Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Return of The Captain

My apologies if you've read about some of this before, but here's a quick resume for newcomers.

A couple of years ago a peahen appeared in Don's garden, across the road. He fed it every day and very gradually it became tamer, though always keeping a respectful distance. In time it started appearing over our side of the road, at first on top of Don's shed and under the roadside hedge. It took things very gradually, but in the end it started visiting the chicken pen at mealtimes. Now it spends a fair bit of its time around our poultry, though it still goes back to Don's most days for a feed there too.

Last year it even laid five eggs in the long grass behind the oldest ash tree. The poor girl sat tight on those eggs for an eternity. They were never going to hatch. She had never had the company of a peacock. But that wasn't for want of trying. She made the most delightful trumpet noises every day.

And so to earlier this year. We took some people up on an offer of rehoming some Muscovy Ducks, but they wanted to keep back a pair to keep their male peacock company. When I got
home I got to thinking. Would it be possible to get hold of a peacock from somewhere? It would make a  wonderful 50th birthday present for Sue (to go with her shed and lemon tree - smallholder's presents!)
I looked on the interweb and found that male peacocks go for about 70 quid each! More trawling and I came up with a young bird (so no full tail for a couple more years) for £30, but it was over in Derbyshire, quite a drive.
So a tentative enquiry went out on the Smallholders Facebook page. It always amazes me what people ask for on Facebook groups... and they always end up getting it. They even often then have the cheek to ask for it to be delivered too! And I always think "I wish I'd thought to ask for that".

Anyway, we were offered a fully resplendent male peacock for £30. We just had to wait until it could be penned. A week later and we got the phone call to come and pick up our peacock from a lovely couple down near Lakenheath. It took a couple of attempts to catch him, during which he shed a handful of tail feathers, but finally we had him. He was unceremoniously straight-jacketed into a feed bag and loaded into the back of the car, where he sat quietly for the entire duration of the journey home. We were now peacock owners, a privilege which in the past was reserved for royalty.

But what to do with him?

If we just let him go, he'd be sure to make a run for it. I had visions of him just running across the fields never to be seen again. So we had rapidly constructed a pen for him. It wasn't luxurious but there was enough space for him to pace up and down and he had a perch to roost on. We hoped to be able to catch the female and confine them together for a while. Once they had bonded we figured we'd be able to let them out and hope they stay around.

But the plan did not go well. Our peahen proved uncatchable. Any approach closer than about 2 metres and she would simply hop the fence and slink off. Poor Captain, for that was the name we gave him, spent his days pacing up and down in his pen while we procrastinated about what to do.

Eventually last week, almost a month since we got him, there seemed to be a relationship striking up. For the first time, instead of just simply gracefully wandering past, our peahen was hanging around the outside of Captain's pen.

So late in the afternoon the decision was made to open the gate and see what happened. The best outcome would be that she wandered into the pen and we quickly shut them both in together for a while to bond.
She approached the open gate, saw Captain for the first time without fence in the way, and thought strongly about going in... before turning around and walking away. But she had captured Captain's attention enough for him to tentatively approach the open gate. He thought about it a while and then he was through. Freedom! Open space!
This was it. The big moment. Possibly the last time we would see Captain, and maybe even the girl too.
Captain slowly headed up along the path through the orchard with our peahen in tow. So far things were going well. They were clearly showing more than a passing interest in each other. She was our lure, all we had to keep him from heading off into the big, wide world.
Captain carried on walking, up into the young woodland, further and further away until he reached almost the end of our land. The girl stayed with him and we were helpless. All we could do was watch and hope.
Captain wandered through into Don's field. Ahead of him lay a vast expanse of space. But then he turned around and headed slowly back toward us, lady peahen still in tow. Could it be that, after a brief exploration, he had decided to come back to where he knew?
But our hopes didn't last too long as he crossed into Don's field again and this time broke into a trot across the field, leaving the peahen behind him. He headed all the way back across the field to the roadside hedge.
My fear now wasn't just that he would disappear, but that he would wander into the road and meet an untimely and messy end. For the cars approach that bend fast and wouldn't be able to see him until the last moment.
I headed round to the other side of the hedge and successfully headed him off. I tried to push him back towards safety but he doubled back round and ran for it. Before I knew it he was through the hedge and wandering around on the road! If a car came round the corner now it would surely be curtains for him. He dilly dallied in the road but finally made it to the other side. He ducked under the hedge and that was that.

Goodbye Captain.

Never to be seen again. I thought he might stay around Don's house where there are more big trees, more shelter and a daily feed of grain, for lady peahen still regularly crosses the road and spends time over there. But nothing. Not a sign. Every time we saw Don we hoped he might have news. But nothing. What a shame. But it had been worth a try. What will be will be.

A week went by with no news. I was down to about a 10% (and diminishing) hope that Captain would some day return.
Then yesterday, while I was planting my onion sets, I thought I heard in the distance the call of a peacock. But it could be the female. She wasn't around on the farm and she does call, especially at this time of year when she is coming up to lay.
I put it to the back of my mind.
Captain was gone. It wouldn't be worth another try. Lady peahen would be on her own for ever.

In my last post I talked about how smallholding can turn round and bite you. I talked about that sinking feeling in my heart when I found one our lambs lying dead in the straw.
Well the opposite can happen too. So when Sue shouted to me yesterday I didn't know what to expect. I couldn't hear her over the noise of the geese squabbling. She shouted again. "THE PEACOCK'S BACK!"

And there he was. Captain. I instantly knew it was him by the large white patch on his rump where he shed those tail feathers. My heart leapt. What a lovely surprise.

Obviously lady peahen had been too much temptation for him. He had gone looking for a better life but returned here. What's more, the peahen was with him, very much with him.
We kept our distance and observed from afar, but they spent the next hour or so together around the chicken pens. Captain even went back into his old pen. Then later into the chicken pen, which meant that he is capable of hopping a 6 foot high fence. Good news for his survival prospects.

Now I don't know whether or not this is coincidence, but after I'd planted my onion sets I took the netting off the roof of the pen, leaving it open to the sky. I needed the netting to protect the onions from the inquisitive attention of the ducks. Surely he hadn't spent a week watching?

We left the pair to it and came inside. Later, when Sue went outside, they'd gone. I'm still not holding my hopes too high, for all sorts of things could happen, but I'm a lot more hopeful that we may indeed end up with a pair of peafowl.

This morning the peahen is sat on Don's shed. No sign of the male so far.


  1. Has Captain been spotted again since John? Hope lambs are all doing well! Emma

  2. Lambs are doing well and will hopefully be going outside tomorrow. Captain Peacock seems to have moved onto the farm with Lady Peahen. Fingers crossed.

  3. Great news John! Have a lovely weekend!


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