Volunteers to pull together to build pens for James farms peacocks

After roaming free on Cedar Neck for an estimated 15 years, the peacocks at James Farm have been captured and penned.

At the beginning of August, the Delaware Department of Agriculture notified peacock owner Diane Turner of complaints about the birds. Another complaint compelled the State to order that Turner lock up the peacocks or pay a daily fine.

Turner owns Hi Point Farm and was given lifetime rights to live on the 150-acre James Farm when the late Mary Lighthipe donated the centuries-old property to Sussex County in the 1990s for environmental education and recreational activities. Turner, her horses and her dogs often enjoy the trails at the farm.

The peacocks have also roamed freely across James Farm and the entire Cedar Neck area in Ocean View since their parents first arrived. Peafowl fly short distances, allowing them to roost high in pine trees at night and return to earth in the morning. Because they don’t migrate, they seek shelter in trees in winter and in big storms.

The Department of Agriculture received a verbal complaint from a neighbor that peacocks were in her yard, scaring people and leaving droppings behind, according to Dan Shortridge, chief of community relations. Another neighbor also called with similar concerns.

“They’re very calm, mellow birds,” said Turner, who admitted that the birds wander and defecate while they do, but emphasized that she has never found them to be antagonistic. “If you even walked up to one, they’d probably run, so no one else has ever experienced the situation that she described, Turner said.

“They do not take away from any of the natural habitats for any of our native birds around this area,” said Turner, describing peacocks’ avoidance of osprey platforms, duck ponds and blue herons. “They just don’t seem to have anything in common with any of the native birds, so I don’t feel they’re taking anything away from them.”

Turner said her peacocks enjoy eating seeds, fruit, peas, worms and even crickets that pop up on grass-mowing days.

“So many people love them that they’re thrilled that the birds would come in their back yard,” said peacock-supporter Peggy Milloy of Bethany Beach. “They’re not like geese or turkeys that would go after you.”

“Under state law (Title 3, Chapter 77), livestock and poultry are not allowed to run at large, and we consider peacocks similar to poultry,” Shortridge wrote in an email. “We handled this case just as we would have dealt with a flock of chickens or a herd of pigs running loose.”

So who complained about peacocks?

“A lot of neighbors have asked me that, too, but at this point it doesn’t really matter,” Turner said. “I mean, it’s done, it’s over. No matter what happened, it can never go back to the way it was. So there’s no reason to be mad. You just need to move on. … You just have to mark it up as another change that we’ve had on the farm over the years.”

Despite state agency crackdowns, Turner has remained positive and cool under pressure, focusing on the safety of the birds and not trying to fight the state. The last three peacocks have been placed in a small temporary pen as she plans to build a full-sized aviary. Luckily, many of her neighbors are fired up enough about the situation to help her get building.

“We have decided to have a little peacock aviary-raising party,” said Turner, noting that the size and comfort of the enclosure will depend on the amount of materials she can procure.

After her letter to the editor was published in the Coastal Point, Turner said the community response has been “overwhelming” and “fantastic.” People have volunteered time, money and materials to help build an adequate enclosure. Carpenters have even offered their services, and anonymous donors have sent money, photographs and letters detailing their own positive experiences with the birds.

“I came from the city,” said Milloy. “I love nature; I love seeing it. That’s why we’re down here. … But Diane has a great attitude. The peacocks are such beautiful birds. It’s a shame they’ve gotten penned up.”

The aviary is planned for Turner’s front pasture, bordering Cedar Neck Road, which will give people a chance to see the birds wandering or rooting high in an old cherry tree.

“There’s always going to be something there for them,” Turner said of the volunteers. “The people that are donating their time and money and material will always be able to walk by and see it, see the birds! It’s important.”

Turner said she will welcome volunteers for either building session, on Saturday, Aug. 25, or Wednesday, Aug. 29. She can be reached by calling (302) 344-7784, emailing diane@hipointfarm.org or by mailing Hi Point Farm; 29556 Cedar Neck Rd.; Ocean View, DE 19970.

Turner said Hi Point Farm reaches out to the community by hosting fundraisers, birthday parties and horse-riding lessons. She never imagined people would complain about the birds, apart from the occasional droppings in a yard.

“Just please be kind, and live and let live,” said Turner. “What a great gift Mary made of this farm. Learn to let people live.”