Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 25, 2010

Pea Foul

It’s a lovely day. You think, “I’ll step out the front door, and gaze upon my domain.” You step out your door to begin regarding your vast estate, but there in the midst of your domain is a bird. Two feet tall and a brilliant, irridescent blue. Have you stepped through the Looking Glass? Is Tim Burton in the neighborhood shooting the sequel to Alice in Wonderland? Nay nay. It’s a peacock, of course. Now, if one were some pasha or potentate or emperor, it might be normal to have peafowl strolling about the stately grounds. And, as it happens, it’s not all that abnormal here in Palos Verdes, either. You see, about 90 years ago, when this entire peninsula was owned by one person who was just starting to build some houses over on the northwest corner of the place, someone gave him some peacocks (and peahens too, one assumes, since they’re still here) as a fitting complement to such a baronial holding. Well, the years have passed, the peninsula has been populated not only by dwellers in mansions (though, believe me, there are plenty of those) but also thousands of 1950s suburban style joints just like good ol’ Rancho Retro here. What was formerly a grass-and-shrub-covered hump of land has been planted and landscaped and carved up, and now about 1,000 peafowl roam through the woods, yards, streets and neighborhoods.

This comes to mind because the Wall Street Journal ran a story about our local peafowl in the June 24 edition at the bottom of the front page, which is always some interesting, off-the-wall story about quirky and unusual things in the world. HERE is the article. It’s always amusing to read about one’s own neighborhood in the national press, and, for once, I credit the Journal with getting something more or less right. Peafowl are a pain. As the article points out, a 13-pound bird can claw up just about anything it wants to, including your roof or your yard or your car. Like all animals, it poops wherever it wants to, and a big bird generates big … well, you get it.

And, they’re just weird. Too outlandish – garish, I think is the word. You don’t want to pet them or even have them standing around on your porch or yard. You want them to move on, but you also want them to stay out of your way. I once was coming down the hill on winding P.V. Drive East, came around a corner and barely had time to stop for a gaggle or troupe or whatever their collective term is, seven of them running across the road in single file. That’s a darned unusual sight.

For me, the most offensive thing is their call. If you’ve ever watched Johnny Weissmuller in a Tarzan movie, you’ve heard a peacock, even though you might not have recognized it. It’s always in those wide shots that show the jungle, as we’re waiting for the evil smugglers or the arrogant traders to come hacking through. I don’t know if perhaps the audio guy on those movies lived on the Peninsula and had heard peacocks there, thinking, “Wow, that sounds like an exotic African bird!” but there’s always one there. High-pitched and distinctively accented: ca-CA-ca, ca-CA-ca, and the accented middle tone is higher than the unaccented ones. Loud. Very loud. A big bird that generates big noise. In fact, it WAS a kind of Tarzan-like moment, and if I only knew more Swahili I might’ve said something like, “Cheetah! Birdatta golatta,” or whatever the Masai say that means, “Get that big weird bird offa my lawn!”

As for that call, I was going to describe it in terms of poetic meter, but apparently there’s no recorded use of that meter in English poetry. There are iambs and trochees and spondees for two-beat patterns, da-DA, DA-da and DA-DA. There are anapests and dactyls for three beats, but they’re da-da-DA and DA-DA-da. I thought I had it with Swinburne’s “Before the beginning of years/There came to the making of man/Time with a gift of tears/Grief with a glass that ran,” but on closer examination, that’s mostly trochaic with catalexis truncating either the beginning or end bit on each line. So, if you come up with an example, don’t send it unless you can come up with an appropriate Greek bit of nomenclature for it. We’ll publish it here and shock the world of poetic rhetorical study.

The good news here is that I’ve only ever seen the one bird in this neighborhood. Apparently the birds are aware of their association with pashas, emperors and the like, because they seem to hang out over in the pricier neighborhoods. Those are, of course, the larger properties with more trees and wild spaces, along with horse stables and other trappings o’ wealth. Perhaps there are people there named Boyd, and they’ve heard that neighborhood is for the boids.

That’s a long way to go for a really bad pun, but what do you expect on a Friday morning?

I don’t wish bad things to happen to these creatures, but I do hope they steer clear of the neighborhood. I’m hoping no one lets them know that property values are starting to recover in California, or they might branch out.


  1. It’s always worth the trip for a pun – good or bad.
    You are the only person I know who would try to describe a peacock’s call poetically.


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