HEBRON - The Road Runner on the Wile E. Coyote cartoon is a speedy dude, but the peacocks out at Saxowskys might be even faster.

Karen and George Saxowsky have nearly 50 peacocks at their Hebron farm, the one along Interstate-94 that has the small white chapel and that enigmatic sign that reads only the letter "Q." More on the "Q" later.

Theoretically, their exotic birds like to strut around the yard near suppertime and show off their gorgeous tail fans.

To see this phenomenon would require the birds actually stay put for a minute. However, when they sense a stranger, they disappear around a corner, into the barn, through the fence, behind a tree, as fast as their two spindly legs can carry them, which is remarkably fast.

The faster they're pursued, the faster they run.

It's far easier to get a good look at the one they had stuffed and mounted a few months back.

Karen Saxowsky is a little creeped out by the stuffed bird so it's banished to the upstairs of their farmhouse.

It is quite a spectacle with its long brilliant train and shimmery coat of feathers, but Karen Saxowsky said she much prefers the living birds that come up near the patio door for bread crusts - they're partial to cheap white bread - or hover nearby when she's out in the garden.

Like nearly any interest a person gets, the plan to have a few peacocks around for their exotic beauty kind of got away on the Saxowskys. After acquiring their first 15 in 1993, the number kept multiplying, though nighttime predators like raccoons and coyotes, and their own generosity in giving them to others hold the numbers down.

They're cheap to keep and their entertainment value is high.

They aren't the smartest bird on the planet. George Saxowsky said he's watched more than one peacock fly from some height, smack into a wood post and knock itself silly.

Inexplicably, they're drawn to fire, and a fall bonfire out in the yard is accompanied by peacocks, cozying up and clucking around the scene.

They are light on the food budget.

They eat all the insects in the yard, some flowers, sadly, and odd bits of grain or corn.

The bird is indigenous to India, but with feed and shelter, gets through a North Dakota winter just fine. They'll roost in trees, sometimes, in a snowstorm.

The Saxowskys can tell peacock stories all day and into the night.

They have a few good lines down pat.

The most memorable is the response to the old standard question, "What does peacock taste like, anyway?"

The answer ought to be the standard, "Like chicken," of course.

Instead, George Saxowsky says they taste like bald eagles, a jokey response he pulled one time in the presence of a Game and Fish warden. Haarh-haarh, but not so much for the warden.

There isn't much to a peacock. They weigh maybe 10 pounds with all their feathers; at best they'd dress out to 5.

But they're pets. They're not for dinner.

The Saxowskys protect the peacock chicks, if they can get to them before something else does, and collect the fancy feathers when they find them around they yard.

The males have 250 "eyes" in their tail feathers when their plumage matures after about three years and stretches out a full 10 feet. The birds live about seven years though it's unusual for them to die of old age.

Karen Saxowsky has just about everything "peacock," that's available, from knick-knacks, to wallpaper motif, to towels, to Christmas decorations to you-name-it.

"I told the kids I think I've got enough," she says, but when something else gorgeously peacock comes along, she can't resist and she tells her kids not to, either.

Beth Carlson, a deputy state veterinarian, said folks like the Saxowskys don't have to register, or license their peacocks because they're not treated like more exotic animals are in the state.

She said people who bring them in from another state do need a health certificate to prove the birds don't carry some form of disease, like avian bird flu.

They're in the same category as mules, donkeys, emus, ostriches, and the like.

Licenses for non-traditional livestock are more restrictive and their premises must be inspected biannually and their owners provide the security required to keep the animal and humans safe.

Of 90 such non-traditional licenses, one-third are for birds like wild turkey, Canada geese and mallards. Another 30 licenses are for deer and one reindeer and four are issued to the state's zoos.

The remainder is for other privately-held animals including monkey, wallaby, wallaroo, zebra, prairie dog, woodchuck, lynx, bobcat, fennec fox, and mouflon sheep, Carlson said.

People can own virtually any animal, but in some cases, like for bears or lions, very severe restrictions tend to make it nearly impossible, anyway, she said.

Only skunks and raccoons are forbidden and that's because there's no vaccination against rabies.

Back at the Saxowskys, three varieties of peacocks -black winged, Indian blue and white - are only competing with barn cats for space.

Karen Saxowsky said she still finds them beautiful after all these years and George Saxowsky said he gets a kick out of watching them scoot around the place.

They're really just into it for the fun.

Like that "Q" sign readable from the Interstate.

It's for all those kids that go by, trapped in the car, playing the age-old alphabet game to pass the long miles.

A letter "Q," unlike a peacock, can be pretty hard to come by.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 888-303-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.)

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