I am a mom through and through, and not just to my two kids Kodiak and Cassidy, who turned out to be wonderful human adults. I’m also mom to an array of rescued animals. The one on my mind right now is my awkward “pterodactyl son,” Rad the Peacock. Rad is short for Radagast, the brown wizard in the Lord of the Rings.
Rad is an odd duck. I mean peacock. I was sitting home minding my own business in June 2014 in Southern California when he was brought as a feral baby, or peachick, to my doorstep via a friend of a friend. My word-of-mouth animal rescue I created in my backyard has had numerous critters dropped off over the years, even though I never give out my number and I don’t advertise. It’s just a backyard thing. In college during summers I worked for Animal Control in the City of Redondo Beach and learned too much about saving critter lives and rescue, and so hundreds of animals of every type imaginable have come through the gate at our humble little “Pixie Dust Ranch” over the years. The baby peacock was just another dropped-off orphan that needed some help.
The community of Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County is where I was raised, and where I moved back to when my kids were young, to be nearer to family after having Kodiak and Cassidy here in Mendocino County. In Palos Verdes (PV), Indian blue peacocks are numerous, feral, and considered nuisance birds. That’s because they enjoy gazing at and pecking at their own gorgeous reflection in shiny automobiles, and pooping nasty ‘cupcakes’ on the sidewalk. I was the only baby peacock rescuer in PV at the time Rad came to us. And someone figured that out and brought me a peachick in a shoebox (not my first, or last).
I didn’t expect the hatchling to live but he eventually thrived after a couple of near-death moments including an infection and a seizure. He lived at first in my bedroom near our other bird rescues, Luna the white parakeet and Penelope Pigeon (a ring-necked dove). Later when he moved outside, our single rescue chicken named Chicken became Rad’s weird auntie. We built Rad an enclosure outside my bedroom window so he could still hang out with Penelope (Penny) and Luna through the window screen. At night, because of our coyote problem, I carried Rad from his aviary to the garage where we had a “doggy dormitory” for our Colorado Mountain Dog named Drinian, Chicken, and a night perch for Rad. He was tamer than most peacocks because of the daily carrying and holding, and coupled with the unusual fact that because he imprinted on me, I had to travel with him, so he was used to being wherever I was, and soon learned to become a roadtripping peacock. To date Rad has been to five states, traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in about 10 different vehicles, including three skoolies, or schoolbus RVs, and he even lived part time on a boat in San Rafael. Rad knows how to use the luggage rack at Motel 6 as a night perch. He prefers the desert to the city, and recognizes the In ‘n’ Out logo, and says a word we have translated to ‘fries’ when he sees the big In ‘n’ Out golden arrow.
Because Rad is tamer than most peacocks but had some health issues from his early traumas and couldn’t be returned to the wild, he became an education bird. I took him to schools and Boys and Girls Clubs and many public events where he represented as “The Peacock Ambassador of Palos Verdes,” a title given to him by the local botanic garden powers-that-be. Rad had an ongoing gig with a PV author, Mary Jo Hazard, who wrote a book called The Peacocks of Palos Verdes. I’d take Rad to classrooms when she was there sharing her book with the students. Rad was a dazzling show-and-tell icon. We built a “RadMobile” out of a red wagon with an aviary and perch added on top to get him and his 6-foot-tail, or train, from the car to the classroom and back. It’s amazing what weird stuff you come up with when you have to reinvent transport for a huge colorful bird.
Speaking of Rad’s train, that’s the point I’m getting at. Rad is living here in Philo now, retired from his active school tours and roadtrips. Every year like clockwork since we moved back to Mendocino County, Rad sheds his tail on August 1st. This year, that date came and went, and his tail is still intact. I have been like a nervous mother hen (sorry) hovering over him lately. He seems fine in every other way, except that stubborn tail is still trailing defiantly behind him.
Rad’s life is different here in Mendocino. He quit traveling with me after our failed attempt to make a cross country trip in Soulshine Bus, a.k.a. The Flaming Green Pickle Bus, our current schoolbus RV. (There’s a 2019 AVA essay about that bus and how it was stolen for 10 days by a crazed bus mechanic. What wasn’t elaborated on in that article, because that story was odd enough on its own, is that I bought the bus to travel in with Rad to accommodate his long tail during summer). If you are curious, and you read that article, mentally add a peacock to the bus and all the other mentioned vehicles, because Rad was right there with us in the passenger seat.
But I digress. Every day when I have gone out to check on Rad lately, chat with him, and feed him, I grow more uptight because every day his tail is stubbornly there, still attached to his body. Peacocks lose their long tails then grow them back annually, usually in late Spring after mating season. Since poor Rad has never mated and in fact has barely met any female peacocks, he is not really growing his tail for any reason except … Darwinism.
Now that we live in Philo and away from other birds of his kind, he has no cues about mating season or other timelines. Not that he is the only Philo peacock. We saw one in our front yard one day just walking through, checking out the competition. You could have knocked me over with a peacock feather upon seeing that feral one strut on by, walk up the hill toward the ridge, and disappear after checking out Rad and apparently deciding, since he lives in an enclosed area, Rad is not a threat. I was gobsmacked. We learned later that rogue peacock lives up the hill at the temple, but visits many of our Philo neighbors. That peacock was obviously unimpressed by our shenanigans and his tame brother bird, so on he went, and has never returned.
I’m only concerned about Rad’s health, even though Rad’s tail feathers are a hot commodity. I was selling stuff at the Boonville and Fort Bragg flea markets for a while, and Rad’s tail feathers were my best seller. I sold out! But this year is as dry as the local streams and rivers. And no one can tell me what to do if the tail doesn’t naturally come out on its own. I guess that just doesn’t happen. It’s nature. Peacocks lose their tails annually and that’s that. The whole tail takes about a week to fall out, and then the big blue pheasants are compact and can travel in the van instead of needing the 35 foot long skoolie. (Most people don’t know this first hand, but that’s a fact.)
I have tried to not be overly concerned about Rad’s tail the past few weeks, even though I can’t find many answers to this problem other than” add more protein to his diet.” (He’s a fussy eater, except for In ‘n’ Out fries). It makes sense that peacock in Spanish is “el pavo real,” which I have been told, translates to “royal turkey.” And that sounds about right, since Rad certainly views himself as royalty and is rather a demanding and impatient being. I do my best to wait on him and cater to his unusual needs. I used to say “I’m Rad’s driver,” instead of calling myself his mom back when he had numerous public appearances. Rad being “almost famous” means he occasionally does “interviews” for things like books (Why Peacocks? by Sean Flynn most recently), and articles, like the time he was featured in a Los Angeles Magazine expose called “Who is Killing the Feral Peacocks of Palos Verdes?” by Mike Kessler. Because Rad has become well known (for a peacock), the pressure is huge to make sure Rad is always, well, rad.
Update: Finally, after waiting and waiting, it happened this morning. There were about five long tail feathers on the ground, gleaming teal and blue and green in the morning sunlight. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw the beautiful mess. One less thing to worry about. I realize my problems are often unusual because of my Pixie Dust Ranch rescues, which over the years have ranged from pygmy hedgehogs to hermit crabs, even an Asian walking catfish named Loch: I’ve seen it all and also, have allowed it into my home if it needed me. Now I’m no longer bringing in rescue animals, and the elderly ones that moved here with me that have been a staple of our rescue for many years are starting to gently fade away due to old age. They are all winding down, and Pixie Dust Ranch will be just a memory within a few short years, but dear Rad, at age 7, likely has a decade or more of life left in him. I can see clearly in my future that I will still be caring for him, continuing to create his social media posts (#radthepeacock), and sometimes still become overly protective and worried about my awkward peacock son.