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Saving the Devil's Spawn

Bill Signarowitz
Robert Scheer

Our Fine-Feathered Fiends: Bill Signarowitz gets down with a peacock at his animal halfway house.

The hills of Santa Cruz County are alive with the sounds of bright-plumed peacocks--gorgeous, wondrous, exotic and extremely annoying

By Kelly Luker

IF YOU'VE DRIVEN THROUGH the mountains or Corralitos--anyplace there's open land--you've probably seen them strutting down the highway, watching curiously as you swerve and almost kill yourself to miss squashing them. For the uninitiated getting their virgin glimpse of peacocks, the first thought (after "Thank God I'm still alive") is wonder at their glistening beauty and haughty arrogance.

For those of us who've had the misfortune to live with them a few years, however, that first thought is more like, "Why don't I speed up and aim?"

Before you draw back in horror at the lack of compassion we have for our magnificently plumed friends, let's talk turkey--or peacock, as the case may be. My decision to get a couple of baby peafowl a few years back falls under the rubric of all disasters--it seemed like a good idea at the time.

No one told me that they breed like rabbits. No one told me that during mating season--from March until August--they emit bloodcurdling screams heard almost a mile away. All day. All night. Nonstop. No one told me that during this same season, everything is potential date bait. They tried mounting my livestock, my German shepherd and my poor elderly father--not a pretty sight.

And that which they cannot know in a biblical sense they will attack. The 8-year-old neighbor will be on a therapist's couch for years, thanks to my love-thwarted fowl.

The hills are alive with this species of pheasant that originally hailed from India and the West Indies, and judging by the action up at Bill Signarowitz's peacock sanctuary, I am not alone in my disenchantment.

Located high on a hill off Summit Road, Signarowitz's sprawling acreage provides a safe haven for upwards of 70 peacocks that have been abused or abandoned. With his property offering a breathtaking view of both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, the big-bird lover fields calls from folks on both sides of the county line begging him to come rescue another wayward soul.

"I get seven to 10 calls a week," Signarowitz figures. "IBM just called me to pick up two in its parking lot. I just got one that flew through a plate glass window."

Signarowitz takes me on a tour of the sanctuary, which also includes other abandoned members of the animal kingdom--pygmy goats, cockatiels, a parrot, doves, chickens, geese and ducks. When he tosses out some dog food--"It's like ice cream to peacocks"--the plumed birds come swooping down from the hillside. Within moments, it's like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, with peacocks, peahens and peababies (called "peanuts" around our place) circling around for a handout.

"I've been raising peacocks for 23 years," explains Signarowitz, who says he made his money buying and selling repo'd homes. With his ruddy good looks and quick laugh, he looks like he'd be more at home hanging out at the Crow's Nest than a peacock sanctuary doing a mean imitation of St. Francis of Assisi.

Signarowitz always loved animals, he says, but developed a special soft spot for those lovable loud-beaked birds. It's not hard to understand why--as long as we're not talking breeding time.

Twisted Beauties

THINK OF PEACOCKS as the supermodels of the bird world--stupid and vacuous perhaps, but drop-dead gorgeous. They grace any landscape with a heady, exotic, otherworldly essence. And, like supermodels, they are absolutely smitten with their own good looks and can provide hours of entertainment as they display their plumage in front of a mirror or any reflective surface.

Peacocks are intensely curious and will also while away a good portion of the day peering through windows and skylights at the weird little humans scurrying around inside. One timed his visits every morning to my mother's bathroom window, right at bath time.

Make that stupid, vacuous and a little twisted.

But, oh, the downside to this bird.

"I got another call from a guy who found two doing the mating dance on his Mercedes-Benz," Signarowitz recalls.

Apparently, the damage to the paint job after a couple of 30-pound fowl with razor-sharp talons did their pas de deux was not cheap.

"About 75 percent of the people who call, it's because their neighbors want them to get rid of the birds," says Signarowitz. Some neighbors don't bother to talk it out. "I got three peacocks this month with arrows in them."

Signarowitz ends up doing a lot of the doctoring himself, but animal food alone can run about $100 a week. Speaking of food, it's helpful to remember that what goes in must come out. Walking the property and deck around his roomy house, we travel as soldiers on point for land mines.

"We have to spray the crap off every day," Signarowitz admits, then points up to the roof and chimney painted with white drippings. "They stream down to the fireplace that goes to the bedroom," he shrugs. Later Signarowitz mentions that he's been married four times, and I wonder if I'm the only one to connect the dots here.

Although Signarowitz has been studying his brilliantly plumed buddies for more than a couple of decades, he's still a little surprised at the general public's lack of knowledge about them. About 90 percent of the people he talks to think that peacocks can't fly (they can). As his burgeoning sanctuary can attest to, few know how loud and raucous they are.

And with looks (and brains) equal to a flowerpot of colorful pansies, few think of them as edible.

"I got one restaurant that calls me all the time for peacocks," Signarowitz says. Of course, he wouldn't dream of selling them for fricassee.

Uh, Bill? Could I get that chef's number from you?

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From the Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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