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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 3 years ago

Jailbirds: Peacock removal begins in the Village

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These three suspects are behind bars and are no longer considered a flight risk. But how many of their bird brethren still roam the streets of the Village?
by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

A group of 24 peacocks seemed to enjoy the fresh cranberries and puffed oat cereal Jan. 11, on Fox Street, courtesy of Christy Norris.

What they didn’t know: Norris is vice president of Palmetto-based Nuisance Wildlife Removal, the company the town hired to cull the Village peacock flock to a dozen males.

The birds were oblivious; within a day, a few of those peacocks were pecking the cereal straight from Norris’ hands.

Then, for three of those birds — one male, two females — the freedom of island paradise came crashing down Jan. 14, in the form of the metal cages Norris tossed over them.

The caged birds squawked and jumped for help. The 21 peacocks that still had their freedom dispersed, squawking what sounded like peacock obscenities at their three feathered friends that were dumb enough to be lured into captivity by oats and cranberries.

Norris then grabbed Longbeach Village’s first three captured peacocks by their legs and placed them in another cage on a truck. They may have looked like jailbirds, but they were actually bound for a refuge center in eastern Manatee County. 

As the caged birds protested, their feathered friends that still had their freedom stared at them from afar.

But the birds that evaded capture shouldn’t get cocky.

“We’ll catch them all in due time,” Norris said. “We have to build up a relationship.”

And that’s how a $25,000 plan authorized by the Longboat Key Town Commission late last year to cull an estimated 150 peafowl population began.

Within minutes of catching the three birds just after 12:30 p.m., Norris was back on her hands and knees in the front yard of the Fox Street home, feeding the birds that slowly returned to the yard because the fresh oats and cranberries were just too enticing. Some peacocks even walked back into the cage to eat food where their feathered friends lost their freedom just minutes earlier.

Norris, though, didn’t shut the cage on any more birds that day. 

Her company will be feeding the birds at a different time each day on Fox and Russell streets, where property owners have given them permission to feed and capture the birds (see sidebar).

The contract the Longboat Key Town Commission approved in December calls for a $1,500 setup fee for traps and food and a $200 cost to catch the first 10 birds. Additional bird captures will cost $150 each.

Birds that are harder to capture — those Alpha males that stay in trees or on roofs — will cost $275 apiece to be captured using nets and, only as a last resort, tranquilizer gun darts.

It’s unknown exactly how many peacocks live in the Village, but it might be cheaper than the town  originally thought to catch the birds.

Norris and Public Works Streets, Facilities and Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson, who is overseeing the capture of the birds, said they have only seen approximately 30 birds so far in the Village.

“They’re the same 30 birds that just show up in different places at different times,” Richardson said. “We’re not sure how many there are yet, but the number may be smaller than what we thought.”

Norris and Richardson say they can’t put an estimated timeframe on how long it will take to capture the birds and complete the operation.

And even when the flock is culled to 12 males, that doesn’t mean the end of peacock population growth, because females lay eggs in trees and in other hard-to-find places. That means the town may need a recurring budget line item for peacock removal.

Commissioner Pat Zunz, who lives on the north end, said the birds diminish the quality of life for property owners who have to deal with the birds squawking on their rooftops, pooping all over their walkways, pecking holes in their screens and scratching paint off cars when they see their reflection in the paint.

“This is a long time coming for residents who have had to put up with these birds and the damage they cause for years,” Zunz said.

The future location of the birds won’t be disclosed. Before they arrive at that forever home, they will spend a state-mandated 90 days in captivity.

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