Robert Barcia took a single peacock feather from a vase on the landing of his two-story Victoria Park home and walked into his backyard, crossing to a fence that separates his property from a gated townhouse to the west of him. Then, in a gesture of celebration and defiance, he threw the feather over the fence. It landed on a neighbor's patio. It was June 2, and Barcia had just learned from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department that a neighbor in the complex had turned himself in for the murder of Barcia's beloved peacock, Big Bird.
"I'm very glad the son of a bitch was arrested," Barcia says. "That bird was one big pain in the ass to everybody, but that bird was pretty, that bird was gorgeous, and if you love animals or you love nature, I don't see how you could do something like that."
David Caven, 33, has been charged with third-degree animal cruelty for shooting and killing the peacock. He was released on $2,500 bail last week. His attorney, Fred Haddad, says Caven will plead not guilty and go to trial. If convicted, Caven would face up to a $10,000 fine and five years in jail.
Big Bird had taken up residence in the black-olive tree in Barcia's yard, where Barcia had fed and coddled it for more than a year. The peacock had a huge, magnificent tail span that covered Barcia's small tool shed. And to the dismay of some Victoria Park residents, it made a horrendous honking sound during the mating season that kept neighbors awake. Police say it was Craven who, on the evening of March 3, leaned over the fence and shot Big Bird with a pistol.
The feather that Barcia sailed across the fence had belonged to Big Bird.
According to police detective James Pott, a witness came forward with critical information after he had read an April 10 New Times story about the incident. The man was at a tanning salon, Pott says, when he picked up New Times and read the article. "He agreed what happened was wrong," Pott says, "and that is why he called the police."
News of the arrest spread quickly through the verdant, well-to-do community offering, if not closure, at least another opportunity to talk about the ups and downs of living with peacocks, who still wander through the neighborhood in an unruly flock.
As she walked her husky down 10th Avenue, Susan Mangan rhapsodized about peacocks. "Everybody loves them," she says. "All right, a few people have a problem with the noise. But that's the sound of nature. And he was the most beautiful bird you've ever seen. That was an asinine thing to do."
Barcia's neighbor Suzanne Weiss sheepishly admitted Tuesday evening that she was the one who, several years ago, bought a peacock and a peahen and brought them to Victoria Park. The initial pair has since been joined by a group of peahens that migrated to Victoria Park, she says. The flock now contains one male and about five females. "We are a little mortified to think we have somehow created a problem," she says, "but if I'm doing a sidewalk survey, I would think 99 percent of the people I talk to would say they like them and want them to stay."
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There are even arty justifications for maintaining the flock, Weiss insists: "They are part of a great literary tradition. Flannery O'Connor had peacocks."
Maybe there's a lesson there for the entire neighborhood, says Victoria Park Neighborhood Association President Jan Idleman: No more settling disputes with firearms. "To me, it's just hard to fathom causing any creature to suffer," Idleman says. "Get earplugs. Help them find a place to relocate the bird. We would hope this is a kinder, gentler neighborhood, that if you have a conflict, you would be able to resolve it peacefully."
Barcia, however, still burns with outrage. Caven should be prosecuted under the state's 10-20-Life laws, which impose mandatory sentences for felons convicted of crimes in which they use a firearm, he said. Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, says cruelty to animals is not a charge to which 10-20-Life applies.
But a measly cruelty-to-animals charge? "All of that college education," he says of city prosecutors, "and that is the best they could do when they banged their heads together?"