While much of Tampa deals with a more workaday fowl — backyard chickens: lovable urban pets or trashy farm animals? — it seems somehow appropriate a South Tampa neighborhood of enviable addresses finds itself beset by peacocks.
"They like the south-of-Kennedy atmosphere," theorizes the city's neighborhood services director Jake Slater when I call, meaning Kennedy Boulevard, the divide between South Tampa and Everywhere Else.
They arrived as a pair from no one knows where, exotic and enchanting, and began strutting a circuit around the tree-shaded streets of modest and not-so-modest homes. They spread their tails into iridescence, charming people into leaving birdseed, peanuts and cat kibble out for the taking.
"Mistake number one," says resident Judy Batson. "Once you feed a peacock, you own that peacock."
Some say the Peacocks of Virginia Park remain a mere two. Others claim legions. And if you have ever been close by when a peacock screams in the night — a call that has been likened to a woman being murdered — one may be more than enough for you. "Similar to having a police car do their WHOOP-WHOOP sound right outside your bedroom window," Batson reports.
She is a busy retiree, a cookie-baking grandma and a woman with flowers entwined on her mailbox, and she has had enough of the noise and destruction and "huge poop splatters." "Nuisance peacocks," she calls them.
Still, others remain under their spell, kibble offerings seeming not to have diminished.
For neighbor Rachel Leach, it is love-hate: Her kids, 2 and 5, watch the creatures in their yard with great fascination. But there was the time one fell through her pool screen — and the noise. "They're very loud," she says. But also: "When they put their feathers out, they're definitely beautiful."
Hoping to have them moved, Batson tried everywhere without luck: County animal services, Busch Gardens, the Lowry Park Zoo, Audubon even. Trappers charge money. Florida Fish and Wildlife wrote her: "Complaints of noise or other nuisances caused by peacocks (peafowl) are handled by local authorities through local ordinances or individually as a civil matter." And, really? You can sue a peacock?
No, Virginia Park is not the first neighborhood to get them, just the latest. Finally I spotted one in full strut there. And yes, I would have to count myself as pro-peacock, and also pro-backyard chicken, and can't we all just get along?
Then again, I have not heard one scream outside my window at 3 a.m.
I call the city, and get both bad news for Batson and protection for peacocks:
Tampa, it turns out, has been a bird sanctuary since 1989. According to ordinance 14-176: It is unlawful for any person to hunt, kill, maim or trap … or otherwise molest any domestic bird, song bird, migratory bird, wildfowl or waterfowl … within the corporate limits of the city.
Translation: If you're a bird, "You're pretty safe in the city of Tampa," Slater says.
In fact, a few years back, this gave a reprieve of sorts to some sassy urban chickens strutting Ybor City when some found them annoying instead of just part of the charm.
So what's good for the goose turns out to be also good for the peacock, so to speak — no matter the neighborhood.