Recent media reporting, and a survey currently underway by Cr Ryan Murphy Chandler Ward, have highlighted the issue of peafowl (peacocks and peahens) in Mackenzie. There are obviously strong views both for and against the continued existence of these birds in this residential area. However, this is not unusual. Over recent years there have been similar situations where strong community views have collided in Los Angeles, various parts of England, New Zealand, and within Australia, Kangaroo Island, Canberra and Townsville. And now Brisbane. In each of these locations, elected officials have struggled to chart a course between often strongly held community views.
So, what is the issue with Peafowl? The following points are presented as a list of the relevant major issues:
- The Indian Peafowl (the blue variety of peafowl) in Mackenzie came from an uncertain source and their origin is unimportant to the current issue, which is how to deal with them. The peafowl are currently restricted to an area bounded by the Gateway Motorway, Mt Gravatt-Capalaba Road, Mt Petrie Road and Weedon Street. However, as population numbers increase it can be expected that this area will expand as birds move into the bushland to the north and east;
- The Indian Peafowl is native to India and Pakistan and is therefore an introduced bird in any other country in which they occur, including Australia. As such, they would normally not achieve the de-facto protected status which they hold;
- peafowl can live for around 20 years in the wild;
- the male birds, or peacocks, have a particularly beautiful tail plume that, on display, is attractive to many residents in a community. This would seem to be the main reason their presence is so strongly defended;
- peacocks make a very loud call most of the year but particularly in the breeding season. This call is audible over a great distance, often over a kilometre. The female birds, or peahens, make a quieter clucking call sound that is not audible over a great distance;
- peafowl begin breeding after a peahen reaches 2 years of age and egg clutches range from 4 to 6 eggs. Incubation takes about 30 days and they normally lay only one clutch per year. However, there are some reports of peahen laying up to 3 clutches in a year.
- peafowl in Mackenzie are free-ranging and, as they are omnivorous, their diet will consist of seeds, fruits, flower buds, shoots, invertebrates and small vertebrates (e.g. small mammals and reptiles) although local residents often supplement this with bird seeds and grains;
- peafowl droppings can create problems for the local community as they are often left on pathways, backyards and roads. When roosting on rooftops these droppings can contaminate water tanks, and in some circumstances swimming pools and animal water containers. Instances have been reported in other locations of people slipping on droppings and vehicle accidents occurring when drivers are distracted by the site of a displaying peacock;
- A University of California scientist has reported that “In neighborhoods, they scratch the paint on cars, damage shingles and tiles on roofs and cover lawns with fecal matter. When a man in Palos Verdes Estates stepped between an attacking peacock and a child on a tricycle, the bird ripped open the man’s pants with its spurs. Another bird’s screaming terrified a man with Alzheimer’s disease so badly that he had to move from his own home.” 1
- a foraging peafowl scratches the ground and can damage plants creating bare areas vulnerable to weed invasion. They can also destroy native vegetation and transfer the seeds of weeds into areas where they do not normally occur or are unwanted. Their roosting sites can displace native birds and possums/gliders which can be a significant issue given the rapidly decreasing amount of natural habitat in Brisbane;
- peafowl can potentially carry a range of diseases that can infect humans although the extent to which they do is unknown. These could include fowl pox, haemorrhagic enteritis, avian tuberculosis, fowl typhoid, fowl cholera, coccidiosis, pigeon malaria, salmonella, tapeworm, mites and lice. Transfer to humans could occur through direct contact (hand to mouth) or by drinking rainwater from contaminated roof runoff.
Is there an answer to this Vexing issue?
What can be done about peafowl in the face of a divided community? In other locations, limited success has been achieved with a management plan for these birds in a localised area. For this to work however requires agreement with the provisions of the plan and the support of all residents. A focussed plan would involve discussion and agreement on removing the peahens, reducing the number of peacocks and monitoring the area to ensure that more were not introduced other than to replace dead birds. Such a plan would allow residents to enjoy the site of these beautiful tail fans while minimising the impacts on the environment and limiting possible adverse effects on the human population.
Prepared by Greg Wellard, Group Leader, Mackenzie Bushcare Group.
Information in this paper was collated from the Draft Feral Peafowl Management Plan 2018-2023 prepared by the ACT Government for public consultation. The Plan was prepared to cover several Canberra suburbs, which may have made it difficult to implement. As the public response to this plan was in favour of keeping the birds, the plan has recently been withdrawn from circulation and is being revised. Its scientific contents do not appear to have been challenged. Draft Peafowl Management Plan Consultation Report (PDF).