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Peacocks venture into South Tampa from who knows where?

VIRGINIA PARK — Two peacocks sauntered into town last month.

From where is a mystery.

"We've never seen peacocks here," said Charles Buckalew, who moved into his home a block north of El Prado Boulevard with his wife, Rebecca, in 1967.

"It's kind of exciting," she said.

While peacocks have long populated neighboring suburbia in Wellswood, Westchase, Carrollwood and Brandon, these birds have people talking.

Did they escape from someone? Did Tropical Storm Debby chase them here?

Cars slow to capture iridescent plumage for YouTube and Facebook. A woman sets out cat food and they stop for a snack.

The feathered pair were spied on Manhattan Avenue, near the library, peering into businesses along El Prado and Bay to Bay boulevards and strutting through yards and streets and on rooftops everywhere in between. Some say the duo was with a peahen.

The talk travels through love and hate. Are they pets or pests, beauty or trouble?

Earlier this week, they perched on a rooftop on Vasconia Street with the blessing of the owner.

A few blocks north, Jay Marvel isn't fooled by their feathers. He remembers the peacocks that wandered his former neighborhood in Land O'Lakes.

"They're nasty," he said. "They scratch your mirrors. They screech."

He watched them recently in high grass in a yard next to his along S Lois Avenue and in a wooded area a few blocks farther.

On El Prado Boulevard, Charles McShane agrees.

"It was entertaining till it got messy," said McShane, who owns McShane Communications.

The duo pace back and forth, preening into the reflective film covering his wall-length windows.

Peacocks are notorious narcissists and who could blame them?

But soon piles of poop grew and beaks scratched windows.

McShane escorted them across the street, he said: "Like herding ducks."

Peacocks set out a territory, typically in spring during mating season, said Phil Hillary, manager of zoological operations at Busch Gardens.

"There's a good possibility they were pushed out by another peacock," he said.

Not from Busch Gardens, where an Indian blue peacock and three peahens live, along with a pair of green peafowl.

Typically, peafowl live in a small group, known as a muster, made up of a cock and three to five hens.

Hillary has never seen high winds affect birds at Busch Gardens. More likely, he guesses, it's love in spring time.

Peacocks are a ground bird, in the family of turkeys and chickens who prefer to run. But they can fly.

They're really good at a short burst up into a tree or onto a building to roost at night, said Hillary, who started breeding pheasants and partridges as a teen and went on to get a zoology degree specializing in ornithology.

"People think they're a neat pet," he said. "Keep in mind they can be loud and annoying to neighbors."

In the mornings, peacocks call — a raucous, plaintive cry that sounds like a child in distress — to alert females to their whereabouts and ward off males.

Peacocks originated in India but were brought to America long ago. They can live about 20 to 24 years and are typically docile and curious.

But if a peafowl sees a human during the first 24 hours after hatching, it may grow up confused. By design, Hillary said, birds bond in this phase.

"They think they're human or they think you're a bird," he said.

When this happens, birds are more likely to see humans as rivals or as suitors and can be aggressive.

He encourages people to admire them from afar. Feeding them can lead to problems.

"They are wild birds no matter how friendly they may seem," he said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

Peacocks venture into South Tampa from who knows where? 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:30am]
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