My recent trip to Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia within the San Gabriel Valley was ostensibly for horticultural immersion within the park’s extensive green space. My visit was partly studious – to become familiar with Southern California’s plant material – as well as to enjoy relief from daily helpings of dense urbanity.
Not to say the Arboretum didn’t fulfill my goals. At 127 acres, there is no lack of native, exotic, and way cool plants to see. It’s just that I had a hard time keeping my focus on the flora once the wandering peacocks caught my attention.
Upon seeing them, I’m sure I must be among thousands of Arboretum visitors who think:
‘Peacocks –how cool!’
‘Peacocks? Where did they come from?’
‘How are they thriving in this urban environment?’
Native to woodland areas and open forests of South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, peafowl (the collective terms for peacocks, peahens, and peachicks) – find our locally warm and arid weather a good climatic fit (they dislike water).
The most familiar and commonly known peafowl – the ‘India Blue’ – were introduced into the area in the late 1800s by Elias J. ‘Lucky’ Baldwin. The founder of the town of Arcadia stocked his 8,000 acre farm – Rancho Santa Anita – with these exotic birds, along with common sheep, cattle and horses, and acres of fruit trees. Following the fashion of large land owners of the time, Baldwin imported and showcased these birds alongside a collection of exotic animals, who, because they consume snails and small snakes and roamed the ranch freely, were purportedly a favorite of Baldwin.
By the time 111 remaining acres of Baldwin’s former ranch were purchased in for the Arboretum by the State and County in 1947, the peafowl population had grown. Fully capable of finding sufficient food and suitable habitats for nesting, the peafowl adapted to the local environment and naturalized. Today they’ve spread to surrounding urban neighborhoods with an estimated population well over 200.
Currently, the most common conflict between these local urbanized fowl is with humans and is over food. Once acclimated to being fed, peafowl can become aggressive in pursuit of meals. Perhaps an urban myth, but it is reported peacocks will climb onto people to reach food (especially smaller people and kids). The park posts against feeding and the city recommends homeowners practice tidy landscape habits to discourage large populations of the birds from congregating in neighborhoods. It is illegal to feed them on public land in Arcadia.
Through education and regulatory actions, I commend the park, town, and county for continuing to support and encourage the legacy and co-existence of these birds with humans. Synonymous with Arcadia and successfully adapted, peafowl have become an integral, memorable, and flamboyant part of our local urban ecology.
Other unique and interesting Peafowl facts:
- While unable to fly long distances, peafowl roost in trees at night to avoid predators.
- Omnivores and food opportunists, peafowl eat seeds, berries, tender plants, small reptiles (snakes) and small mammals. They scratch their feet to forage for food in leaf litter.
- Peacock’s calls are often likened to screams. ‘Lucky’ Baldwin capitalized on this and used peacocks as ‘watchdogs’. Peacocks can reportedly keep coyotes at bay.
- A Peacocks’ tail feathers – called a train – can reach 6-7 feet long and are used to attract peahens during mating season.
- In addition to Arcadia, La Canada-Flintridge, Glendora and the Palos Verde Peninsula also have feral peafowl populations.
- The Los Angeles Arboretum is on the digital map of Pokemon Go.
- The City of Arcadia’s website for Living with Peafowl in urban environments.