When rumors fly

An elusive peacock creates some colorful small-town excitement

WESTMINSTER — Getting into my car first thing one recent morning, not quite awake, I sensed something shoot past my head with a huge whoosh, landing in the trees and underbrush just on the other side of the driveway.

I woke up some more. (A large bird coming out of a tree and flying close to your head can have that effect on you.) I wondered if it was a wild turkey. As soon as I got to work, I emailed my daughter, who was almost as excited as I was.

When I got home from work that afternoon, I noticed that Pete and Tyler were cutting down those trees I'd asked them to get rid of.

“Have you seen the peacock?” asked Pete.

“Peacock?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Tyler. “It's been hanging around over by Tom's sugarhouse. Then we saw it a little while ago further down back.” He nodded toward the east.

“Wow! I'll bet that's what I saw this morning,” I said. “I thought it was a turkey!”

We walked down the hill but saw no sign of any large birds.

That evening I called my neighbor Linda to ask about it since she keeps track of events on the hill. She'd been hearing stories of sightings, too, and she was anxious to have one of her own.

“It's been around for a few days,” she said. “Please call me if you see it, and I'll come right down!”

* * *

The next day, when I got home from work, there it was, right there at the end of my driveway, statuesque and proud. I called Linda, and she showed up.

She took five long minutes to get here - long enough for the peacock to disappear into shrubbery as I followed along behind, snapping blurry pictures, and too long for Linda to get here to see it.

Still, I showed Linda the pictures, and we concluded that it was a female: a peahen, not a peacock. It was still very impressive.

Then I got to wondering where it had come from and where it would go when winter arrived.

Peacocks are not native to this area. I didn't know if they are actually native to any area, but I figured they must be. They had to originate somewhere.

I knew people kept these birds, but I did not know who those people might be. I started worrying about this particular peahen as I began to see her regularly and hear her wild calls at daybreak.

“Peacocks like to live in groups,” Linda told me. “This one must be lonely.”

“And she's going to be cold, too, if we can't save her by wintertime,” I said.

* * *

The next morning, I was looking up the number for VINS - the Vermont Institute of Natural Science - at Linda's suggestion, when I realized it might first be a good idea to try to find where she had escaped from. We had experienced a gigantic rain and wind storm within a couple of days of her appearance, so it was likely that she was local. I called the town clerk.

“Wait, let me ask around the office.”

I heard muttering in the background.

“Here, talk to Doreen. She may have an idea.”

Doreen did have idea. She thought there was someone who kept peacocks on the Interstate 91 access road but had no contact information for him.

“But his sister-in-law works at the Westminster Station convenience store. You could start there,” she said.

So I did start there. The sister-in-law said she'd find out if he was missing any of his birds and get back to me.

In the meantime, both Linda and I posted pictures on Facebook asking for peacock suggestions and referrals. I was beginning to think of myself as the peacock detective.

That day when I got home, the peahen was back next door at Tom's sugarhouse. I called Linda but she wasn't home. Pete and Tyler were driving by and they stopped to look, too. They thought they'd try to catch her by cornering her and coming from both sides, but she easily flew out of their reach. How would anyone catch her, I wondered. Was she doomed by her own ability to be free?

Tom thought he'd seen a second one heading into the woods across the road, and he thought he spotted another ahead of her.

* * *

The next morning, there were no more deep screeches waking me at dawn.

At work, I got a call from the breeder's sister-in-law who told me there were none missing from his brood. Darn, I had been hoping that would be the solution.

The next day, Linda called to see if I'd seen the peahen lately. I hadn't, and apparently no one else had, either. I told her about Tom's theory of a second one.

“You think there really is another one?” I asked.

“Well, I haven't seen or heard of any, but I have seen a turkey around. If a bird were disappearing into the woods followed by a peahen, it could well be mistaken for another peahen.

“Just so long as she's got someone, it makes me feel better. I didn't want her to be lonely.”

I didn't want her to be lonely, either.

And as the days have passed, with no more sign of the peahen, I've decided to believe in a fairy-tale ending: that she and the turkey have run off to live together happily ever after in the freedom of the forest.

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