I must admit I’m very excited to be sharing this particular post. It combines two of my favorite elements–local history and wildlife. To be accurate, I don’t know that our local peacocks are very wild, but they are plentiful, and for those unfamiliar with their story, their appearance can be very surprising.
I have my exhibits all prepared, but first I need to fill in a little local color.
If you lived within a few miles of my home you would automatically be familiar with the name “Baldwin.” You might not know how the name fits into local history, but you’d recognize the name as it links with familiar streets and towns, bars and restaurants. It’s a common name in the San Gabriel Valley, maybe only slightly less recognizable than Huntington.
Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin began his California business career selling groceries and dry goods to San Francisco miners during the Gold Rush era. He made serious money in speculating, loaning money to miners and then calling in the debts. One debt, paid through shares in a Nevada mine, was a good business call.
The Comstock Lode was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States…and the rest, as they say, is history. Baldwin was a wealthy man.
How Baldwin came from San Francisco and made his home in Southern California is a much larger story I’ll get into soon, but today I’m eager to get on with the story of peafowl.
Baldwin purchased about 8,000 acres of Rancho Santa Anita, planting fruit trees and grapevines, raising cattle, hogs, sheep and horses.
And then came the beautiful, exotic birds, brought to the ranch from India, where Baldwin traveled to shoot elephants. That’s an unpleasant addition to the story, isn’t it?
All that remains of the old Rancho Santa Anita is 127 acres the state and county of Los Angeles jointly purchased, creating an arboretum around the old Baldwin home. I’m planning another field trip soon. Would you like to come along?
First, let’s get back to the peafowl!
Driving through a residential neighborhood in the vicinity of the Arboretum I spent a few moments with some of the escapees. Peafowl wander! They enjoy legal protection, roam at will, and their number is somewhere in the vicinity of 400 birds. The majority live contentedly on Arboretum property, but there are always the adventurers.
Not all local residents are thrilled with the early morning noise–they have a very distinctive call, and it is loud–then, of course their droppings are an annoyance.
But the birds were here first! They make themselves at home wherever they go, sauntering in front of cars as they cross the streets, and lazing on lawns for the better part of a day. In springtime it’s a delight to see mamas with their babies.
And then there was the time they came to our house!
Spring 2009 four peahens came for a visit! They stayed a couple of weeks and I have looked for them every spring since. I keep hoping they’ll come back.
Not all of my neighbors were as delighted and enthusiastic. I heard a lot of complaining, which frankly baffled me.
“The gals,” as we called them, sat in our planter boxes, startling me as I’d walk by a window, held lengthy gabfests from their perch on the roof, meandered all over the backyard railroad tracks digging for insects, and gobbled up as much dried corn as we could feed them.
Then every evening they’d take off from the rooftop and fly, with amazing speed and strength, landing in the very tall trees a few houses south. After a good night’s sleep they’d be back to greet us in the morning.
I don’t recall exactly how long they stayed, but it was at least two to three weeks and then as suddenly as they arrived, they moved on. Maybe we didn’t have what they wanted–there were no peacocks, just the hens!
Perhaps they had future babies on their minds and needed to get a move on…It was spring…and suddenly they were gone!
Now that it’s again March, I’m hoping signs of spring will perhaps bring them back for a visit. I can hope!
Isn’t it wonderful to contemplate spring and all that comes with longer, warmer days? I breathe lighter just thinking about it.
Enjoy your weekend, my friends. I hope spring comes quickly to those of you still shoveling snow! And maybe my story of the unexpected peahen visit will remind you that spring can bring many gifts and surprises.
I look forward to hearing what comes your way…so have a good weekend, breathe deep, and then simply exhale!