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As construction looms, a lone South Tampa peacock needs a new place to roost (w/video)

“Big Bird” struts across a lot last week where once there was a home and a man who fed him. Builder Marc Mobley hopes to relocate the peacock.
“Big Bird” struts across a lot last week where once there was a home and a man who fed him. Builder Marc Mobley hopes to relocate the peacock.
Published May 14, 2017

TAMPA — Lori Maloney walked across the sandy lot, shaking a bag of fruit and lettuce and scanning a cluster of trees.

It was breakfast time.

"Big Bird!" Maloney called, shaking the bag again.

"Big Bird!"

Then she spotted him: a green peacock standing on a high limb of a tall oak tree at the back of the lot. The bird extended his feathered tail, its blue-green colors shimmering in the golden light.

For the last couple of years, the peacock had made his home in the back yard of an old house on this lot in the South Tampa neighborhood of Virginia Park. Neighbors say a man who lived in the house fed the peacock every day, but he has since moved and the old house was bulldozed last week to make way for a million-dollar home.

Big Bird has stayed put.

Maloney, who lives down the street, feeds him every morning and is among the residents who worry about his fate. A few weeks ago, just before the house came down, another neighbor posted a message on the social media site Nextdoor.

"I'm just concerned that when they level this house," Shelly Howard wrote, "where will the peacock go?"

That chapter of Big Bird's story is still unfolding.

•••

In the dead of summer 2012, two green peacocks and a peahen showed up in Virginia Park. Peafowl roam in Wellswood, Westchase, Carrollwood and Brandon, but residents said it was the first time they'd been spotted so far south.

Neighbors suspect Big Bird is one of those two peacocks. The story making the rounds is that the other peacock died when a trapper, called by an annoyed resident, tried to capture him. The fate of the peahen is unclear.

Peafowl roam throughout Tampa Bay, often causing a division among neighbors who view them with either affection or disdain. Sure, the male's feathers are pretty, but the birds poop a lot. They scratch cars and wander into traffic. And then there's the mating call that some liken to the blood-curdling scream of a woman in distress.

But those problems are amplified by the number of the birds. Big Bird is alone. He calls out a few times in the morning — looking for love, as one resident put it — but he mostly keeps to himself on Vasconia Street.

Since Howard posted that first query late last month on Nextdoor, an online community forum, the thread has grown to more than 60 posts.

Several neighbors suggested calling wildlife sanctuaries. They'd be sad to see Big Bird go, but he'd be safe and fed.

After days of back and forth, the residents on Nextdoor reached a consensus to leave the bird and let him find his own way, just as they would a heron or an ibis.

One woman took a harder line, grumbling about 4 a.m. wakeup calls. Another objected to leaving the bird's fate in the hands of a trapper, noting, "We don't get to eradicate all that annoys us."

But the man whose company will build a 4,000-square-foot home on the lot says leaving Big Bird to his own devices is not an option.

•••

Marc Mobley grew up with peafowl roaming in his Carrollwood neighborhood, so he has a soft spot of sorts for the showy bird. The owner of Mobley Homes Custom LLC said he wants to find a happy home for Big Bird, preferably with other peafowl, before contractors break ground.

"If we're making a whole bunch of noise every day, the bird's going to find a new location in a neighbor's yard, and that neighbor might not want that bird," he said.

Where that might be is still unclear. Mobley has made calls and searched the Internet without luck. Lori Maloney said she has tried, too, without success.

She and her husband don't object to Mobley's plan to relocate the bird.

"As long as they hire the right guy, and it doesn't end up in a hat factory," John Maloney said.

Desensitized to city life, Big Bird probably wouldn't be spooked by the construction, said Brian Payne, a consultant and sales specialist with Expel, a wildlife removal company in Tampa. The bird will stay close and might even roost on the new house, Payne said. If he does move, he wouldn't go far.

"He'll be the neighbor's bird at that point," Payne said.

Payne says policies vary by company, but his tries to find a suitable home for peacocks, sometimes at an animal sanctuary. Because space at these places is limited, he can't make promises. It's illegal to release peacocks back into the wild. The last resort is euthanasia.

Mobley said it will be months before construction begins. If no one steps forward to adopt the bird, he'll hire a trapper with hopes of finding a new home.

Moving Big Bird is probably best for his safety, said Dennis Fett, co-author of The Wacky World of Peafowl, Vols. 1 and 2.

"I would find somebody with poultry," he said, "a place where the bird would fit in."

•••

One can't help but wonder what Big Bird wants.

During the breeding season, peacocks form a harem of two to five hens. Big Bird doesn't have a single gal pal. His plaintive mating cries go unanswered, his plumage unappreciated by his own kind.

His solitary South Tampa existence sounds lonely, but he's almost certainly content to have food delivered by friendly humans in a place that, so far, has been safe, Fett said.

On the other hand, Big Bird would also adapt to life with other peafowl.

"Once he finds a peahen," Fett said, "he's going to act like a normal peacock."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.