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Neighborhood's peafowl population a charm to some, nuisance to others

Peacocks and peahens at a home on 26th Ave. N in the  Disston Heights neighborhood of St Petersburg, Florida, Monday 3/21/2016.
Peacocks and peahens at a home on 26th Ave. N in the Disston Heights neighborhood of St Petersburg, Florida, Monday 3/21/2016.
Published Apr. 7, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

Some neighborhoods are known for their brick streets or ancient oak trees. Maybe a lake or a pastoral park.

In Disston Heights, it's peacocks — lots and lots of peacocks.

They've been there for decades. Some residents think they're what make their neighborhood — 51st Street roughly between 22nd and 26th avenues N — special, and wouldn't consider getting rid of them. Others are fed up with the rooftop romps, the scratching of the paint on cars, the loud squawking, and, frankly, the bird poop.

"I came out the other morning to get the paper and they hit me (with excrement)," said James Greene, 56, speaking about how the fowl were in an oak tree that has branches stretching out over his front door. "So I said, 'That's it, I'm done.' I'm always using my hose and I just bought firecrackers so they stay away. They've gone over into my neighbor's yard now."

The peacocks have lived in the neighborhood for generations and they number anywhere from three or four dozen to 100, depending whom you ask. No one seems clear on how they got there, though various narratives involve former Sunken Gardens owner George Turner dating back 50 years, and later, a veterinarian who died and left the peacocks behind.

"These birds have been here longer than I've been alive and I don't want them going anywhere," said Stephanie Leonard, 39, a student at the University of South Florida, whose mother lived in the neighborhood decades ago.

"It's true that they make a mess a little," she said. "But they give back in so many ways. I used to have a horrible problem with wasps, but the peacocks eat them, the fleas and ticks. Not to mention they're like dogs, with their own individual personalities."

Residents Jeff and Linda Barchie complained of the traffic brought into the neighborhood — what residents have generally called "peacock tourists." They say the bird watchers come and throw loaves of bread into the streets and on the lawns and then drive off after a few minutes, nearly running over the birds in some instances.

"You have people who come feed them, look and even try to get their feathers — they walk right up into your yard," Linda Barchie, 60, said.

The Barchies have called several city and state agencies in trying to rid the neighborhood of the flocks, but to no avail. The birds are not regulated by the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They are an invasive species and not protected, but officials cannot go onto private property to cull their population or move them.

"Peacocks are not wildlife. They are domestic livestock," said Gary Morse, the wildlife commission spokesman. "Even if they have a feral population, they are still not considered wild. It's a story that has popped up before and it creates a lot of controversy."

He said other neighborhoods in Longboat Key, Plant City and Tampa have encountered the same problems.

The Barchies tried local trapper Vernon Yates, who offered to trap the birds from $65-$75 each, and then move them to a more appropriate sanctuary or habitat.

"I think it's one of those hot issues that no one wants to touch," said Yates, director of the nonprofit Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

"The state of Florida is wishy-washy on it —- they say they don't regulate it, but say if you own one it has to be caged," Yates added. "Another big problem is that right now no one wants to claim ownership of them."

And that lies at the heart of the issue. Residents who like the peacocks don't care who does or doesn't own them.

"But it would be interesting, though, to find out if anyone actually owns them," Jeff Barchie, 59, said. "We just don't know what to do anymore."