A peacock called Tracy

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The 3 eggs arrived in their polystyrene egg box early one morning. My mum answered the door to the postman with a sigh as she had learnt to recognise packaging that most likely contained the contents of eggs. This particular parcel held very expensive cargo –three white peafowl eggs believed fertile from a Suffolk farm. The result  of an impulse purchase during an evening spent upon eBay.

You can buy many types of fertile eggs upon eBay – while you do have to check the feedback, most people selling them are genuine and it's a great way to get hold of different bloodlines and breeds of fowl.

My mothers reaction to seeing the size of the eggs was, 'they better not be what I think they are!'. I had always been fascinated with peafowl – the name that includes both peacocks (males) and peahens (females). As a child, my mum would take my brother and I to Newstead Abbey (where I now work), where at that time was a large flock of unmanaged peafowl who spent a lot of time around the children's playground. I was not at all scared of them despite them being large birds (indeed they are the largest species pheasant). I had an affinity with them from the outset.

White peafowl are not often seen and are not albinos due to them having pigment in their eyes. When I was little I remember seeing images of them to a closing episode of 'A History of Britain' by Simon Schama about Queen Elizabeth – in their white ghostly form they fail to enchant almost anyone.

Peafowl however are not good choices of pets. They need to be free range in order to be happy and will flap in and out of people's gardens at will. They are very vain and love to stare into shiny surfaces. In the case of the peacock, he often mistakes his reflection for that of a rival male bird and he then spars his imaginary rival. Often this results in damaged paint work of the most expensive and cared for cars.

The peacock is also a very loud shouting bird – some comment on them being the most beautiful in looks but with the voice of the devil! Despite this they are entwined in English history. The Tudors saw them as a delicacy, their feathers have never fallen out of favour in the fashion industry and several stately homes are very proud of their peafowl including Warwick Castle whom even has it's own peacock garden with buxus hedges and fountains to compliment their flock.

When I first landed a job at the Abbey peafowl numbers where down to its last male – a previous manager removed the historical flock due to a personal dislike. With some pleading I was granted permission to return a pair of young birds whom where christened Abbie (a peahen) and Arthur ( a peacock).

I arrived carrying Arthur under my arm like a bag pipe with a sock over his head in an attempt to keep him calm. Peacocks have powerful leg muscles so that they can spring board up onto walls and into trees, so you need a firm hold of their talons. Arthur and Abbie we penned up in an outbuilding for 2 weeks before letting them out as they needed to recognise their new surroundings as home. They are true lovebirds and are never far from one another, despite having 300 acres at their disposal. Unsurprisingly they are normally around the cafe courtyard despite being fed daily with corn and peanuts they soon developed an appetite for cake and scones!

One of the white peacock eggs hatched on time after 28 days of incubation. A little confused-looking chick I placed from my incubator to under a broody silkie bantam hen called Deborah. She duly raised it as her own chick until it was double her size. At this point I had to leave Nottingham to go and work at Kew Gardens in London.

Several weeks later my dad rang me with worrying news. The young bird had boulted that evening having tired perhaps of its suburban teenagehood. My dad searched over the following days with no luck and I feared the worst. Several months later the week before I was due to leave Kew Gardens after completing my years training I received a call saying someone near to my dad's house had found a turkey sized white bird that morning and was keeping it in a dog kennel.

The day after my graduation I got home and we went to see if the white peacock had survived. Incredibly it was that little chick from an eBay egg transformed into a beautiful peafowl complete with a beautiful white tiara like head crest standing stately in a dog kennel.

The rescuer, whom thankfully turned out to be an allotment holder whom I knew, kindly allowed me to take back the bird  whom lives at Newstead Abbey in the cloister garden where the monks once prayed and gardened. Here Tracy, named after a dear colleague, lives with 3 young golden pheasants. Local media got hold of the story and Tracy was suddenly on the local news and in the papers!

Hopefully next spring I can find a young white male peacock to keep Tracy company and ensure that any chicks she hatches will be the purest snow white in their plumage! For now I am planting the garden courtyard she resides in with white Narcissus 'Pheasant's Eye' ( how apt!) and the scented narcissus 'Geranium'

Thanks for reading,