“Susan, I have what I swear is a peacock hanging precariously onto my niger (thistle seed) feeder. Earlier the same bird was enjoying cooling off in my garden sprinkler. I am sure it is someone’s pet — do you know who owns peacocks in West Tisbury?”
I told Betsy McIsaac that I would do some research and get back to her. Betsy lives on Town Cove in West Tisbury, so my first call was to Deb and Eric Magnuson to ask if they had any peacocks. Deb said no, but thought that Campbell and Douglas at Rainbow Farm might have some. So I called there and Joan informed me that there were no peacocks at Rainbow Farm but that Arnie and Christa Fischer might have some. The Fischers weren’t home so I called their neighbors Suzie and Ron Silva. Suzie said that the Fischers did indeed have peacocks. Suzie added that when she was over at Sunnyside Farm on Tiah’s Cove she had heard a peacock last weekend, but not recently.
Next Richard Reische called to report that he had seen what he identified, using The Sibley Guide to Birds, as a common peafowl. I called Richard and discovered that he resides behind the Mid-Island Garage quite close to Betsy McIsaac. I asked Richard whether the bird he saw was a male or female. He answered that the bird didn’t have the long tail that a male did, but that it did not have the white belly of a female peacock.
Gus Ben David was my next call. “When do male peacocks get their beautiful long tail?” I asked.
Gus reminded me that male peacock is simply a peacock and that a female peacock is a peahen. If one talks about both male and females, the term to use is peafowl. Gus continued to inform me that yearling peacocks have no train (long tail coverts.) The second year the peacock has pretty good train, but it isn’t until the third year on that the peacock has his full train. Gus also said that his peacock has not started shedding his train and doesn’t start until the third week in June. So we figured that the bird that Betsy and Richard were seeing was a yearling bird.
An Indian peafowl is the species that is roaming around Town Cove in West Tisbury. These relatives of the pheasants are native to India and Sri Lanka where their preferred habitat is deep forest. They tend to move in small flocks or parties, feed on the ground and roost at night in the forest trees. The males attract their mates in a ritual that involves fanning their beautiful train. The feathers making up the train, which can be more than 60 per cent of the bird’s length, are actually coverts that overlay the true tail feathers. Gus Ben David added that if the tail feathers are removed from a peacock, he is unable to fan his train, as the true tail feathers contain the musculature needed to raise and fan the train.
Peafowl can fly well, are omnivores and have a very eerie, high-pitched call. When I first started working at Felix Neck’s Fern and Feather day camp, I can remember hearing a peafowl call for the first time. I hurriedly counted heads to make sure none of the campers were missing and crying from the salt marsh. I became used to the call, although I always found it creepy. Hopefully this young peafowl will be returned to its rightful owners as Betsy McIsaac finds it a bit strange to have the peacock join her for cocktails on her deck.
Ospreys are in the news. Dick Jennings, who along with Dave Nash, is helping Rob Bierregaard survey the Vineyard ospreys, called to give me an update. It seems that there are at least 68 pairs of osprey on eggs on the Vineyard. There is one nest on the North Shore near Menemsha that is so tall that the crew can’t determine whether there are eggs there or not. Dick also mentioned that there are five housekeeping pairs, which brings the total to 74 pair on the Island.
Gus Ben David added that since he started erecting osprey poles in 1970 in cooperation with the electric companies (formerly known as ComElectric, now called Nstar) they had put up 121 poles. Last week Gus and crew put up the 122nd osprey pole.
Gus also mentioned that he and his wife Deb recently had Roy and Moira Dennis as house guests. Roy is the honorary director of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife in Scotland. His work has been with raptors and he and Gus had done similar work on ospreys on different continents. Roy has also done work on reintroduction of owls, eagles and other raptors in Scotland and elsewhere. Dick Jennings took Roy around to see the work that Gus and crew have done over the years to encourage the Vineyard osprey’s revival.
Gus mentioned that the barn owls have made quite a recovery. There are barn owls at Lobdell’s in Vineyard Haven. One fledgling was brought over from Katama on June 10. Luckily the six barn owlets at Gus’s nest at the World of Reptiles and Birds were the same age and so he added the Katama bird to the box and the young owl seems to be doing fine. Felix Neck has five young owls about to fledge as well. Gus also mentioned that two screech owls were brought to him and luckily Gus was able to release one almost immediately. The other should be able to fend for itself shortly and will be released to the wild.
Rob Bierregaard e-mailed that Homer the osprey that was tagged on the Vineyard in 2005 returned for the second time. He first returned to the Island in the spring of 2007 and then spent the winter in Colombia and returned to the north shore of the Vineyard in early May. Comnomo, an osprey tagged on the Vineyard at Lobsterville in ’07, is in Cuba for about another year. Rob also mentioned that although there were a couple of nest failures on the Vineyard this spring, the remaining nests look to promise a good production year. Rob added that many of the nests have three young.
Elaine Frost reports that she had a pair of northern bobwhite eating wild strawberries near her home in Blacksmith Valley in Chilmark on June 11. Earlier in the week she saw just the male — hopefully the pair is nesting nearby.