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Peafowl take over Pinellas neighborhood, sparking complaints

ST. PETERSBURG — They land with a thump in the dead of night.

They arbitrarily holler — honking "like a whipped child," one man said — with no regard for neighbors.

They strut, displaying their blue or purple colors, in gangs down streets like they own the place, dawdling on cars or yards without permission.

A pack of peafowl — peacocks and peahens — rules the roost in Sunny Lawn Estates in an unincorporated area near St. Petersburg.

Neighbors have had it, and the government won't help.

Just Wednesday evening, Ray Deason had 16 of the birds on his property on 55th Way N. They pecked at his new grass seed. It was nothing new, he said. Sometimes they lay eggs in a tree or try to nest on his white metal shed.

"They will let you know when something's going on at night, I'll tell you," said Deason, 64, who has lived in the modest neighborhood for 20 years.

The peafowl have been around almost as long.

A resident had a pair as pets. When he died, they got loose and procreated.

Now they prance around Deason's backyard, brilliant plumes primed. They roam his roof, clawing for grip, damaging his shingles. Their droppings are the worst.

"They leave a mess on everything. It's like stepping in chocolate doo-doo," said neighbor Eric Lynch, 46.

John and Sandra Hott said they have complained to the county and Pinellas Animal Services for six months. The latest came this week, when John complained to county Commissioner Ken Welch about damaged roofs and the defecation that makes it difficult for grandchildren to play outside among 25 to 30 big birds. They said certain neighbors feed them.

"We are at a loss in which way to go to get this problem resolved and one in which has been ongoing for quite some time," John Hott wrote.

The county's response: tough turkey. Consider a private trapper.

"I thought it was pretty ridiculous to have to hear the animal control people tell me and my wife that we could have them removed for $40 a bird," said John Hott, 62.

Animal Services doesn't "have the capability" to pick up the peafowl, according to its response to the Hotts.

The peafowl aren't a serious health issue, and the department isn't equipped to pick up the birds — especially after several years of budget cuts, director Welch Agnew said.

The county focuses on capturing dogs and cats. Even nabbing chickens posed difficulty a few years back, Agnew said, recalling people recording video of attempts to corral them.

"It was embarrassing," he said.

State wildlife officials don't capture them either because the birds are considered "domesticated fowl," spokesman Gary Morse said, much like chickens. In short, nuisances but not serious hazards like wild animals.

"It's the county's responsibility. They may not say it is their responsibility, but it is," he said.

Meanwhile, Sunny Lawn residents have limited options.

People cannot legally poison the birds unless they have a permit, Morse said.

In some places — but not Pinellas — people can shoot them on their property. They are edible, Morse said, but "they don't taste as good as turkey."

In Pinellas, sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said it's illegal by county code to fire a gun, unless you're at a gun club, shooting in self defense or are on private property of at least 200 acres. Her advice: Hire a trapper.

Welch, who directed the county staff to respond to Hott's complaint, said it was the farthest south he's heard of peafowl in Pinellas.

The no answer "is not what I like to hear, but it's something we have to deal with," Welch said, "given the budget realities."

Complaints about wild peafowl terrorizing neighborhoods aren't uncommon across Florida. A few years ago, a battle over the birds raged in Dunedin. Last year, it was Pasco County.

Peafowl reproduce quickly, particularly when they're fed by residents, which is what Deason thinks is happening in his neighborhood.

Such fights can divide neighborhoods, Morse said: "It's a love-hate relationship."

But in Sunny Lawn Estates, it's mostly hate.

"I'd rather have the chickens," Lynch said, watching Wednesday's gang forage in yards.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

FAST FACTS

Dealing with peafowl

Sunny Lawn residents terrorized by peafowl have limited options:

. In some counties, it would be legal for residents to shoot peafowl on their property, but Pinellas forbids that.

. They can't poison them. State law forbids residents from using poison to kill animals without a permit.

. Residents can trap them, but can't release them into the wild somewhere else. They would need to find an animal sanctuary, farm or another person willing to take them.

. They could hire a trapper at their own expense.

Peafowl take over Pinellas neighborhood, sparking complaints 02/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 1:19am]

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