DUNEDIN — Winifred Webb's out-of-town guests laughed at her when she suggested visiting the city's cemetery as a tourist attraction.
"Then they get out there, and their cameras just flash, flash, flash," Webb said.
It's the peacocks. They've lived in the cemetery and the surrounding neighborhoods for decades.
Some residents say the birds are beautiful, exotic creatures that should be left alone. Others say they are a nuisance, and they want them off their property.
April typically brings a spike in complaints. That's the height of mating season, when the peacocks become more aggressive. They attack their reflections in car windows or tire rims. They've pecked and scratched people. They wander into nearby neighborhoods, crash through pool screens, eat landscaping and sound off their sharp call.
The city is dealing with the complaints in three ways:
• City staff members are putting together educational information on how residents can keep peafowl off their property.
• The city will enforce an ordinance that forbids people from feeding or doing other things that causes nuisance birds and animals to congregate. Signs about the ordinance will be put up in and near the cemetery.
• A trapper hired by the city will reduce the number of birds by capturing some and relocating them to farms or private property. The birds will be removed if property owners give the city permission to remove them. About 20 property owners have signed up. The birds will not be destroyed.
No one is sure how peafowl came to the city in the first place, said Harry Gross, assistant city manager. The belief is that the flock started with a pair brought to a nearby property in the late 1940s.
At one point, as many as 125 peafowl were thought to be living in Dunedin. The city estimates the number is about 40 now.
Because they are a non-native species, the birds would have to be relocated to a farm or private property. Gross said he has heard from two people willing to house the birds on their land.
Jeanne Blaine moved into the Weathersfield neighborhood 19 years ago. About a half-dozen of the birds lived in the nearby cemetery then and didn't cause a problem. But each year the birds multiplied. She estimates there are 100 now. She has found 15 on her screened porch at a time, leaving hundreds of droppings.
The birds roam the neighborhood, and their squawks keep some residents up all night. Blaine said she doesn't want the flock destroyed, just reduced to a manageable amount.
"The whole situation, I feel, has just gotten terribly out of control, as do a lot of my neighbors," Blaine said in a phone interview. High-pitched squawking was audible in the background.
The city has created a zoo-like atmosphere by letting car-loads of people come to the cemetery to feed and chase the birds, Blaine said. Last year, she and her neighbors hired a trapper who caught about six birds.
But Susan Foote said she loves the birds. Seeing one in her yard makes her day. She thinks individual property owners — not taxpayers — should be responsible for hiring trappers.
"I hate to take my money to pay to get rid of something that I enjoy," she said.
On Thursday, Lynda Biegaj brought her granddaughter, Keegan Lynn Biegaj, 4, to the cemetery to feed the peafowl. When the males weren't opening their fans and flaunting their feathers for indifferent hens, they ate hamster food out of the little girl's hand. For 23 years, Biegaj has visited the birds, bringing first her children and now her grandchildren.
"Most kids love to go to the park and play on the swings. They like to come here," she said of her grandchildren.
Mary Sullivan of Rochester, N.Y., was throwing bread crumbs and taking pictures. She is visiting her brother, who lives in Tarpon Springs.
"I think it's marvelous the way they're free," she said. "It's gorgeous."
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727)445-4181 or [email protected]