The first birthday I celebrated after the purchase of Middleton became a momentous occasion. Matthew, our gentle hearted son and great animal lover, gave me, with great excitement, two peacocks. The birthday gathering of the family was held at Sandy Bay and Matthew arrived with two large white bags, tied with orange garden string. He thrust a piece of paper into my hands. “This is all we could find in the Library to copy and you’d better be careful opening the bags, Mum, I think they are still alive.” Matthew, still the child that came home with a kitten for me as a Christmas gift, looked extremely proud of himself.
I thought to myself, “We have quite enough cats with my darling Rosie and her proteges down at Middleton and fifteen years old Calico at Sandy Bay.” “Perhaps you could sit in the old chook pen to open the bag,” warned Matthew. I took a hurried glance at the piece of paper in my hand. Matthew may have given me anything – puppies, guinea-pigs, ferrets. How relieved I was to find the brief article was a short history of Peafowls. “The poor things trussed up like this,” I exclaimed, as we walked through the garden to the abandoned chicken. “This seems a bit cruel, Matthew.” “That’s how the chap who sold them to me handed them over. He said they would be all right. And by the way, I could only afford to give you one, Papa gave you the other.” Sitting on our heels in the very low chicken pen, we released Bill and Ben. They were reasonably mature birds, old enough to have their beautiful tail feathers, if said feathers had been still attached to their bodies. I had never seen two more bedraggled creatures brought home by Matthew. They looked at me with baleful eyes so I quickly crawled out of the coop. “The man said they would lose a few feathers,” Matthew said hesitatingly, “They lose feathers at this time of year anyway and will soon start growing them again.” We went inside the house and I read the photocopied article which was not an enormous help. The essay told me that the blue peafowls originated in India and that the cock was sexually very demanding on the hen and they liked to sleep perched high in trees. “I hope it won’t be too cold for them down at Middleton,” I remarked after reading the item and learning that the beautiful birds originated in India, “And I wonder what they eat?” “Chap said, anything – chook food, vegetables, bread,” Matthew replied. “One thing else, apparently they like to sleep up high.”
I had never seen two more bedraggled creatures
The peacocks arrived down at “Kibbenjelok” minus all their tail feathers but I thought, “Too bad! And not a great hardship as they have no peahens to show off to,” I am not so ignorant of their behaviour now! Peacocks will display themselves to anything that moves; the ducks, the hens, the other male peacocks, me, Kees, the cats and one fine day I even saw Charlie doing a wonderful dance to the car. I can only presume he saw his own reflection in the duco. Mating season for peafowl goes on for about five months and it is at this time the peafowl are at their noisiest and dirtiest. It is also this time that I threaten them by inviting them to join the family for Christmas dinner in a particularly participating role. When my patience with their nuisance value is at its weakest, I will see a cock displaying himself on top of a rose arbour, his wonderful tail shivering and brushing the blooming “Clair Matin” rose. The vibrant blue of his chest and the green eyes of his tail look absolute splendid amongst the soft, pink blooms. The two white peacocks (bought as a hen and a cock} knowingly choose the other side of the arbour for here “Silver Moon” scrambles over the log supports of the arbour. White, with long yellow stamens, I am sure this rose was created to be a foil to the magnificent cream and snow white tail feathers of the white peacocks. We now, at the time of writing, have fifteen adult peafowl and nineteen peachicks.
Several years ago we were driven to sell nine fowl to reduce their numbers for the mess and noise had become unbearable. It is most unfortunate that we have a verandah around the house and do not live for the whole week in the house. Peafowl, coming from a much hotter climate than we experience at Middleton, need the shelter of the verandah during the rain, snow and hail storms that are frequent happenings at the “farm.”
…we have to wade through kilograms of peafowl poop before we can open our back door…
The first time Molly, our original peahen was found, after a long absence, in the long grass up near the duck pond with a family of three chicks, I was so excited and happy. I was also surprised that there were so many chicks. Somehow I had imagined that such big birds would only lay one egg. How wrong I was. Molly will have two clutches during the five-month mating season and this may represent ten chicks during one year. The first born are told to fend for themselves after four months of Molly’s excellent mothering. The second batch is much luckier and remain by Molly’s side until she sits again the following season. Now that her descendants are producing their own families, I suppose that we must count ourselves lucky that we have a wedge tailed eagle, sea hawks and a white peregrine living in the hills surrounding the farm. They vary their sumptuous diet between ducklings (nearly 100 percent), peachicks and ordinary chicks. I have watched the peahens, perhaps at the time eating out of my hand, suddenly stare into the empty sky, their neck feathers puffed out into a huge ruff. Quite a few minutes later, my weak human eyes will pick up the dot in the sky that comes circling closer and closer to the house, swooping gracefully as it inches closer. One or two peahens remain fixedly staring up into the horizon and making a soft, clucking noise and the rest of the birds dash off in several directions. The peafowl has no answer to those talons and is only able to stand and watch as the little chick is carried triumphantly back to the aerie where the eagle’s fledglings await their meal. The stamping of the peafowl across the tin roof in the early morning hours, the strange shrieking of the mating calls are a constant annoyance to the family when they come to stay. Kees and I are immune to it now, just as we don’t hear the noise of cars at the Hobart home.
As of today, there are five peafowl. Images below courtesy of Mike Method [Nicole, March 2014]
The peacocks are as good as any watch dog when they hear a car driving up our road. On hearing the motor vehicle, they will fly into the gigantic pines and scream their prehistoric call of alarm and on Open Garden days they remain at the top of the pines until the last stranger has left the garden. The first time the rare green peahen sat on eggs, she chose to make her nest under the Rhododendron “Countess of Haddington,” a Rhododendron of the palest pink, white and green, perfect for her colouring. Above the “Countess,” giving good privacy, was a Dicksonia man fern. I had watched closely during the two weeks that it had taken her to lay the seven eggs but was most apprehensive as the garden was soon to be opened to the Australian public. While she sat on the nest, she was very well concealed by the soft, green fonds of the ferns but the white, duck size eggs became obvious when she left the nest to graze. At some time in the morning of the day the people came to look at our folly, I was talking to a garden visitor when I heard a young boy’s voice pleading with his mother, “Please let me ask Mrs Klok if I can take some home, please, Mum.” I excused myself and rushed over to the nest and, sure enough, there were the naked eggs and standing by the nest was the lad, pulling at his mother’s hand, begging her to let him take some eggs as there were so many eggs and nests around the place, he was sure that “Mrs Klok wouldn’t miss them.” I explained to him that it was a peahen’s nest and they were not duck eggs and sent him to the Mt. Versuvias compost heap. There he would find a foolish duck that had laid her eggs in the hope that they would be safe from the hawks. Why she hadn’t realised that the heat from the compost would destroy the eggs I don’t know, but then, ducks really are very stupid. Though I had returned to the enjoyment of talking to our other visitors, I was feeling a little despondent knowing the green peacock had left her nest and may not return to her clutch. One half hour after the last people left the garden, my daughter Francesca reported to me, “The green peacock [!] has returned to her nest.” Forty days after she began sitting, the “Green Goddess” [GeeGee for short] was the proud mother of five, three of which she managed to keep from the wicked talons of the eagle.
Although I complain of the peafowl, I really believe that they are beautiful, friendly and very individual birds. They have entertained me with their fascinating dances that may go on for hours. The peacock shivers his tail by quivering the long tail feathers against one another which makes a whirring noise. He does this so many times and for such long periods that a definite lump is formed on his neck. The first time I saw this I thought that Bill had a cancerous growth but now presume it to be a strong muscle that is used to hold up the weight of his magnificent plumage. I also admire very much their aesthetic taste in gardening. Although they are happy to take large bites out of all plants and trample down any seedlings, they have two definite favourite delicacies. Hostas, the beautiful foliage plants so suited to the moist soil at “Kibbenjelok,” are absolutely demolished as the leaves push their way through the earth at the end of winter. The other all time favourite for the gourmet peafowl is the sublime taste of all white flowers. I love white flowers and use them a lot in my garden planting and I’m quite fond of Hostas too.