Like royalty, peacocks are beautiful and awe-inspiring to look upon; and like royalty, they shit on everything the lower classes own. When large numbers of peacocks wander into Southern California residential areas, they get on many homeowners’ nerves by screaming in the wee hours of the morning, digging up gardens for dirt baths, and defecating all over driveways. Not little white bird scat, either—huge, curly, smelly brown turds.
Public peacock flocks have led to residential wars against them, most infamously in Arcadia and Palos Verdes. But when the peacocks have land of their own to strut on peacefully, it's difficult for most humans to resist their beauty. At Irvine Regional Park, one can frequently see drivers on the quaint, Autopia-like 10 mph roads jump out of their cars like the 101st Airborne to get a good shot of the birds. And who can blame them? With the only mammals of note in the park being the mundane Western gray squirrels and reclusive coyotes and mountain lions, they soak up most of the attention. Of the over 200 known species of birds in Irvine Regional Park, the peacock is the undisputed master of this parliament of fowls.
The peacocks—or rather the peafowl, males being peacocks and females peahens—have lived in the park for about 37 years, and now number around 50. They used to reside on the grounds of what was once the Peacock Hill Riding Club (now the Peacock Hill Equestrian Center). This ostentation is the descendants of the even older Marcy Ranch peafowl, brought to the North Tustin ranch by Chicago meatpacker George E. Marcy in 1910. Those pioneers eventually wandered onto the Riding Club/Equestrian Center. When the Equestrian Center moved to Irvine Regional Park in 1980, owners Bill and Kathy Warne brought the peafowl with them, where they multiplied to form the modern Irvine avian dynasty.
While many locals have grown used to these big birds, visitors are routinely struck by the absurdity of them in rural Orange County. Many hikers and bikers call the park office to report that a peacock has escaped from the zoo, not knowing that the peacocks have roamed free in the park for decades.
“Some people say they sound like injured kittens or like an injured cat, so we get that a lot,” says Park Ranger Maura Hay. “They’re pretty loud. They can resonate in the canyons.”
“One of the first things I noticed was the peacocks,” says bird photographer Tina Treglia, who has photographed the park’s birds for about two and a half years. An interior designer by trade, she is most struck by the apparent perfection of their aesthetic composition. “The detail in their...design...is amazing,” she says. “Even in their legs and the detail in their patterns.
“I believe in microevolution,” Treglia continues. Still, she says, “it’s hard for me to look at a bird like that and think there’s not a designer...It’s beyond what humans can come up with on their own.”
Though their beauty is unparalleled, peafowl are not the brightest of birds. “They will attack their reflection,” says Supervising Park Ranger Jim Simkins. “I see them on the chrome of our work truck; they’ll see their reflection and they’ll fly up and kick it with their legs.”
Peacocks don’t just win over peahens with dashing good looks. Contrary to popular belief, peafowl can in fact fly (that's how they mostly evade hungry coyotes and mountain lions), and sparring males will frequently charge at each other in the air, much to the fascination of park-goers.
At Irvine Park, the rangers often trap peacocks—not to remove them, but to treat their injuries and remove tangled fishing line from their legs. Some park-goers, too, have taken up the task of caring for the peafowl in the past. “There used to be a woman that would take care of ones that looked sick,” says Ranger Simkins. “We gave her a little area in the maintenance yard, so she would come there and put them in.”
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After a few years of caring for the peacocks—sometimes taking them home and bringing them to veterinarians—she stopped showing up. “I don’t know, she has some German name,” he says. “She’s, like, a midwife from Germany. We just called her the Peacock Lady.”
Thanks to this anonymous St. Francis, many peacocks who would've otherwise succumbed to their illnesses still strut their stuff on the rolling Irvine Park greens, for peahens and photographers alike. Palos Verdes peafowl: if you ever suffer the slings and arrows of your neighbors, know that you’ll find sanctuary in OC's canyons.