A suburban fairy tale – featuring a peacock, a trail of bread crumbs and a little girl's dream come true – recently has unfolded on a quiet street in Berkley.
The Mlutkowski family and their neighbors on Columbia were surprised to discover a peacock strutting along their street on Dec. 24, 2012 – Christmas Eve. Jenny Mlutkowski explains what happened next:
Christmas morning, we enjoyed the usual Christmas jazz and when we sat down to eat breakfast we noticed lots of neighbors outside in their jammies checking out the peacock again. People were laughing, taking pictures, having fun. Neighbors called the police and the Detroit Zoo but everyone was told that birds are free to come and go. Later, we “lured” the peacock to our house using pieces of bread. We thought it would be fun to have a photo of a peacock at our house on Christmas. Due to the way we “acquired” our pet, we named her Gretel. Well, I suppose that piece of bread was the tastiest ever because she has been hanging out on our porch ever since.
For the past two weeks, we have come to love having Gretel around. We have learned her schedule. Yes, peacocks keep a schedule. When the sun goes down, she flies up to our neighbor’s tree where she sleeps for the night. When the sun rises, she flies down to our porch. We have learned her habits and hiding spots along with her likes and dislikes. I read online that peacocks like cheese. This is true. I bought some Midwest blend birdseed. She likes all the seeds but does not like the thistle seeds. Gretel will eat everything in her dish but leave a pile of thistles. I give her a small dish of seed a day. Gretel is a friendly bird. She loves watching kids play. Whenever we are outside she walks right up to us. When we speak to her, she cocks her lovely head. I believe that she likes us as much as we like her. However, we never touch her.
[Have you snapped a photo of Gretel? Upload it to the gallery!]
What makes the tale of Gretel's arrival on Columbia all the more magical is that Mimi Mlutkowski, 6, had been asking for a pet bird, her mom said.
"It works out perfectly! She doesn't even have to live in the house," Jenny Mlutkowski said of Gretel.
Tom Schneider, who serves as curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo, said Gretel – who, as a female, is actually called a peahen, rather than a peacock – could be quite comfortable at the Mlutkowski's house.
"They come from Asia in areas where it gets pretty cold," he said, adding that the zoo does not bring its peafowl – the name for males and females of the species – inside during the winter but does offer them access to shelter. Gretel has found just such a spot under the Mlutkowski's bay window, protected from blustery winds behind a row of shrubbery.
Schneider said the zoo's peafowl eat cracked corn and dog food, but that the birds are "pretty omnivorous – they'll eat a lot of different stuff," making Gretel's diet of bird seed and cheese, plus anything she finds outside, sufficient.
While peafowl normally flock together during the winter months, Schneider said they are quite territorial the rest of the year and that it is not unusual for the birds to live solitary lives during the breeding season.
But, the youngest Mlutkowski can't help but worry about Gretel's own family: Violet, 3, fears the wayward peafowl may have offspring who miss her.
"I keep trying to convince her that Gretel would not leave her babies and would not even have babies this time of year but Violet remains unconvinced," Jenny Mlutkowski said.
Schneider said the peafowl family members at the zoo are banded, which Gretel does not appear to be.
"I kind of doubt it's one of ours," he said of Gretel. "It's unlikely it would wander that far away."
He added that anyone can buy a peafowl to keep as a domesticated bird, similar to a chicken. Nonetheless, Schneider is working to arrange a visit to the Mlutkowski's house to take a gander at Gretel and see whether she belongs at the zoo, he said.
"We were just an average family of four living a very normal life in Berkley," Jenny Mlutkowski said. "Then Gretel came along and gave us a little excitement. We have no idea how long she will stay with us, but she is welcome to hang out in our yard as long as she needs us."