawlins was aggressive and pushed an RCMP officer. No charges were laid, and the bird feeder has since disappeared.

A peacock continuously pecks at an upstairs window along 150 Street in Surrey, B.C. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Peacock relocation plan

Tensions between neighbours continued to escalate for months until finally at the end of June  council approved a plan to remove the birds from Sullivan Heights.

The current plan is to capture the peacocks and send them to Surrey Animal Resource Centre, which will then relocate them to various farms that want them.

But traps promised by the city have yet to arrive.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Smart strongly objects to the plan. He says he won't look too kindly on any neighbours who allow city traps on their property.

"It's going to be a huge battle, huge battle. It's going to be a super battle. This isn't over," Smart told Baker. 

"We love this place and those birds aren't going anywhere."

In Spanish, 'peacock' translates to 'royal turkey.' Many who admire the birds enjoy the mating display when tail feathers are spread out to boast their distinctive colourful train. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Listen to Rafferty Baker's documentary, A Fowl Feud, near the top of this page.


Written by Lisa Ayuso with files from CBC News. The Current's documentary editor is Joan Webber.

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