Raising peafowl not all it’s cracked up to be

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Many years ago, my husband and I went on an anniversary trip to Tennessee. We rented a small cabin just outside of Smoky Mountain National Park.

Without children, we woke up early and spent our days hiking and biking. The quiet, solitude of two parents on the trail proved to be more suitable for wildlife viewing than trekking with four chattering children.

From the front porch, we could see the ridge of the majestic Smoky Mountains in the distance. We hiked many trails on that trip and made many memories.

Unexpected encounter

One particular trail hike stands out due to an unexpected wildlife encounter. After we crested a small hill, a spectacular peacock casually stepped out of a group of saplings and walked across the trail. Its iridescent feathers shimmered in the sunlight. The most striking feature, of course, was the 5 foot tail of feathers.

Rationally, I knew that peacocks were not native to North America, let alone Tennessee. Yet, there it was, adorning the trail like it was the king of the forest. I wanted to believe it was a natural phenomenon, but I knew it was most likely a descendant of a domesticated peacock that either escaped or was liberated from a local farm.

A peacock is actually a male, while a female is called a peahen. Collectively, they are peafowl and a member of the pheasant family.

Peafowl species

There are three known species of peafowl. The peacock I saw on the trail was an Indian peacock, known for its iridescent blue and green plumage.

Green peafowl can be found on the island of Java in Southeast Asia. Recently discovered, another species called the Congo peafowl can be found in Africa. This species is smaller and resembles a pheasant.

After six months, peacock feathers begin to change color, distinguishing them apart from peahens. They do not develop their full train of feathers until three years of age. The tail feathers are shed after each mating season. Some people inaccurately believe that peafowl mate when a peahen drinks the tears of a peacock.

After my surprise encounter in Tennessee, I inadvertently started to collect items related to peacocks. A couple of pins, a necklace and a few photos later and I was well on my way to having a quirky obsession.

We have relatives nearby that have peacocks on their property. I loved to see them thriving in our wacky Ohio climate.

Expectation versus reality

I became convinced that we should raise peacocks. We already had chickens, ducks, turkey, and at one point guinea fowl. I figured, why not add another species to our list?

I pictured the peacocks in our woods like the one we saw in Tennessee. They would be like hummingbirds but on a larger scale, unexpected beauty darting in and out of the woods.

That is not what happened.

When the peachicks hatched in the incubator, we instantly fell in love. They already had a fair amount of their feathers. Most prominent were the corona feathers which created tiny little crowns on their heads. They looked like tiny Roman centurions marching around in the cardboard box.

It even seemed fine when we transferred them outside and let them roam around. The peacock experiment was operating smoothly until they discovered the cat food on our front porch. That was when I realized my plan of forest birds wasn’t going to happen.

Instead of frolicking among the trees, they hung out on the porch near the cat food. They started perching on the rails of the porch and the roof of the house instead of in the trees.

The birds are beautiful, but their guano is not. Little fecal Hershey kisses were everywhere on our porch. I had to clean and spray down the porch daily. The experiment was over.

We found them a new home, and I was officially done collecting peacock paraphernalia.

Second try

Fast forward eight years when I got word of a new peacock experiment happening in my neck of the woods. My oldest son wants peacock feathers for his homemade fishing flies.

Instead of grabbing feathers as I would have done, he enlisted his uncle’s help and put eggs in our incubator. I am all for projects that teach responsibility and foster growth in leadership skills, but I’m still having flashbacks to the first bevy of peacocks.

If he can keep them off my porch, in three years he might have a tail feather to use fishing and new found patience to test.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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