LONGBOAT KEY -- About a hundred peacocks running around the village on the north end of Longboat Key are about to find new homes after at least 50 years on the island, thanks to about $25,000 from the town.
To some residents, the peacocks are a charming part of their community that makes it special. To others, they're an intolerable nuisance.
"If people on your block feed them, then they come to your property a lot. And then you're living in a barnyard," said James Braha, a resident of the village for the past 20 years who has helped trap the peacocks in the past. "Wherever they're standing -- on your lawn, your porch, wherever -- that's their bathroom. You'll have poop in your yard 365 days a year, and they'll fly on your roof and wake you up at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, every day."
Residents like Braha took their complaints to the Longboat Key Commission, which voted in June to hire trappers to remove all but 10 to 12 males from the island. Residents and city officials estimate there are anywhere from 80 to 150 peacocks in the small community, but it's difficult to get an exact count.
The town commission is finalizing a contract with Nuisance Wildlife Removal, a local trapping organization, which will be paid between $150 and $200 per peacock to trap the birds. Based on that and an initiation fee, the commission will vote on Monday whether to transfer $25,000 from the commission contingency fund to a peafowl remove and relocate account.
Braha said the high cost is necessary, because the birds are incredibly difficult to trap. Braha worked with trappers in 2011 to try to thin the population, but said due to low pay the company wasn't very successful.
"You think they're easy to trap, and they're not. The dumb birds will go into the traps, but the smart birds won't," Braha said. "Now, with 20 to 30 grand, the trappers will have more incentive to get them."
The trapping will likely begin in January and could take several months. Mark Richardson, parks and recreation manager of Longboat Key, said because the birds are so hard to trap it's impossible to say how long it will take.
"It just depends on how many birds we can trap. As you can see, there are birds all over the place, and if we're still seeing females and birds then we obviously have more than 10 or 12," Richardson said. "There's no really set timeline, and it's probably going to be an ongoing thing where you trap for three or four weeks, take a break, then come back and do it all over again. Birds are smart, like any other animal, and they'll start not coming around and we'll have to move the traps."
The trapping company doesn't have to tell the town where it is sending the peacocks once they're trapped. Richardson says he's not sure where they'll be sent, only that it would be a "sanctioned place," such as farms and areas with large, open properties that want birds.
Besides the poop and loud shrieking noises at night, residents complain that the peacocks slow traffic, eat plants and damage property, particularly cars, because they like to peck at the shiny chrome.
"Just this week I was cleaning my front porch, where peacocks had been, and it's not easy to clean up," said Peggy Watkins, who has lived in the village for 15 years. "I've also had my car damaged twice, and one time we were able to get it out with a rubbing compound, but the other time the peacock actually took a chunk out by the taillight. It was just a little chunk, but a chunk nonetheless. So I've started covering my car because I don't have a place to put it away from them."
Watkins said she moved to the village from Longboat Harbor, and she would ride her bike through the village partially to see the peacocks. But though she likes them and thinks they're pretty, there are too many of them now to manage.
But not all residents mind the nuisances that come with the peacocks. Bill Chable, who lived on Anna Maria Island for 14 years before moving to the village with his wife, partially because they liked the peacocks, said dealing with the peacocks is no different from dealing with seagulls and other birds. And though he admitted the peacocks are loud and messy, he said it isn't difficult to get used to it.
"It's not a big deal. They don't like it because people come in and park their cars, and traffic slows down," Chable said. "But it's all about your appreciation for wildlife. The annoyances are the same if you had 200 Canadian geese here -- they would do the exact same thing, just louder. ... But we love them."
Bill and his wife, Judy Chable, said they would prefer trapping a large portion of the population but leaving a few females. That way it isn't as much of a nuisance but the peacock population would still remain a part of the community over the years.
"It just feels like there was more room for compromise here," Judy Chable said.
Braha said that wouldn't work either. Usually peacocks live about 20 to 30 years, he said, but due to people feeding the local peacocks they live for about 50 or 60 years.
"You could take 40 to 50 away and then everybody's happy for a while, but then five to six females lay 10 to 15 eggs and you've got a problem again," Braha said. "If you don't get rid of all the females it's pointless."
There are even debates on how long the birds have been here. No one in the area seems to remember a time when they weren't on the island, and Richardson and Chable said the birds have probably been there, "forever." And people like Chable and Janet Schaefer, a seasonal resident of the village since 1979, argue that moving birds who have lived in the area before humans were here is wrong.
But Braha said they aren't native to the island at all, and were actually the result of a wedding present gone awry.
"A couple got two peacocks as a wedding gift in the 1960s and kept them in cages. But then a hurricane came and they didn't know what to do, so they let them out," Braha said. "So from those two, we've got the huge number we have now."
Because they aren't native, the peacocks have no natural predator in the area, Braha said, which means humans are the only ones to keep the population from continuing to grow.
But no matter the argument, to some village residents the peacocks are an irreplaceable part of their community.
"I love the little magic about them. Every year I think they're wonderful to look at," Schaefer said. "The kids like them, the tourists like them, and it just makes the Village special."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby