BRANDON – Billie Howell sat in her house on Hillside Terrace one night a decade ago and listened to the screams outside.
It sounded like a woman yelling, "He-elp! He-elp!"
Howell turned to her son and asked what was going on.
"He said, 'That was the peacocks,' " Howell, 73, recalled.
The peacocks have roamed Howell's south Brandon neighborhood ever since, and some say they've been there even longer. Several neighbors report seeing a dozen gather at a time. Others claim there are as many as 60 in the flock.
Cars driving down Beverly Boulevard have to swerve around them. Ladies planting their gardens spray water to shoo them away. Residents complain about them walking on their roofs, bothering other animals and, especially during mating season, that raucous call.
"They're cute. I'm not saying they're not, but they're a pain in the fedaddle," said Margaret Record, who also lives near Hillside Terrace.
The peacocks' territory spans several blocks around the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, south of State Road 60 and east of Lithia Pinecrest Road.
At least two other flocks have been spotted in other parts of Brandon.
Jenny Tinnell, an exotic-species biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the birds are often former pets that escaped or were released.
"Where they came from in a particular neighborhood is anybody's guess," Tinnell said.
Peafowl — technically only the males are peacocks — were first reported in Florida in Orange County in the 1950s, but Tinnell said they became more common in the mid 1980s. They're now found in at least 20 Florida counties.
There are more than 185 varieties, according to the United Peafowl Association, based in Green Forks, Ind. They subsist on seeds, grains, berries, flowers, snails, insects, lizards and frogs.
Although a visitor sued Busch Gardens in 2005 after a peacock pecked her palm, Tinnell said the birds aren't especially dangerous. Still, she added, they're a non-native species and shouldn't be allowed to roam free.
"They may not be causing any problems right now, but you never know what's going to happen in 50 years," she said.
Property owners are allowed to trap, catch or even shoot free- roaming, non-native species, Tinnell said.
The county has no jurisdiction over them, Hillsborough County animal control officer Tonya Browning said. She recommends calling a professional trapper to get rid of the birds.
The Hillside Terrace neighborhood is a tight-knit community. Many residents have lived there for 30 years or more. Some say they know where the birds came from, but they keep quiet because they don't want to ruffle feathers.
"I know a lot of people don't really care for them. They can be messy and loud," said Jo Gier, 71. "But they're living creatures and for some reason God meant for them to live around here."
Contact Jan Wesner at email@example.com or 661-2439.