Recently the internet was ablaze with a story about a woman trying to fly United Airlines with her pet peacock, a supposed emotional support bird. The (single) dark video shows her walking (alone, no other passengers anywhere near her) into the airport with an apparent peacock on her back as she strides confidently up to the terminal to present her…and the bird’s…ticket to fly.
Watching this video, it reminded me of the lions in The Greatest Showman. Entertaining, beautiful, but not realistic.
Numerous people tagged me in that video and article, since I also happen to travel with an adult male peacock named Radagast. Rad came to my animal rescue as an egg-sized baby. I traveled (by car) to work hundreds of miles from home for weeks at a time, and to keep him alive, I brought Rad with me. Due to a babyhood illness, Rad was never healthy enough to return to the wild, so he became a permanent part of our human-animal pack. And my life changed in many dramatic ways, as I am Rad’s only handler. No one else, not even my partner who helped raise him (“Rad’s Dad”) can carry him or hold him, because peacocks are volatile and particular birds. I have to be home at sunset every evening to put Rad to bed, or bring him with me if that is not a possibility. I have to move him twice a day, from his evening perch in the garage to his daytime aviary and back again, morning and evening. When Rad is not beside me in the front seat of my vehicle, he spends his days in a large enclosure where he can run around, flap his wings, roll in the dirt, sun himself, and mostly, sit on the perch outside my bedroom window where I work. He hangs out with me and our pack’s feral kitten, Athena, who also travels with us, along with a big white polar bear of a dog named Drinian (Rad’s guardian dog). We are a family, even though we may be an odd family at that.
When I saw the explosion of videos and articles I was tagged in, I quickly checked it out. First off, I have noticed an ongoing perpetuating ‘performance art’ using a peacock in NYC over the past couple of years. There was the peacock on a leash photo. I didn’t believe that photo for a second. I do believe someone would create a fantasy photo using a live pet peacock. Either way, I thought it was a bad idea to put a peacock on a leash, until I met 2 people online who own travelling peacocks also, who convinced me otherwise. Now Rad has a harness and leash, too. I finally get it.
Another photo came at the end of last year: Guy on a subway with a peacock. I just assumed it was a stuffed peacock. If it was the infamous NYC Art Stunt peacock, how did those owners get such a photo? Wasn’t the bird scared in public?
Most of these ‘events’ have one photo associated with them, which to me meant that it could be a staged event in order to get a controversial or provocative photograph, probably in an attempt to go viral online. Or so I thought. I just thought the NYC peacock was a hoax…or Performance Art.
Same holds with this recent story …the vague story came from some little known blog. As the wind hit the sails, more information about the owner and the bird began to leak out. I believed there is no way that woman was serious about flying with her bird. The whole thing had to be an artistic stunt. While there may be artists in NYC who enjoy creating performance art with their peacock in public, I discounted the entire scenario as a hoax. (I have since learned that everything I thought was fake was actually, real). Nonetheless, I believed that no one would want to fly United with a peacock. Because here is what it would REALLY be like to travel with a peacock on a plane…
What would it entail (no pun intended!) to get Rad on a plane in a public place? First off, Rad is well traveled, in a car. He started in a sedan, moved up to an SUV and large classic Cadillac, and now most of the year needs a schoolbus RV (“skoolie”) to get around, because he is over 8 feet long during the peak of his annual growth spurt. Rad has traveled thousands of miles and been in 5 states, and he always rides shot gun and gets a birds’ eye view of wherever our road trip takes us. As an education bird, he has met thousands of people, mostly children in classrooms at schools or Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, libraries, etc. He also has attended a surprising number of music festivals, and knows quite a few musicians personally. People should know, it is a major undertaking getting Rad to a ‘public appearance.’ We have had to invent various travel accoutrements to assist in getting Rad out in the world. We have the “Rad Mobile”, a Radio Flyer (actually it says “Rad Flyer”) red wagon that we built a portable aviary on top of with a perch inside for Rad to ride on. He looks like a king as he is transported from car to Rad Mobile, and then we use that vehicle to bring him to the classroom. We usually have one or two school assistants spotting us to keep curious kid hands off his tail. Getting Rad from Point A (vehicle) to Point B (portable aviary) is always a challenge. I carry Rad like a bird of prey on my arm. He has very sharp talons, so I wear a welder’s glove and sleeve. The few instances when he has latched on to my arm or back have caused skin tears and bleeding. Peacocks are rather dangerous, and strong. I need to hold on tight to him, get him settled into position, and carefully relocate him. The idea of bringing him into a crowded airport full of strange noises and people without him being safely enclosed in his portable aviary is ludicrous. He would probably freak out, giving those of us who do travel with their peacock a bad name!
Rad the Peacock in his travel aviary, the Rad Mobile, for public events
Photo: Mary Jo Hazard
We also utilize the Rad Tent, an easy pop up screened tent that we put a folding-stool-turned-perch in for Rad to stretch out. We use this as his daytime aviary when we park the bus for more than a few hours, or when we are visiting family or friends. You can’t just put a bird that size in the front seat of a car and hope for the best…peacocks’ feet get sore if they perch in one place too long, and they need to lie down periodically. It is a delicate balance to travel long distances with a peacock in full plume. Trust me. I was NOT a skoolie owner when we first adopted Rad. That bus purchase was a decision made as we tried unsuccessfully to squish him into normal-sized cars. You should have seen us try and stay in hotels before we got the skoolie though. Rad is a major bed hog.
Bedhog Rad and Drinian the big white dog in a hotel room
Here is what would happen if Rad were to fly with me, in one seat, on an airplane. Once seated, he would begin by making his “what?” noise, a crooning sound that we identify as his asking, ‘what?” He does this when on edge but curious. The “what noise” is associated with his neck stretching up, and he looks around, eyes wide. Think of peacocks as dinosaurs, like ancient pterodactyls in the modern world. Having that eye stare you down is intimidating at best. I would have to give Rad the window seat, facing forward, or else he would glare mockingly at the person behind us. If Rad had an aisle seat, then he would harass the person across the aisle from us and nip at the plane employees as they tried to walk past. Forget it if there were a third person in a row with us. Rad is as tame as an adult male peacock can be, but he would probably snap at the person to see what they taste like. If someone near us had jewelry or sparkly or blue nail polish on, that would be bad. That is just peacock bait. He would want that person’s bling, and persist in trying to steal said jewelry. While it would be complicated, Rad’s tail could be fitted between the wall and plane seat, but would land in the lap of the person behind us. We would have to politely ask them to not touch it for the duration of the trip. His tail is too long for him to sit on the seat facing backward, it would touch the floor in front of the seat, and in that position, he might try and fan his tail, which would be an airplane aisle disaster in the making.
Things would maybe be okay if we could get him situated properly, that is, until the engine started. Then things would get weird. Peacocks respond to loud noise with loud noise…their own shrieking caw. It is an ear buster, especially in a confined space like a bus or car or…plane. Rad’s Dad can get Rad to ‘sing’ with him on road trips, and I can be sitting across from Rad in the back and still have to cover my ears. Inside a plane, forget it…it is a horrible noise that hurts your ears and brain for minutes afterward. But Rad would probably answer the engine’s rumble. I’m sure the other passengers would notice. Once we took off though, I could probably settle him down again.
But when Rad gets nervous, he poops. Stinky poops. Not every poop is super stinky, but the nervous ones, are. And I mean, I keep diaper wipes at my side like a gun in a holster in the wild west. You have to quickly wipe it up, bag it, and twist that stench into oblivion, then spray air freshener. Except, air freshening spray isn’t allowed on commercial flights. So seriously, everyone within a ten foot radius of me would have a nose full of hate going on. Then, after the poop incident, once we reached altitude, Rad would try and pop his ears. He literally looks like he is dying when this happens. He ‘gags’, opening and closing his mouth soundlessly, as his ears readjust to altitude. I know this from our first Grapevine trip. I looked over at him on the I-5’s steep Grapevine in California, and thought he was dying, and pulled off the road and waited for his demise. But no…he just stared at me with pterodactyl eyes, still gagging on NOTHING. Then he stopped and was fine. It wasn’t until the same thing happened on the way home that I realized what was happening. Altitude ear popping, not death throes. Check.
Finally, if the flight had any beverage or food, especially peanuts, I would be hosed. Rad gets a bit uppity when food comes. Drive-throughs are a risk. We have to hide the food until we are a parked and then, we have to cool Rad’s food (he likes French fries and tomatoes…and peanuts). We put his portion in the furthest corner of the vehicle away from all other occupants, then we can eat, but we still don’t eat right in front of him, but keep the food hidden in the bag and sneak bites, because if he wants a taste of yours, he lets you know by biting the nearest occupant in the arm. And that is very unpleasant and often calls for bandaids, because his beak is hella sharp. To sum it up, the nuance of traveling with Rad is not as easy as I may make it seem on social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter…cuz he likes to ‘tweet’). It is a constant challenge going anywhere with a huge sharply-taloned-and-beaked creature that wants what you are eating, and gets grumpy with vampire-like timing at sunset each night.
For the above reasons, I would never attempt to fly Rad on a commercial flight. Because of that perhaps, Rad is a road tripping peacock. He is currently up for the Guinness World Record for most traveled peacock by vehicle. He has been stunning people with his appearance in a car at rest stops and on the freeway since he was so young, people couldn’t identify what type of bird he was. He has been stopped twice at the Arizona border, where I have to present his ‘portfolio’ proving I have owned him previously to entering Arizona, that he is an education bird, and that he comes from California. We are so careful with Rad and still have ‘escape incidents’ nonetheless. So what bothers me most is that someone irresponsible would bring their own peacock into harm’s way by putting them on their back with no tether or constraint in a public place. Peacocks are violent. They will pull a can of whupass on you as much as let you pet them gently under the chin (and most peacocks won’t allow even that!) They are all talons, spurs, and sharp beak and do a mean Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fight scene impersonation if you mess with them. Traveling with Rad is like bringing a bird of prey into a public place…most owners of such beasts understand the logistics, the dangers, and put their animal first. So while I tended at first to think that this event must have been performance art, a.k.a., an internet hoax, or just some ploy to go viral on the internet, it really did raise awareness for those of us who legitimately have found ourselves having to travel with rare exotics, not because we need an ‘emotional support’ animal, but because we are trying to save an animal’s life, and the only way it can happen is to include the animal in our daily existence with our existing human and critter family. So, I can safely say to my NYC peacock-toting brethren, flying on a plane with a peacock is probably a bad idea, as you know, for the above reasons. Just speaking from experience here.
I am usually a “what can go wrong” kind of person, but I know what can go wrong. I am even suggesting to all who see this: DO NOT GET A PEACOCK FOR A PET. Really. Bad. Idea. If you disregard this suggestion, at least never try to put yours on a commercial flight. And if you disregard this sage advice and you do try to fly United with an adult male peacock: at least remember to bring a ton of diaper wipes.
Cat Spydell is an author and animal communicator living in Los Angeles, CA.
For more information about Rad the Peacock, check out #radthepeacock on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.