Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Perils of Peadom

It’s tough, being a peacock in South Dakota. First of all, in your native Indonesia, you'd never have to contend with these brutal winters. Second, in your native forest habitat, you'd have excellent cover from predators. Here on the prairie, when you walk the pasture trails, it's practically a catwalk--the local coyotes, turkey buzzards, and over-eager pheasant hunters might as well be sitting at chipped tables, slurping down gin fizzes, and waving dollar bills.

Life can be pearilous here on the Row. For example, we went into the summer breeding season with 18 adult peafowl. At the high point of the summer, I counted 11 new chicks, for a total of 29 birds. Then, in late September, peas started disappearing—our neighbor says there's a female coyote living down the road, someone mentioned rogue mountain lions in South Dakota, or maybe the turkey buzzards were desperate. Whatever it was, it left two huge piles of pea feathers in the north 40 shelterbelt. So we’re down to 15 adults and 3 chicks. Maybe 18 is the critical mass threshold, the point beyond which the Row can’t sustain the pea-pulation. Maybe you really CAN’T fool Mother Nature.

Our peas know the seasons are changing—it dipped below 40 here overnight. The flock is having a harder time finding tender greens under the crunchy leaf carpet, so they literally huddle on the patio in the mornings, honking & whining, until I go out in my pajamas and toss out a bucket of mixed corn, wild bird seed, and Walmart cat food (while singing “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins…go head…just picture that). I try to feed them only every two or three days (my version of being a hardass prairie marm), but that pea-pleading breaks my tender heart.

The flock is still sleeping together in the Roosting Tree in our back yard. Ray will soon put a brooder heat lamp up in the rafters of the open-sided loafing shed (peas won’t sleep on the ground or willingly go inside an enclosed building), but the peas won’t roost in the rafters unless (1) night temps fall to around 10 below zero, (2) a blizzard blows through, or (3) wind speeds exceed 35-40. And I’ll soon start my biweekly ritual of hauling gallons of hot water out to the bird baths to thaw the ice.

This flock, now thoroughly inbred, has been here on this property for at least a quarter-century, long before we got here. They’ve left Indonesia behind. I worry constantly about them, but they’ve adapted (probably better than we have). They’re Prairie Peacocks. Pavo Crisatus Prairicus. I suspect they run out to the pasture after breakfast and roll on their backs, wings folded around their fat bellies, guffawing hysterically at what a rube I am. So Ray and I will head to town today, to watch the Quad State marching band competition, and to pick up 50-lb bags of corn, wild bird food, and Walmart cat food. Because as my friend CB likes to say, “If we don’t take care of them, they’ll die horrible, miserable deaths, right?”

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