'Paulie' the pesky peacock calls Waterford Country School new home
Waterford — They were on his tail for months. But Paulie, the adventurous peacock roaming town roads, hopping on cars and evading authorities all summer, finally met a net he couldn't dodge.
Last week, Waterford Country School leaders captured the peacock with the help of Clark Lane Middle School staff and school district employees serving as spotters. The bird, which eluded animal control, police and country school staff multiple times this year, has an expansive new home at the country school's wildlife sanctuary.
Tina Cote, camp director and assistant program director for the school's farm, says Paulie has joined a club of rehabilitating hawks, swans, geese, seagulls, horses, pigs, donkeys, alpacas and other animals and birds used for outdoor education.
"All our animals are used to help the kids, and our kids help them," Cote said, noting the nonprofit school works with special needs students and children with behavioral and emotional struggles. "We're very much involved in bird and animal welfare. Whether the kids can relate to the large animals or the birds or the goats, you name it, we have it. The kids love it."
Ben Turner, the school's outdoor education director, said he chased Paulie at least a half-dozen times near the middle school and New London Rehab and Care on Clark Lane since late spring.
"This peacock was eventually going to be hit by a car," Turner said Wednesday. "They don't belong in cities or on main roads. They're good farm animals."
No one has stepped up to claim ownership of Paulie, Turner said. He noted the school's goal is to rehabilitate animals and get them back where they belong, but most of the "animals at our sanctuary have nowhere to go."
'Net guns are not in our budget'
For several months, Paulie had plenty of places to go, turning up in people's yards and driveways before appearing on several Waterford community groups on Facebook. He picked up his name from Clark Lane staff, Cote said, but some following #WaterfordPeacock on Facebook said he'd been christened "Kevin."
"There's a peacock on my Jeep!" Casey McGrath posted on Aug. 21, along with a video of Paulie squawking and checking out Olive Street from on high.
"He came into my yard, kind of walked around a bit and then left," McGrath said in an interview. "Then after an hour or so I heard him making those funny noises, something out of an early Pink Floyd record, and I noticed he went to the front of the house and was on top of the roof of my Jeep Cherokee."
McGrath said he's lived on Olive Street for 17 years and never saw a peacock in the neighborhood before Paulie, who was "just chilling" on his jeep for about 20 minutes.
Audriana Black, whose family has lived on Louise Street for two decades, said they'd never seen a peacock until Paulie turned up in their yard a couple weeks ago.
"I think he just ate the weeds, maybe some of the flowers," she said, describing Paulie as famous. "I didn't mind. I was excited about it."
The peacock avoided capture despite Waterford-East Lyme Animal Control's previous efforts, which included using a net gun that reminded Turner of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "The Running Man."
"Net guns are not in our budget," Turner said.
On a sweltering afternoon last week, Jay Miner, a Waterford Country School board member and Waterford Public Schools' director of buildings and grounds, alerted Turner the peacock was in the middle school courtyard. Turner, Cote and Clark Lane staff teamed up to corner Paulie, who'd been lured closer with some hot dogs.
"They're like turkeys. They run very fast and when they have space, they can fly up into the trees," Cote said. "I wasn't really thrilled about running around in the heat, but Ben said, 'Come on, we can do this.'"
With Turner and Cote gloved and holding nets and a big crate, the group chased the peacock around the courtyard a bit before it flew over Cote's head and bumped into a window, Cote said. Paulie was stunned for a moment but not injured, and his momentary delay enabled Turner and crew to quickly capture him.
"It was just a team effort and the luck of the hot weather," Turner said. "He was tired."
'Very much the gentleman'
Turner said after Waterford Country School in 2016 received a $26,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, it rebuilt wildlife structures and created better spots for rehabilitating birds and animals like Paulie.
"It's like Fenway Park," Turner said. "Some old pieces that are great and a lot of new structures that are helping us out. We'll do the best we can to provide a good home for him."
Paulie lives in a large cage with "plenty of perches" next to an orphaned baby hawk the school is raising, Turner said.
Cote described Paulie as healthy and "very much the gentleman" despite being a notorious bird "on the lam."
"He can fly up high if he wants, has plenty of food and water and he's safe," she said, noting he still enjoys hot dogs every now and then, on top of the standard cracked corn and pellet mixture.
The school hopes to "slowly integrate" Paulie into an enclosure at the farm that already features two peacocks, Hope and Peace, Turner said.
Turner noted he'd chased only Paulie this summer, but said "you never know" if there are more peacocks running wild in Waterford neighborhoods.