PINELLAS PARK — The local wildlife has been having a, well, wild time of it recently in the northern section of this city.
Specifically, peacocks have been terrorizing horses and startling people who are walking on the trails in Helen Howarth Park, 6301 94th Ave. N.
"They weren't attacking. They were just spooking horses and people," said Sharon Goldston, chairwoman of Pinellas Park's equestrian board. "They come out of nowhere. It's their park and the heck with what you and that big 1,200-pound critter think about it."
The problem began sometime last spring.
Patti Fiedler said as many as 14 peacocks started hanging out in the area around her barn, Amber Glen Equestrian Center, in late spring. They destroyed a pool cover at a nearby home, she said, pecked at the windows and tore off part of a roof. They also scared the horses at her barn. Elsewhere, they've landed on cars and scratched the paint.
For all their size and strength, horses are easily scared. In the wild, they're considered prey and defend themselves by running away. That tendency to flee when confronted with something they find threatening persists despite their domestication. When that flight impulse kicks in, the horse doesn't consult the rider, it just tries to escape, whether or not the rider goes along.
"We've had tons of complaints," Fiedler said. "All of a sudden, they'll throw their feathers up. (The horses) see this object and all of a sudden, they see this big, dark object coming at them."
It's not just the sudden increase in size from tall, rather skinny bird to large, wide bird with lots of eyes. It's the noise.
"When they jump from your second story to your first story, you'd think the army had landed," Goldston said.
But it's more than the plop of a big bird landing. It's the feathers. There's the initial rustling whoosh as the feathers expand. Once expanded, the peacocks can vibrate their feathers, creating a sound that Goldston likens to a rattlesnake.
Fiedler describes it a bit differently.
"It sounds like a rumble. It sounds like people stomping their feet on bleachers. It's pretty loud," she said.
Either way, horses aren't happy.
Last April, at the equestrian board's request, the city hired a trapper at a cost of $125 per bird and a $199 service charge. But trapping the birds proved difficult. First, the trapper needed to order a special cage. Then there was the problem of locating them. Although there seemed to be a lot of them, the peacocks didn't have a set routine.
Then, when the trapper caught one, it escaped. Rumors began of a rogue peacock lover who didn't want the birds removed. The trapper caught another one or two, which also got out of the cage. Finally, the trapper managed to get a total of four.
Then, the problem seemed to go away. Speculation was that a family of coyotes had moved in to the area.
That was until recently, when the trapper caught two peacocks. It's unclear where the trapped birds are being taken. The trapper, Charles Carpenter, could not be reached for comment and told city officials he did not want to talk with a reporter. Pinellas Park officials did not specify a location in the contract, only that the birds not be killed.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.