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Peacock Sightings in Gulfport

Peacock Sightings in Gulfport

There has been an increase in the number of peacock sightings in Gulfport lately, and since I run the tours at Jungle Prada some people have asked if I think there is a connection between our birds and the ones appearing here. 

What I tell them is that we can probably trace the origin of all the peafowl in Pinellas County back to the same place, the Seville Peacock Farm in Clearwater. 

The farm began when Eugene H. Pearce purchased a 230-acre grove on Old Tampa Bay around 1882.  Eventually, his son, Eugene L. Pearce, began collecting peacocks for his personal enjoyment, but the hobby became a business when, in the mid-1930s, he turned the grove into a tourist attraction dedicated to raising peafowl, and called the Seville Peacock Farm.

In 1939 the St. Petersburg Times reported that there were more than 500 peacocks on the property, declaring Seville’s the largest known collection in the world.  The property also boasted many grapefruit trees and a palm jungle accessible to visitors.

Some local homeowners decided they would also like to have peacocks, so they purchased them from Seville’s.  One such family were the Rothmans, who lived on Park Steet North and owned Kane’s Furniture.  The peacocks at Jungle Prada today are direct descendants of those birds.

The Seville Peacock Farm closed in 1968 and the land was sold to developers.  A portion of the old grove became the Seville condominiums, and another portion became Clearwater Mall, which opened in 1973 with a peacock as their logo.  Some of the birds escaped during the process and have been roaming around town ever since.

So why do only the male peacocks have those long, beautiful tail feathers?  The answer is that that’s what the ladies, the peahens, like!  When we think of evolution, we often think of survival of the fittest, but that’s not what is at play here. 

The male’s train (as it is called) does not help the animal fly, or find food, or escape from predators.  They never spread out their feathers in self-defense, as some believe.  When peacocks fight it’s always feathers-down. 

In 1930, British statistician Ronal Fisher published a book in which he introduced a concept biologists call a “Fisherian runaway.”  This idea suggests that if a trait starts to be selected for in mating it can lead to a positive feedback loop that exaggerates the trait.

Sometime in the distant past, the female peahens started showing a strong preference for males with longer tails, and, like a snowball rolling downhill, the tails got longer with every passing generation as the more endowed peacocks reproduced more often.

For more information on peacocks take the Jungle Prada Site History Tour, where you are guaranteed to see them.  Of course, you could always just step outside your front door and have a pretty good chance to see one too!