Three years ago, a friend of mine asked for peacocks for her birthday. She lives in a chateau near mine, and some friends and I decided to club together to find a pair for her, to make her peacock dream come true. But the closest peacocks that I could find for sale were a five-hour drive away, to the south of Bordeaux. Undaunted, I decided that I’d bite the bullet and drive there and back in a day, triumphantly returning with peacocks.
When I arrived at the farm, I met and collected her lovely birds, who were one year old at that point. I was about to leave when the farmer added, ‘Oh, I have some peacock chicks to sell, if you’re interested.’ I told him that I wasn’t, but made the mistake of looking at them. Peacock chicks are not very beautiful, and I found their bedraggled scrawniness heart-meltingly cute. There were three of them, two little brown lumps and one bright white one. We had no idea whether they were male or female, but I bought them on a whim and found myself driving back to Lalande with five peacocks instead of two.
Our chicks grew up to be two females and one magnificent white male. He became quite a famous sight at the chateau, and the peacocks quickly became a symbol of Lalande. The only problem is that he was surprisingly aggressive, and as they were completely free and could fly, we always needed to be on our guard for a sudden, unprovoked attack!
And then, the attacks grew less frequent, which was a huge relief, but then we – horrifyingly – realised that it was because he was becoming sick. He’d always seemed weaker than the females, but this seemed serious. Apparently the white peacocks often are sickly. He succumbed to a type of bird flu. The hardier females didn’t even catch it, but in spite of his medication, he sadly died.
If I’m completely honest, our un-loyal females didn’t even seem to notice his disappearance. But the following spring one of them disappeared and I feared the worst. I didn’t want just one poor, lonely peahen wandering the grounds. Then, after a couple of weeks of wondering what to do, we suddenly spotted both females! A round-the-clock surveillance crack-team, led by Mummy and Percy and including me and Ian the Builder, finally solved the mystery. Both females were futilely sitting on eggs (which couldn’t possibly be fertilised), and turning up to eat at different times. As they look identical, we thought we had only one peahen.
One of my earliest chateau vlogs (The Chateau Diaries 006) shows Ian and me finding one of the peahens in the attic of a barn, and removing the infertile eggs that she was making herself sick over.
But the distress that they felt at being moved from their eggs made me realise that their instinct for chicks was very strong and that maybe it was unfair not to have a male at the chateau. Ian managed to source a male only 10 kilometres away! Which made me pretty embarrassed about my 10 hour roundtrip to collect our original birds!
Our new bird – Thor – had to spend the first month in a barn so that he would get used to the chateau being his home. The poor thing looked very dejected and I felt terribly guilty. We managed to catch one of the females (no mean feat) and put her in with him, so that they could get to know each other. She seemed pretty keen, but he studiously ignored her, and wandered to the opposite side of the barn whenever she tried to approach.
The day came to finally set him free, and hope that he stayed. We gingerly opened the shed door with our hearts in our mouths and he immediately flew to the top of the tallest tree in the forest. He disappeared entirely the following day and we thought he was lost for good. But, after a few days, we started to spot him in the distance, always sticking to the edge of the domain. Over the next few weeks he became bolder, and gradually started to approach the chateau to eat with our chickens.
Now, nearly a year later, he’s truly one of us. He hangs out with the females and displays his magnificent tail feathers to them all the time. I have high hopes that, if they sit on their eggs again this summer, we might have baby peacocks!