- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Put anyone in charge of 30 peacocks and he might find himself making the kind of for-sale ad Brian Davis posted on Petersen Rock Garden’s Facebook page in mid-April:

“Need to sell a few of these Female Peahens for $20 each Today call me”

Davis helps manage Petersen Rock Garden, likely central Oregon’s quirkiest roadside rock attraction, the Bulletin reported (https://bit.ly/1qEiW8Z). Located about halfway between Redmond and Bend, the 82-year-old garden is an open grassy area where visitors can relax and wander around an off-brand fantasy land of miniature castles, bridges and statues made of obsidian and geodes. Think springtime family reunion venue with psychedelic fishbowl decorations and you’re almost there, except for the squawking peacocks.

About 30 male and female peacocks roam the 4-acre garden and hang out in the shade under the picnic tables.

And while the Rock Garden has seen its ups and downs - in 2013 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places after years of deterioration and neglect landed it on an endangered places list - its peacock population has remained fairly consistent.

Davis said he sometimes considers the park’s stained rock castles and wonders whether this is a good thing.

“The peacocks are part of the ambiance; everyone loves them,” he said April 15. “But how many do we need? Ten? Fifteen? Five? Eight? I don’t know. The mess they make - they crap all over all the monuments. It’s good for the lawns, but we’re just trying to figure out the right amount to have.”

So while Petersen Rock Garden receives upgrades this spring, like freshly landscaped paths, the revival of the classic Swan Boat ride (pending Swan Boat completion on Memorial Day weekend) and eight picnic tables recently donated by friends of the garden who are regulars on the grounds and in its Facebook group, Davis is using a simple strategy to figure out the answer to the peacock question. “We’re downsizing,” he said.

At least five of the birds were put up for sale, Davis said, a directive straight from Sue Caward, who has owned the rock garden for about 15 years.

“Susan said 20 bucks, sell them for 20 dollars a hen,” Davis said. “We just have way too many.”

Caward is the granddaughter of Rasmus Petersen, who moved from his native Denmark to central Oregon in the early 1900s and set up a 256-acre farm between Bend and Redmond. He developed a fascination with the region’s natural resources and in the mid-1930s started gathering whatever rocks and minerals he could find within an 85-mile radius of his adopted home, according to the Deschutes County Historical Society.

He began creating the rock structures, and eventually more than 100,000 visitors from all parts of the world stopped at the rock garden during its first 15 years. Caward said Petersen, who died in 1952, was the one who brought the peacocks to the rock garden, even though she said she doesn’t know how or why he got them.

Also unknown is exactly how to persuade anyone to take a peacock home with them. Davis said he’s already gotten a few nibbles on his Facebook post, but no one’s taken him up yet on the park’s unwritten “you buy it, you catch it” peacock purchasing rule (the rock garden supplies a cage).

“We’ve gotten a few people that still have to come over and catch them,” he said, offering peacock-catching tips to any interested buyers before admitting he’d probably cave in and help out if it meant he could sell the birds more easily. “You gotta bait them into a cage and shut the door on the cage, and that’s how you catch them. It’s not an easy deal. I’ve got a friend who’s done it all the time.”

Meanwhile, the 30 or so birds can create issues for picnicking park visitors, even though the new tables help.

“People don’t want to put a blanket on the ground when there’s 30 peacocks around,” he said. “They sure are pretty, though.”

“They’ll eat your lunch, that’s what they’ll do,” Caward said. “We’ve had people lose sandwiches right out of their hands.”

The peacocks, which roam the garden freely and roost in the trees at night, are tame and not aggressive, Davis said. The birds are used to people, who can feed them - willingly or sometimes not - out of their hands.

Just ask Lonnie Young, a longtime supporter of the rock garden who feeds the peacocks he adopted from the garden old veggies and chicken feed.

Young, who has a side business raising 220 chickens, has known Caward for years, and he asked her for two peacocks to add to his flock last year. She gave him two chicks, a male and a female.

“It’s been a real pleasure raising them,” he said. “They take a lot of love and attention. They like to be involved with what I’m doing, and if we’re not outside doing something, they’ll get bored and wander down to the neighbor’s house.”

Young said some people eat peacock eggs - which are bigger than chicken eggs with a harder shell and thicker yolk - but he prefers to just have the birds around for company.

“When they were chicks, the male would sit on my shoulder and nuzzle me,” he said. “He’d go to the feed store with me. Now that they’re teenagers, they don’t care to be touched that much. They can be a very noisy bird, and when they call to each other during mating season, it sounds like a cat screaming. Peacocks make good watchdogs, too - they make the noise as a kind of alert, too.”

Young, who lives in Deschutes County, said he can’t advocate for peacock ownership in more urban areas. As for the peacock situation at Petersen Rock Garden, Young agrees there are “quite a few” and predicts the park’s consistent peacock population will continue.

“They’ll be gathering together a clutch of eggs in the next couple months,” he said. “Here at any time now there’s going to be more chicks hatched.”


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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