An acclaimed journalist seeks to understand the mysterious allure of peacocks—and in the process discovers unexpected and valuable life lessons.
2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence Longlist Selection
When Sean Flynn’s neighbor in North Carolina texted “Any chance you guys want a peacock? No kidding!” he stared bewilderedly at his phone. He had never considered whether he wanted a peacock. But as an award-winning magazine writer, this kind of mystery intrigued him. So he, his wife, and their two young sons became the owners of not one but three charming yet fickle birds: Carl, Ethel, and Mr. Pickle.
In Why Peacocks?, Flynn chronicles his hilarious and heartwarming first year as a peacock owner, from struggling to build a pen to assisting the local bird doctor in surgery to triumphantly watching a peahen lay her first egg. He also examines the history of peacocks, from their appearance in the Garden of Eden to their befuddling Charles Darwin to their bewitching the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Martha Stewart. And fueled by a reporter’s curiosity, he travels across the globe to learn more about the birds firsthand, with stops including a Scottish castle where peacocks have resided for centuries, a southern California community tormented by a serial killer of peacocks, and a Kansas City airport hotel hosting an annual gathering of true peafowl aficionados.
At turns comically absurd and deeply poignant, Why Peacocks? blends lively, insightful memoir and illuminating science journalism to answer the title’s question. More than that, it offers surprising lessons about love, grief, fatherhood, and family.
Journalist Flynn (3000 Degrees) returns with a wry and moving account of his time keeping peacocks at his North Carolina home. Following the death of his son Emmett's python, Flynn purchased three peacocks Carl, Ethel, and Mr. Pickle after being persuaded by a woman who claimed they were at risk of being killed by a marauding owl. The reality of managing the peafowl proved more challenging, logistically and financially, than Flynn had anticipated despite his belief that he could learn the ropes from Martha Stewart, who also keeps peacocks and he got by thanks to his family's assistance and an awareness of his own fallibility. Along the way, Flynn considers the bird as a cultural and religious symbol (it was a favorite of Greek goddess Hera, for example), and offers stories of other notorious peacock-keepers, among them Damian Williams, who takes care of the birds in their sanctuary in Dunfermline, Scotland. Flynn brings the birds to life as characters ("From her perspective," he writes of caring for Ethel, "assuming she had one, I was her captor"), and a conversation he has with his son about animal death is especially touching. Fans of Lauren Scheuer s Once Upon a Flock should give this a look.