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Peacock preserve

Mother and child peacock roam around the Genius Preserve

Mother and child peacock roam around the Genius Preserve

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Take a stroll over to Balmoral Avenue and the Windsong development and you might catch a glimpse of peacocks, who have hopped the fence of the Genius Drive Nature Preserve, crossing the street to make their routine visits to nearby residents' homes.

For residents Ruth Ratcliffee, Maureen Holasek and Sandy Giacalone, these are their pets; every morning and evening they set out bowls of food for Winter Park's iconic community creatures.

Walk down the streets of Winter Park, and you will see images of this bird adorning the sidewall of the Chamber of Commerce building. Walk down Park Avenue, and you will see peacock images hanging outside shop windows. Take a glimpse at city staff vehicles, and you will see the peacock image on the driver's side door.

Head down Interlachen Drive, and you might see a green peacock roaming around the road — that's Giacalone's pet peacock, Ricky, who has been missing for four weeks.

Why does Winter Park have so many images of peacocks? Why is it the city seal? Why is the Windsong development so heavily populated with peacocks?

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Genius Drive is the home of the Genius Preserve, which houses the Winter Park peacocks.

The Winter Park Historical Association will trace the roots of how the peacock came to Winter Park as well as explore the culture, religion, mythology and history of the peacock through artistic pieces, wildlife photography and Louis Comfort Tiffany art.

The Fine Feathers exhibit will host a grand opening on Friday, Sept. 10 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Winter Park Historical Museum, 200 W. New England Ave., and it's open to the public. The exhibit will run through March.

"We see it [the art exhibit] as fresh and fun," said Susan Skolfied, co-curator of the Fine Feathers exhibit. "It's going to trace the peacock through history and how it landed as our symbol, because people see these images all over town, but why is the peacock our bird?"

Meet the residents

Ratcliffee has been a Winter Park resident since 1957, before the Windsong development existed, and it was a part of the Genius Preserve. To get to the preserve, she remembers taking dirt roads that consisted of spiraled turns among orange groves.

When asked how she got her nickname, the Peacock Lady, Ratcliffee laughs and smiles.

She is uncertain how the nickname originated, but she said, "I do love the peacocks."

She is a guardian for peacocks who venture out of the preserve, because when peacocks visit her home, she always walks them back to the preserve gate.

Ratcliffe puts her hand across her heart, and a hint of pain comes from her voice.

"One night, somebody killed two of them with long tails, and the next morning, I walk out and see two of them, one lying behind the other over on a curve; it nearly killed me," Ratcliffe said. "That is the reason I walk them across the street, because I don't ever want them getting hit by a car."

Holasek, a resident of the Windsong development, shares a similar sentiment toward the birds.

"I think of the peacocks as my children," Holasek said.

Giacalone, a resident of the Windsong development, is the owner of two peacocks, Ricky and Lucy. She originally purchased the birds to attract the wild peacocks from the preserve to her home. When the peacocks turned 1 year old, Giacalone decided to release them into the wild.

Lucy joined the flock of birds from the preserve, but Ricky ventured to Interlachen Drive."I tried to tell myself this is a possibility that they will join the flock over there, and I tried to make myself OK with it," Giacalone said. "I surprise myself with how sad I am that they are not here; I'm just very attached at the heart to Ricky and Lucy."

History 101

Hugh McKean, a former president of Rollins College, and Jeannette McKean, granddaughter of Charles Morse and founder of the Morse Museum, brought the first peacock to Winter Park in 1950.

One bird then became two birds, and the birds were moved to the Windsong estate, property Jeanette inherited. The McKeans eventually moved to the Windsong estate and made it open to the public. The peacock population sprouted into the hundreds between 1960 and 1970.

Bonnie Hubbard, grants coordinator for the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, said there are approximately 15 to 18 peacocks left on the preserve.

Hugh closed the preserve to the public in 1987 after a visitor shot a peacock through the neck with a bow and arrow. In 1995, 152 acres of the preserve were sold for future home development where the Windsong development now sits. The preserve is now 48 acres.

In 2004, the Winter Park City Commission was on the hunt for a new city seal, and the peacock was chosen.

Clarissa Howard, director of communication for Winter Park, said the peacock is a bird of pride, and the seal represents Winter Park because the residents and city staff are proud of their city.

"Its classic and timeless design honors the city's commitment to its deep history, strong pride and dedication to the city's rich culture and heritage," she said.

Fine Feathers exhibit & Peacock Ball

The Winter Park Historical Association will host a grand opening for its Fine Feathers exhibit from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 10 at the Farmer's Market.

WPHA will also be hosting its fourth annual Peacock Ball on Nov. 12. Tickets cost $150. Call 407-647-2330 for more information.