“I thought it was surreal,” Evans said.
In those relatively early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Yardley was still reeling from the country’s abrupt closure. Some 400 students, ages 3 to 11, typically played around the grounds. But after the shutdown, the school was almost empty, with only 35 or so in-person learners, primarily those whose parents were deemed key workers.
Seven months on, the bird — since christened Kevin — is still calling the Chingford neighborhood in this northeast section of London home and the Yardley school his home base. For locals who use Facebook to document his travels, Kevin has become a source of joy and solace, a symbol of freedom in this age of lockdowns and a new means of connecting with neighbors at a time when many have never felt so isolated.
“Kevin belongs to everyone and no one,” declared Beth Murray, a 35-year-old charity program manager and Chingford resident.
Nobody knows where Kevin came from. Some speculated that he had escaped from a local farm, while others guessed he belonged to retired soccer star Teddy Sheringham, who is rumored to keep peacocks at his nearby home. (Barry Nevill, Sheringham’s agent, said the star has never owned birds but did have a peahen turn up at his house on several occasions around three years ago.)
A concerned Chingford resident logged the first sighting of Kevin on March 7 on a website that tracks lost pets.
Soon, photos and videos of Kevin were shared on social media: Kevin perched atop a garage. Kevin having a rest on the lawn. Kevin refusing to eat a banana. Sassy Kevin spinning around in circles like a Spice Girl.
Just days after losing her uncle Natraj Nagla to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Jeymini Wright stood outside her home, reflecting on her relationship with him and how he was more like a father to her. Lost in thoughts of love and grief over the 72-year-old’s death, she looked up to find Kevin resting on the roof of her home.
“I’m quite a spiritual person,” said Wright, 40, who is a teacher, but not at Yardley. “I Googled the significance of seeing a peacock, and to see one is to recognize your past, future and present.”
But Kevin did introduce some challenges. As social distancing rules were relaxed in June, Yardley staff worried that Kevin may flee as children returned. The worries were unfounded: Kevin periodically waltzed into the building, once even interrupting a spelling test by repeatedly banging his beak on the door.
Enforcing coronavirus rules with Kevin around also proved a little difficult.
“Trying to socially distance parents whilst Kevin did his full raised-feather mating dance was quite distracting,” said Evans, the headmaster.
When Kevin lost his feathers over the summer, online research led school staff to discover that peacocks shed their plumage to mark the end of mating season.
That raised a new question: Did Kevin need a companion?
According to peafowl expert and former teacher Dennis Fett, also known as “Mr. Peacock,” introducing a peahen may not be easy. And it may not prove fruitful.
Since 1980, Fett has run a farm in Iowa with his wife, Debra, also known as “Mrs. Peacock.” Together they nurture peafowl, write books, hatch eggs and assist the public with peacock problems. An average day for the couple consists of feeding their peacocks mealworms, playing the clarinet to them, and serenading the birds with a song they wrote and performed on television in 1990 titled the “Wacky Peacock Song.”
Fett explained that for a peahen to stay with Kevin, she may have to be placed in a holding cage at first with water and food until she settles into a routine (peacocks thrive on routine) and for the two to become friends.
Fett identified Kevin as a 3-year-old Indian Blue and said peacocks are sociable creatures, which backs up the claim of a Yardley janitor that Kevin looks sad when the children aren’t around.
“They are the happiest creatures,” Fett said. “I’ve never met a mean peacock in my life.”
Staff and students at Yardley fret that now-featherless Kevin may not survive winter. But Fett insists peacocks can live in low temperatures and snow, as long as they have shelter and access to water and food. He recommends a pen that is at least eight feet tall with wire on the outside to keep predators out. The school is looking into that.
To honor Kevin’s decision to set down roots in Chingford, the school decided to name its sports teams the Yardley Peacocks and held a competition that asked students to design a logo for its sports attire.
The winning entry features the school’s initials and a drawing of Kevin in the middle.
“I like that in 30 years’ time, people may ask why we have a peacock on our shirts,” Evans said. “The story can live on about a pandemic peacock that brightened our days.”