There are peacocks in Florida?
For over six decades, one of the top attractions on Longboat Key was the party of peacocks that roamed about the Longbeach Village area on the northern tip of the island. The story behind the Longboat Key peacocks’ popularity and their eventual removal has become something of a local legend.
Although Longboat Key wildlife is diverse and intriguing, the flock of peacocks that roamed freely stole much of the limelight. Peacocks have a long and interesting history with human beings, being renowned for their grace and beauty for many centuries. They were formerly kept by the maharajas in India as status symbols, and they were even used as symbols of immortality in early Christian art.
The term peacock refers to the males of the species who are known for their brightly colored turquoise, bright blue, gold and green colored feathers that fan outward when during their mesmerizing courtship dance. The females of the species are called peahens and choose their mate based on the brightness, color, and quality of the peacock’s feather train.
Around the 1950s, a couple who lived on the island received a peacock/peahen pair that somehow got loose on the island. Finding the island to be a suitable habitat for many snowbirds and other visitors do, they decided to stick around and mate. This original pair eventually spawned several generations of peacocks which ended up totaling between 80 to 150 birds.
A local attraction became a local pest
Peacocks are known to snack on just about anything, and the peacocks on Longboat Key discovered plenty of food, from oats and corn to spaghetti and Doritos.
The birds soon realized that they could get just about any food they wanted from the visitors to the island who would frequently stop to see them, and the area essential became an unchecked petting zoo.
Although tourists and visitors to Longboat Key certainly enjoyed seeing the beautiful birds in person and feeding them, over the years they become more and more of a nuisance to local residents. They complained that the birds were pooping all over their lawn, porches and homes, and that they would fly on the roofs of their homes and wake them up at 5:00 a.m.
Peacocks also have a very noisy high pitched “meow” sound which they use during the dawn and late evening, and especially often during the mating season, further adding to the disturbance. Tourists gawked at them, took photographs and jammed up traffic.
Vehicle damage from the peacocks was common. One resident complained that a peacock scratched the hood of her $55,000 Mercedes. She added that tourists would walk right up to the steps of her home if a peacock was on her porch, seemingly without any regard for her privacy. Another peacock took a chunk out of a resident’s tail light.
The Longboat Key Commission voted to remove them
Residents eventually had enough and took their complaints to the Longboat Key Commission which voted in June of 2015 to remove and relocate the peacocks from the island at a cost of $25,000, with the exception of 12 males. All efforts were made to keep the birds safe during their catch and release.
If you’re wondering why the price tag was so high, it’s because the colorful birds are quite clever, with some of them being particularly adept at avoiding traps. At a price of $150 to $200 per bird, professional trappers were give an extra bit of incentive. Although trapping started in January of 2016, it has taken several months to lower the population.
Trapping them is an extensive and time consuming process. The traps are netted and about the size of an above-ground swimming pool. The birds were coaxed using fruit or other food and then a door was shut behind them. Trappers then avoid the peacock’s sharp beaks and claws by grabbing them by the legs.
When the birds are transported to a new location after being caged for 30 to 60 days. The long caging duration is necessary in order to keep them from simply going back to Longboat Key.
It’s not the first time that residents have attempted to remove their brightly colored bird neighbors from the island, but past efforts failed when the birds quickly wised up to their methods.
This time around, the trappers are authorized to use tranquilizers if necessary, and up until now many of the peacocks and peahens have been safely removed.
Plenty of other wildlife to see on Longboat Key
Although you likely won’t be catching a glimpse of any peacocks anytime soon on the island, other than a few clever stragglers, you’ll still be able to view an impressive array of local natural Longboat Key wildlife at the many nature preserves, parks, and beaches.
On the key itself you can visit Joan M. Durante Community Park and Quick Point Nature Preserve, with Coquina Beach right across the bridge to Anna Maria Island on the north end of the key.
The Joan M. Durante Community Park at 5550 Gulf of Mexico Dr. has scenic views of the Sarasota Bay, and it is one of the few places where you can bring dogs. The park sits on 32 acres of hammock forest, man-made lagoons, mangrove forest, and wetlands with multiple shaded boardwalks and crushed shell trails to explore. You’ll get a chance to see many local birds and native tree species there including egrets, herons, ospreys, pelicans, spoonbills, and cormorants.
Another top wildlife viewing destination is the Quick Point Nature Preserve on the southern end of the island at 100 Gulf of Mexico Dr. where you’ll get to see mangrove forests, tidal lagoons and a wide range of local species, especially ospreys and wading birds. A man-made tidal lagoon gives you the opportunity to see conchs, whelks, juvenile crabs, various types of small fish.
Some visitors also get a lucky glimpse of dolphins in the Sarasota Bay from the lookouts. The preserve is located on 34 acres and there is no admission fee. And of course, there are many beach access points throughout the key which also offer excellent opportunities to see local birds, dolphins, and fish species.
On top of this, the Sarasota/Bradenton area has many other expansive nature parks, beaches, and protected areas which are open to the public for free or a small admission fee.
So although the infamous Longboat Key peacock invasion is experiencing an inevitable population decline, you’ll always find plenty of natural beauty and wonder to explore on Longboat Key and in the surrounding area!