MARVEL – Residents of Marvel, the unincorporated 68-person community south of Hesperus, are brooding over a flock of peafowl that live in the town. The birds are noisy, aggressive and dirty, they say.
But Wendy Kaye, the keeper of the flock, says her neighbors fail to recognize what the birds add to the community and insists she is not asking too much of them.
The conflict started with neighbors taking shots at the colorful avians with BB guns, releasing dogs on them or hitting them with cars. But when animal control officials were called in, questions arose about the categorization of the birds: Are they livestock, an exotic animal or a domestic animal? The confusion left the problem caught between enforcement agencies.
Angry residents eventually took the problem to the La Plata County commissioners at an “On the Road” event in July. The issue has been the topic of conversation at several discussions with county officials.
A month later, Kaye was cited by La Plata County Animal Control for “failure to provide proper supervision, safe confinement and necessary care.”
A spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office said deputies have responded to a handful of calls stemming from neighbors trespassing on Kaye’s property to collect feathers.
Kaye has kept peacocks on her property for 12 years, she said. At one point, she had as many as 100 birds, but cut back to about 50 after deciding that was “too much.”
Sitting in a barn surrounded by containers of the birds’ fallen plumage, Kaye shares a sip of Pepsi with a 4-month-old orphan bird she is parenting.
Around her property, peacocks and peahens camouflage themselves into the wild grasses, flittingly fleeing from approaching humans. Kaye’s flock is down to just 22 birds now, after she moved 15 of her most prized pets up to her mother’s ranch in Wyoming after the citation.
The birds are her pets, but also a business. She makes bouquets out of the peacock’s shimmering tail feathers and sometimes sells the birds themselves. Kaye also said tourists would stop through Marvel to see her free-roaming peacocks.
“I tried to make an opportunity out of the whole thing, to make something good for Marvel,” she said.
Her neighbors, for the most part, do not see it that way.
“They’re everywhere,” said Larry Opsal, who lives about a half mile from Kaye. “They’re in everybody’s yard. They’re in everybody's trees. They (poop) everywhere. They’re a pain in the (butt).”
Opsal was one of 15 Marvel residents to sign the petition submitted to the Board of County Commissioners in July.
“The peacocks are a public health concern as well as a nuisance,” it read. “They call all night long over our homes and have made it very difficult for local residents to sleep.”
Opsal confirmed he can hear the birds’ calls from his own home “plain as day.”
Kaye recognizes that the birds are, as she puts it, “one of the loudest things on the face of the earth.” But she puts the responsibility on her neighbors, arguing that the birds are only loud when they feel threatened.
“I used to go around every year to neighbors and tell them if the birds are getting into anything, spray them with the water hose,” Kaye said. “ … I told them they’re welcome to tell me what they’re doing, I’ll try to correct it. Sometimes they got to get put in birdie jail. If they’re a nuisance to the point that they need to be culled, I’d cull them out.”
Some of Kaye’s neighbor feel this ask is unreasonable.
“It’s not our place to be chasing peacocks out of our yards and spraying water on them trying to shoo them out – that’s just an everyday thing,” said one neighbor who lives down the block.
An official working to resolve the situation, who spoke on background given that a citation has already been issued, said the hope is to find a “constructive” solution.
But that may be difficult.
The birds do poorly in enclosed spaces; they become aggressive, anxious and often fight. Kaye has caged a handful of her peacocks as she prepares to move them in order to remedy the source of the citation, but says that has only been possible because the breeding season just ended, rendering the birds unusually docile.
If the birds are not kept in individual cages, it is recommended that the enclosure offer at least 250 square feet per bird.
Whether the peafowl have to be penned was also a question that stymied enforcement at first. Colorado is a “fence-out” state, meaning livestock can roam and property owners must erect fences if they wish to keep livestock out.
Despite Kaye’s initial claims, peafowl are designated not as livestock, but as domestic animals.
Kaye is resistant to containing the birds in a cage – but keeping them on her property is no easy task either. Peafowl can jump 8 feet up off the ground, and Kaye is resistant to clipping their wings because neighbors’ dogs have attacked her birds in the past.
“It’s not been a super straightforward case,” said the official.
Kaye will appear in court on Sept. 27 for a hearing stemming from the citation, but she has yet to figure out what she will do with the doting juvenile fowl that cannot leave her side.