Feathers fly over peacocks

SOUTH AFRICA - Cape Town - 12 November 2019 - Stock - Peacocks are large, colorful pheasants (typically blue and green) known for their iridescent tails. These tail feathers, or coverts, spread out in a distinctive train that is more than 60 percent of the birds total body length and boast colorful "eye" markings of blue, gold, red, and other hues. The large train is used in mating rituals and courtship displays. It can be arched into a magnificent fan that reaches across the bird's back and touches the ground on either side. Females are believed to choose their mates according to the size, color, and quality of these outrageous feather trains. The term "peacock" is commonly used to refer to birds of both sexes. Technically, only males are peacocks. Females are peahens, and together, they are called peafowl. Male peacock. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

The wild peacocks Clovelly is renowned for are safe after residents and an animal rights group challenged calls to have them “managed”.

Clovelly Country Club management received a petition signed by about 100 residents and an official complaint about the birds’ noise. But then residents in favour of the peacocks signed a counter petition, which reached 4 651 signatures within a week and is still counting.

There was a furore on social media in defence of the pretty birds.

The counter-petition was spearheaded by Toni Brockhoven, of Beauty Without Cruelty.

“Although these creatures have graced us since the way back whens – brought over from India at
some point, no doubt to decorate the lawns of early Cape Town’s wealthy – the point is that they are now a part of the ecosystem,” she said.

“Peafowl are highly social birds whose diet is insects, small amphibians and certain reptiles, and are therefore a vital part of the ecosystem. We have all seen the devastation caused when humans interfere.

“As it is, so many species suffer and are driven to near or actual extinction as we have destroyed their habitat,” Ms Brockhoven said.

Clovelly’s long-term residents didn’t have a problem with the birds, she said.

“On the contrary, many are thrilled and feel privileged to have such beauty around them, and the birds are welcome in their gardens and nearby.”

Ms Brockhoven said the birds had a right to be there.

“One cannot move into an environment surrounded by protected or wild areas, and expect the resident wildlife of any description to keep office hours to suit a few people. Those who would see them gone would be best suited to living in a flat in the centre of the CBD.”

Paul Stoner, general manager of Clovelly Country Club, said he had been approached with an official complaint and that he knew of a petition to manage the peacocks.

He said while he understood the peacock could be irritatingly noisy during the mating season, it was for a relatively short period in the year.

The birds living on the club’s grounds, its surrounds and the suburb were wild and part of the ecosystem, he said.

“They have never caused damage, never had a negative impact. They don’t damage our lawns, and we have no qualms with them.”

The club would in no way be part of any plan to manage or relocate the birds at all.

“Sure they can be loud – but it is natural sound and its certainly not consistent,” he said.

Andy Dawes, the spokesman for the residents who started the petition to manage the peacocks, said they had gone door to door so they could explain their concerns to their neighbours. They were unhappy about both the noise the birds made and the damage they did to gardens and veggie patches.

He stressed that at no point had they ever wanted to cull or kill the birds, but they had wanted them “managed”.

City by-laws categorised peacocks, along with chickens, as potential pests if their population was not kept in check, he said.

“We raised 100 signatures door to door and that should put paid to the idea that it is new residents only who have a problem with the peacocks.”

The group would meet with the Clovelly Country Club on Friday November 29 to discuss the matter, he said.

Those who had signed the petition, he said, were all wildlife lovers. They had approached the club because they felt the management of birds shouldn’t be left to the residents.

“These are domesticated alien birds surrounded by a national park, and we worry about the effect of their growing population on the Cape spurfowl and guinea fowl of the area.”

Peacocks have a mating season of roughly three months. They are the national bird of India and are celebrated in both Hindu and Greek mythology.

Mary McCann, of BirdNote, a non-profit radio programme dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats, said a lesser known sound made by these birds is called a train rattle or drum roll, and it’s the sound their tail feathers make when they shake them.

The tails are sometimes four to five metres in length. The train rattle causes a vibration in the air that humans can’t feel but the peahens can. This low frequency rumble hits the resonant frequency of both the male and female’s crest feathers on their heads. In mating season, the resonance of the shaking of the tail feathers makes their crest feathers vibrate in unison.

“Scientists aren’t sure yet how the train-rattle fits into peacock mating behaviour, but, for the first time, they are starting to listen in,” she said.

It is possible that there may be some celebratory train-rattles in the nights ahead within the Clovelly peacock community.