Al Batt: A peacock doesn’t look that good wearing cargo shorts

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

You couldn’t sneak up on us.

On our farm, we had worthy watchdogs. One was a dog that doubled as a cattle dog. The second was a flock of guinea fowl. The babies are called keets. It’s claimed that guinea fowl eat ticks, Japanese beetles, earwigs and grasshoppers. I know they loudly announce visitors, warning poultry and humans. A relative removed his hearing aids and claimed the only thing he could hear were guinea fowl, whose idea of danger didn’t always match ours. The females give a two-note call buck-wheat, buck-wheat or come-back, come-back or good-luck, good-luck. Both sexes make a monosyllabic check, chirp or yelp that sounds like a machine gun when repeated quickly and indefinitely. Each guinea tries to be louder than the others and can kick up a ruckus. The third watchdog was a parcel of peafowl and that’s not peas gone bad.

Al Batt

I visited King Ranch in Texas, the largest ranch in the US at 825,000 acres, which makes it bigger than Rhode Island (776,957 acres). I was one of 50,001 annual visitors to the ranch near Kingsville. If it hadn’t been for me, there would have been only 50,000. It had 35,000 head of cattle, a couple of hundred horses and a muster, ostentation, pride or party of peafowl. The ranch also owned a John Deere dealership, but I was interested in the peafowl. Peafowl may sound like a Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with peas, but it isn’t. The male is a peacock, the female a peahen and the babies are peachicks. The history of the ranch showed it had a love for cattle, but detested rattlesnakes and believed peafowl controlled the rattler population.

Like the King Ranch, I raised peafowl, which might have made me a peabrain, but I lived to tell of it. Peafowl are related to pheasants. I’d wanted to give my wife a nice birthday pheasant, but went with peafowl instead. I’m a fan of Flannery O’Connor who raised peafowl, so it seemed right. The woman I bought them from had priced them to sell. She said she was sorry to see them go, but she didn’t act as if she were sorry to see them go. The peacocks have a flashy plumage and a haughty avian strut. Aesop portrayed them as vain and arrogant. Peahens are less colorful, allowing them to blend in when nesting or hanging around sports bars. The peacocks have iridescent feathers with long tails (4 to 5 feet) called trains, featuring shimmering eyespots. Both sexes wear crowns. I owned the blue or Indian peafowl, the national bird of India, which in the Hindu religion is a sacred bird because its tail symbolizes the eyes of the gods. The male fans his tail to tell a female, “I’m your biggest fan.” “Who saw a peacock dance in the woods” is a Hindi proverb meaning something beautiful or boastful has no meaning if not made public or understood by the audience. He has a visual appeal and it’s difficult to stop looking at that striking tail. I’ve found the easiest way for me to stop staring is to imagine the magnificent bird wearing cargo shorts.

Peafowl call like someone yelling for help, are impatient birds that can be testy and don’t make ideal emotional support animals. They can be cantankerous and in need of an anger management class, as is much of the world. One of my charges fought with its reflection in my car’s door.

I had a Chihuahua at the same time I had the peafowl. The tiny dog’s name was Sancho. He’d tried being a cowdog but failed. The cattle didn’t respect him. The ornery peafowl stalked him. They wouldn’t do anything to Sancho as long as he didn’t bark at them. I advised Sancho he should button his lip and the peafowl would become bored and leave him alone, but if a tree fell in the woods in California and there was no one to hear it, Sancho barked. They didn’t shadow him long before he broke down and barked. He was pecked for his efforts.

Peafowl are omnivores that eat plants, berries, seeds, insects, lizards, rodents and snakes, but not Chihuahuas that refuse to stifle themselves.

I remain thankful for that.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.