South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard has somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the peacocks that roam his city. On the one hand, they're beautiful and act as a kind of traffic control as drivers slow down to gawk at them or allow them to cross the street. On the other hand, they shriek "like someone is committing an ax murder" at 4:30 in the morning, attack their reflections on shiny cars, and leave poop all over the place.
After seeing South Miami's population of the feisty, nonnative birds jump from three to more than 100, Stoddard proposed an ordinance that leaves the peacocks alone but should help limit their spread: a ban on feeding them.
"You know the rule of holes?" asks the mayor, who's also a zoologist. "When you find yourself in one, stop digging. It's a noncontroversial approach — let's stop making the problem worse."
The ordinance, which slaps violators with a written warning the first time and a $500 fine after that, passed on its first reading Tuesday. It's just one way Miami-Dade municipalities are attempting to deal with the peacock issue, a uniquely Florida problem that has perplexed locals for years.
It's not just that most Miamians either love or despise the peafowl (the proper name for the species, because "peacock" refers to a male) that makes controlling their population such a conundrum. The birds are protected by county code, so they cannot be harmed. They can be captured, but because they're nonnative, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibits their release into the wild.
So anyone who traps a peacock must also find it a home — a nearly impossible task.
Last year, flummoxed county commissioners passed an ordinance asking the mayor's office to come up with a solution. The blog Coconut Grove Grapevine suggested eating the eggs (though that would appear to violate county code). Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago last month asked city staff to find a way to get the birds out of the city. The peacocks are not only obnoxious and invasive but also dangerous, known to peck children and the elderly, he claims.
"The peacocks' beauty I think masks a lot of the harm that they're currently doing and potentially could do if their numbers continue to proliferate," Lago says.
Options are still being weighed, including hiring a company to capture and sterilize them. Stoddard, for his part, actually thinks the city would have to keep the sterilized peacocks because of the FWC ban on releasing them. "You can catch them to sterilize them, but then they're yours," he says.
Stoddard has counted as many as 60 in his own neighborhood. While talking to New Times on the phone, he shares what he sees on his way home — "Oh, there's a very handsome peacock!" — spotting at least five others during his drive.
Occasionally, he arrives home to find his garden strewn across his driveway, the work of peahens and peachicks searching for food. When it gets to be too much, he threatens them with a broom, putting on enough of a show that the birds scatter.
"I'm rather fond of them, actually," he says, "but I can't let on."