Archive for the ‘Peacocks’ category

Urban Wild and Feral Life in Spring

March 21, 2014

Spring is officially here. Red-tails are nesting, peacocks are showing, and male mallards are acting downright crazy.

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Trees are still mostly bare, which means you can more easily spot wildlife.

And feral life. The feral cat colony in Morningside Park seems out of control this spring. The cats are everywhere around the pond, stalking  ducks and other birds.

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But that’s a topic for another post.

For now, let’s put away the ice rescue ladder, and celebrate the arrival of another spring.

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Below are links to a few of Out Walking the Dog’s odes to springs past:

Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring

It’s Spring; Everybody Sing!

Spring Fling in Morningside Park: Be Still, My Heart

Spring in Three Cities

NYC Signs of Spring: Red-tails Nest and Mr Softee Sings

Peacocks By Design

March 12, 2014

New York City’s three Cathedral peacocks have already begun their annual spring courtship displays in which they unfurl their insanely long, dazzling tail feathers, hold them up in a giant fan, and rotate slowly to enchant the ladies. Here is a video I took a few years ago of one of St John the Divine’s peacocks in fine form.

The boys will be displaying like this all spring and summer, but who do they hope to woo? The nearest peahen is several miles away at the Central Park Zoo or the Bronx Zoo (from which one of the pealadies briefly escaped in 2011).

Still the peacock boys display to anyone and no one.  Yesterday, the white peacock was showing his tail in front of the shed that serves as their roost, while one of the blue peacocks stood alone at the end of the steep driveway, just a few feet from Morningside Drive, with his tail in full sail.

Tails furled or unfurled, peacocks seem to have an innate design sense.

Here the white peacock displays a striking horizontal elegance.

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Down the driveway, his friend advocates for the power and beauty of the vertical.

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For more on the Cathedral peacocks, stay tuned. Or visit our archives.

Snow Day NYC with Peacocks

January 6, 2014

It was cold and snowy in the city on Saturday, so the dog and I bundled up. He’s the one with the blue boots. I’m the one with the blue hat. (My hat recently inspired some guerrilla art.)

Morningside Park is always magical in the snow.

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The little pond was frozen solid.

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A little boy and his father stopped to throw snowballs onto the ice. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Cross-country skiers slid across the fields, and dogs sniffed and romped.

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Heading up the great stone staircase, we spied three feral cats well camouflaged by snow and bare bushes.  Can you spot them? (Click the photos to enlarge.)

A white cat is balanced in the twigs, a gray cat is perched in the wire fence, and a white-and-black cat sits on the snow to the right.

Saint Luke’s Hospital loomed over us as we continued our climb.

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Sledders were at play on the slope just below Morningside Drive.

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On the street, the back of Saint John’s Cathedral invited us to explore.

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We walked over to Amsterdam Avenue and the unfinished towers at the front.

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We entered through the animal gates.

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“Oh, I want to eat his eyes,” exclaimed one of these lively little girls as they circled the snowman below. “They’re made of Hanukkah gelt!”

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Leaving behind the would-be cannibals, we headed into the Cathedral grounds.

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We spotted the resident peacocks. First one.

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Then two.

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And finally, three as Phil, the white peacock, preened inside the peacock house.

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A group of teenagers came clattering up the path. The girls squealed and shrieked when they saw the peacocks, running toward them to take pictures. The birds, accustomed to paparazzi, ignored the girls, even the one shivering in a strapless dress and bare legs. Humans. What can you do?

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We gave a last look up in search of the neighborhood red-tailed hawks, but no hawks today. Just Gabriel forever blowing his horn atop the Cathedral as the stony apostles wait patiently in the cold.

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Urban Peacocks and Red-tails in Winter

December 9, 2013

Last night we saw tiny snowmen on the top of the retaining wall in Riverside Park.

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It wasn’t much of a snow, but it gave a mysterious look to the park at night.

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This morning in the drizzle, a Red-tail Hawk flew low over our heads as we were crossing Amsterdam Avenue. We tracked it as it soared into the animal gates that lead to the grounds of St. John the Divine.

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The hawk soared along the path of the grounds, then suddenly swooped upward. We found it perched with a second hawk towards the back of the cathedral.

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I have only my iPhone camera these days, so I can’t zoom in for a close look. But here it is with a slightly closer look.

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Moments later, as we continued to watch the hawks, Phil, the Cathedral’s white peacock, wandered past us, looking rather bedraggled.

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He was completely unfazed by a boisterous group of schoolkids who almost walked right into him as they came around the corner.

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Phil simply moved aside with no fuss or hurry.

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The dog, on the other hand, was definitely fazed by the sight of Phil. He moaned with frustration and strained at the leash.

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The poor fellow has been trying for a taste of peacock ever since he first encountered the three neighborhood peacocks five years ago.

Ah, well. We all have our dreams.

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Happy May Day

May 1, 2013

Happy May!

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

People, flowers, wildlife and pets are out in force.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John's.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John’s.

Fine weather to sit with your dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Or your birds.

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A bird cage with six parakeets becomes mobile atop a laundry cart.

Here’s a closer look at one of six happy parakeets on their outing to the river.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Fine weather, too, for human lovebirds.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

Or for sitting alone near the forsythia.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

Wherever you go and whomever you’re with, keep an eye out for color.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

And enjoy the flowers before they go.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

The brief life of flowers, and the word “enjoy,”puts me in mind of William Blake’s poem, Eternity:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Happy May!

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NYC October Animal Round-up

October 27, 2012

In early October, a cat and a man dressed in shades of green emerged out of the still-green leaves along Riverside Park.

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Just out walking the cat.

The cat was completely calm and walked well on its long leash, unfazed by Esau the dog and other fascinated canines.

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Walking the wall with kitty.

The man said he had started leash-training when the cat was still a kitten. He would head to Riverside Drive at 3 in the morning when the streets were quiet. Days passed, and they stayed out later and later into the morning as the city woke up, until the cat gradually became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of traffic, dogs, people and the rest of the urban hubbub. They are an impressive pair.

The man tries to get the cat to pose for a picture, but it has other plans.

Also on Riverside Drive, well-camouflaged sparrows filled the branches of a baby tree.

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A sparrow tree.

Here’s a closer look.

A gathering of sparrows.

We paid a quick visit to the “Forever Wild” section of the park, where migrating warblers and nuthatches abounded.

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Esau is forever wild.

Leaving the park, we crossed one of the islands, or medians, of Broadway, where we discovered a tiny corpse.

monarch butterfly corpse

A tiny corpse on Broadway

We bent to take a closer look. It was a monarch butterfly, looking as beautiful as ever, but with a strange yellow substance coming out of its underside. Are monarch guts bright yellow? I was not able to find any answers to this question, so, my trusty reader, please tell me, if you know.

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Monarch butterfly on Broadway.

Further down Broadway, a man sat on a barbershop pony, while talking with a friend.

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Just another bit of Broadway.

Over at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, a squirrel hung upside down to gorge on berries.

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Upside down at the Cathedral.

We watched the little animal for at least five minutes, during which it remained upside down, calmly reaching for berries with its paws and nibbling away, as if this was its usual position in the world.

Eating berries behind the Cathedral.

  Two brightly colored animals walked the grounds of the Cathedral.

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Two lovely creatures (well, four, counting the pigeons at the left).

We went back to Riverside Park at dusk, this time descending the steps into the park.  A raccoon lounged in the mouth of its den high in the retaining wall.

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Raccoon gets ready to start its day at dusk.

A mother gazed at the raccoon, while her child gazed at Esau, tied to the chain link fence.

Raccoons high on the wall; mother and child below.

The sun went down, and the raccoon began its nocturnal prowl with a walk on the wall. Raccoons sometimes walk the wall on all fours.

Riverside Park raccoon

A walk on the wild side of the wall.

At other times they stand erect, looking like bulky little mannikins edging along a high ledge.

Raccoon does its “man on a ledge” impression.

When it got too dark to follow the raccoon’s progress easily, we went home where Esau took his stuffed dog to bed.

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Good-night.

My NYC Home Where the Peacocks Roam

October 4, 2012
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Home, where pears from the CSA ripen under the watchful eyes of goat and god

After spending the better part of September on eastern Long Island,

pier on Mecox bay

Esau the dog approaches the void.

I’m home in NYC, where fall has thinned the trees in Riverside Park.

Riverside Park early fall

Riverside Park in early fall: more view, less green

Home in the city, where the peacocks roam.

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Phil, the white peacock, plays hide and seek in the foliage.

Our first day back, the dog and I visited the grounds of Saint John the Divine to check in on the three free-roaming peacock boys.  We looked in the Biblical garden, our urban secret garden, but saw no peacocks.

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New York City’s secret garden in early fall

No peacocks on the way to the garden’s romantic arbor.

romantic spot

Best place for a private talk or a moment alone.

No peacocks at the leafy throne.

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Another favorite seat in the secret garden.

And no peacocks on the way out of the garden.

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On the way out of the garden.

Suddenly we heard three loud squawking cries: Peacocks!  We followed the sound and, slipping into a half-hidden construction storage area, we found:

peacock in fall

Peacock!

The peacocks drop their glorious long tail feathers long before New York City’s trees drop their leaves.  But that’s all right. The diminished splendor of the tail leaves us more able to appreciate the subtler beauty of their speckled wings and rusty underfeathers that perfectly match the piles of brick.

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Gorgeous.

The peacock preened, turning his neck this way

preening peacock

preening peacock

and that, putting more kinks into it than seems possible

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Peacock neck with many curves

However do they do that?

I wondered.

bird cervical vertebrae

And then I remembered

that

I’ve already researched and written

about

the extraordinary cervical flexibility

of long-necked birds.

Birds have at least

thirteen

and as many as

twenty-five

cervical vertebrae.

Humans, by contrast, like all mammals,

have a mere

seven.

And  some animals, notably frogs, have

only

one.

Really. One.

You can read all about it here, in

Bird Neck Appreciation Day.

But I digress.

Let us return

to the peacock,

who continued

to bend and twist, with most impressive dexterity.

Cleaning up.

We watched for a while.

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Elegance in the brick yard. Note the tail of a reclining squirrel in upper left.

And we, in turn, were watched.

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Keeping a beady eye on us.

We became fascinated by the peacock’s scaly feet.

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Walk like an Egyptian.

Eventually, we headed back into the open grounds, where we found the white peacock known as Phil.

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Roaming the grounds.

He wandered into the bushes.

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Phil amid the foliage.

He lurked among the flowers.

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Lurking.

On our way out of the grounds, we found the third peacock in the grasses near Amsterdam Avenue.

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Walking in the grass.

We stopped to watch.

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Neck like blue grass.

He moved into the sunlight.

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Feeding in sunlight.

And then we left.

Oh, it’s good be home.

fall fruit and vegetable

Time for squash soup and a slice of baby watermelon.

Further reading on the urban peacocks of Saint John the Divine:

Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights
NYC Peacocks and Blossoms
Peacock Razzle-Dazzle (with video)
Wandering Peacocks of NYC
NYC Peacocks on Hurricane Sunday
Spring in Three Cities
Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring
White Birds of NYC

Top Five Urban Nature Stories of 2011: From Peacocks to Mastodons

December 31, 2011

Yesterday we began our coverage of Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Stories of 2011 with Numbers Ten to Six. The stories explored urban coyotes and whales as well as a secret garden in the middle of New York City and two peculiar NYC plants, one of which is connected to an on-going ancient British festival.

Today the countdown continues with the top five stories. Here we go:

Number Five:
Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights takes a look at the pure-white free-roaming peacock of Saint John the Divine. My readers appear to be in the grip of a communal fascination with peacocks in general and white peacocks in particular. Well, who can blame them? The birds are extraordinary. More peacock posts will follow in 2012.

Number Four:
City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua? recounts an eye-witness report by a fellow dog walker in Riverside Park of a red-tailed hawk flying off with a pink-leashed chihuahua. Believe it or not, similar stories are regularly reported. Urban legend? Fact? You decide. With a made-to-order illustration by Los Angeles writer and blogger Charlotte Hildebrand.

Number Three:
Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels and Rats? is a search engine favorite, as readers from NYC and around the country seem especially concerned about the possibility of rabies in squirrels.  I wrote the post almost two years ago, during the early days of the NYC raccoon rabies epidemic, but it continues to receive a large number of hits.

credit: Marcelo Barrera

Number Two:
NYC Coyote Watch 2011: Coyote in Queens
was published at the end of January 2011, when a coyote had been seen – and photographed – in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Queens and the Bronx seem to be the coyote’s current boroughs of choice with a breeding population in the Bronx and on-going sightings in several Queens neighborhoods. Long Island has fallen to the adaptable predator. Today, Queens. Tomorrow, the Hamptons.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll, please. The Number One Story on Out Walking the Dog during 2011 is …

Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. Written in 2010, Mastodons in Manhattan has consistently been my most-read post. Go figure. It tells the story of how the Honey locust tree, which may be seen in abundance in NYC parks, adapted to predation by North American megafauna by developing long, fierce spikes that are tough enough to pierce mastodon tongues (and automobile tires).

And that’s it for 2011, folks. We hope you’ll continue to follow our urban nature explorations in 2012.

Most Popular Urban Nature Stories of 2011: Numbers 10 – 6

December 30, 2011

Today and tomorrow, we’re celebrating another year of watching New York City’s urban wildlife by looking back at Out Walking the Dog’s Top Stories of 2011.  The articles include mastodons, chihuahua-carrying hawks, whales, coyotes, rodents, burdock, peacocks and the secret garden of St. John the Divine. Today I’ll count down from Number Ten through Number Six. Tomorrow I’ll cover Numbers Five through One.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the countdown begin:

Number 10:
In the Number Ten spot, we have a tie between two very different stories.

NYC Coyote Existential: Where Do They Come From and Where are They Going? explores recent scientific research behind the origins of the coyotes that are populating the Northeast and have begun turning up in NYC. Prompted by my own sightings of a young female coyote in Central Park, the story features several of D. Bruce Yolton’s marvelous night photos that capture the odd, dream-like quality of seeing a coyote in our urban world.

Seed Pods and Eyeballs offers a brief exploration of the marvelous Sweetgum tree with its ubiquitous (in Riverside Park, anyway) spiky seedpods, known as monkey balls, porcupine eggs and space balls, among other colorful names. I was inspired to write the post by a reader’s query about the starry eyes of a snowman in a photo from an earlier post.

Number 9:
Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls To His Friends
looks at the problems of over-population, habituation to humans, and disease that may be caused by feeding urban wildlife. But the story also observes the profound pleasure and connection to nature that many people derive from the activity.  Does the pleasure balance the harm?

Number 8:
The Burry Man, The Burry Dog and Burdock
is a personal favorite. After an unpleasant encounter with burrs in Riverside Park (the dog was covered in them), I researched burdock, and found the bizarre annual British ritual of the burry man. Check out the story for more than you ever wanted to know about burrs along with photos of a burr-encrusted dog and the marvelous real-life burry man.

Number Seven:
Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights
is a photo essay of one of my favorite neighborhood spots in the glory of spring bloom. Free-roaming peacocks, bronze animals and more: read the story and plan a visit.

Number Six:
Whales in New York City
details the thrilling return of whales to the waters of New York, including the presence of a group of 30 to 50 fin whales just past the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

Check back on January 31st – tomorrow!  – for the top five stories of the year.

Peacock Razzle-Dazzle

November 22, 2011

As leaves drop from the trees and the city grows more monochromatic day by day, I offer you a dazzling reminder of late spring, when the three peacock boys of Saint John the Divine just couldn’t stop showing off their big, beautiful tail feathers.

The boys have lost their tail feathers for the season, now. In October, when I took the photos below, the birds were in varying stages of molt.

The single all-white peacock had lost his long, trailing tail feathers,

Thus peacock is regularly found staring into hedges and other vegetation.

as had this classically colored fellow, who appeared to be wearing a gaudy silk shirt with old, brown corduroys.

Mismatched

The bird on the right was still flaunting some long, green eye-feathers.

Just hangin' out, waiting for something to happen.

They’re all gone now, the tail feathers. But don’t worry.  In just a few more months, as trees bud and grass greens, the feathers will grow back, and the birds will be displaying again, in all their splendor.

This is a rear view (in case you're trying to figure out where the head is).

Until then, take pleasure in autumn, because it’s passing, and winter, because, like it or  not, it’s on its way.

Wandering Peacocks of NYC

September 9, 2011

Peacock in April in fresh breeding feathers.

The free-roaming peacocks of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue exert a strange fascination.

The white peacock bears an uncanny resemblance to my paternal grandmother in her later years.

In June, when a maintenance man rattled a cookie tin filled with food, the white peacock eagerly hopped a fence and positively hustled to get some chow.

Hustlin'

The peacock chowed down.

Puttin' on the feed bag

He appeared completely unfazed by a large troop of day campers traipsing noisily past.

Just another peacock sighting

and greedily gobbled his bird chow.

Staring down dinner.

Three male peacocks, gifts from the Bronx Zoo, roam all over the Cathedral grounds. The maintenance man told me that when the birds first arrived as young fellows, they would wander into the neighborhood, prompting worried phone calls from residents: “Hey, I just saw one of your peacocks over on Broadway.”  Someone from the Cathedral would head over to collect the errant bird and bring it home.

As far as I know, the Cathedral birds now stay close to home.  But a desire to ramble seems to regularly overtake New York City peacocks and peahens. In May 2011, a peahen bolted from the Bronx Zoo.

Peahen in Bronx Street (credit: ALDAG/AFP/Getty Images)

After several days of sightings and capture attempts, the bird was nabbed in a Bronx parking garage, and returned to the zoo. “In general,” said zoo director Jim Breheny, the zoo’s peacocks are “not inclined to leave the property, but for some reason this bird just got curious.”

A few months later in August, strollers on Fifth Avenue were startled by the sight of a peacock perched outside a fifth floor window.  The bird turned out to be an escapee from the Central Park Zoo.

Peacock rests on window ledge high above Fifth Avenue. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters.

Zoo officials maintained that the peacock was likely to return home of its own accord and, after a night of adventurous sightseeing (and some serious tweeting), the bird did just that.

The Cathedral peacocks have already molted, losing most of their gorgeous breeding plumage and, until spring, will resemble the more modestly feathered peahen.

Mostly molted peacock

Check back soon to find out what Flannery O’Connor thought of peacocks and to see more photos of the Saint John’s trio.


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