Some cities have pigeons… Winters has peacocks. Residents have noticed these large, jewel-toned birds walking through the streets and have heard their piercing calls in the early mornings. But why is Winters home to a native bird of the jungles of India?
Indian peafowl, also known as the common peacock, are one of three species of peafowl. None of these species are native to the Western Hemisphere. Unlike geese or swans, peafowl do not mate for life, and spend their time in a group of one male and three females, called a muster. Like many birds, the male is more brilliant in color and appearance than the female.
The male peacock’s tail is one of the most striking characteristics of the common peacock. He uses his brilliant train of feathers to attract a mate, and the males with the largest tail are the most likely to succeed. Unfortunately for him, his tail also attracts predators’ attention. Scientists currently theorize that the train not only attracts females, but also shows them that he strong enough to defend himself from predators.
And those colorful feathers? They are actually brown. The bright hues that we see do not come from the feather’s internal pigment, but from microscopic structures on the surface of the feathers that reflect light. This process is called structural coloration. When examined closely, a peacock’s feather has an iridescent quality similar to that of a butterfly’s wing.
Humans have been incorporating peacocks into artwork for centuries. The Hindu god of war, Lord Kartikeya, is depicted riding a peacock. The ancient Greeks believed that peacock’s bodies did not decay even after dying, and saw the birds as a symbol of immortality. This was then adapted into early Christian art, and in some parts of the world is still used as a symbol of Easter.
Peafowl in town
The employees at Lake Solano Park are very familiar with the birds. Peafowl have been a fixture at the park for decades. With roughly 30 peafowl living at Lake Solano this year, and they are actually the most often spotted wildlife in the park.
Matthew A. Davis, a public communications officer for the Solano County Administrator’s office, said that park officials field a lot of questions about the peacocks. They are often asked about the best time to see the birds in full plumage, but there is actually no set time when peacock mating season will begin.
Solano Park Services Manager Christopher Drake says the best bet is to visit after the rainy season has ended. Mating after the rains end is an evolutionary trait from their native country of India, where torrential monsoons would prevent birds from hatching their eggs in safety.
Drake is not actually sure if the peafowl within Winters city limits came from the Lake Solano Park. It is entirely possible that they have escaped from farms surrounding Winters and decided to take up residence in town. Drake says that farmers buy the birds to keep pest populations low.
Peafowl are omnivorous, and have a diet similar to that of a turkey or a chicken. They forage for seeds and berries, but will also eat bugs and small snakes. Farmers raise peafowl because they will eat tics, snakes and other outdoor pests.
Drake urges people to remember that the peafowl are still wild animals, and he advises people not to feed them.
“I don’t find it beneficial to feed a wild animal,” Drake says. “The last thing you want is to habituate a wild animal.”
He worries that people might unintentionally injure the birds by feeding them things that they should not eat, and reminds people to be good stewards of the local wildlife, even it is walking into our yards.
“The bird doesn’t know that it’s better for it to hunt for itself, but we do. Enjoy from a distance,” is Drake’s most important advice.
Sometimes that is not so easy.
“I have almost hit them multiple times while driving,” Local resident Sarah Stephens commented. “We had to slam on our brakes the other day.” But even though they can be an annoyance, Stephens says that she likes seeing them around town. She likes that it, “reminds us that we are close to wildlife.”