Saltwater Portrait

Irene Dickerson: Lewes' peacock lady

Plantation Road property has been home to up to 13 of the birds at once
May 24, 2016

Story Location:
Lewes, DE
United States

Irene Dickerson sits at her dining room table. Behind her, peacock feathers overflow a vase sitting on a wooden desk. Dickerson said she has been raising peacocks for so long that she can’t remember the reason she got her first one 50 years ago.

“I just fell in love with them,” she said. “I just decided I wanted a peacock, and I’ve had them ever since.”

Now 80, Dickerson has lived in Sussex County her whole life. She grew up in Georgetown, on what she described as a normal farm – chickens, ducks, dogs and cats – before moving to the outskirts of Lewes on Plantation Road with her late husband, Carl, in the late 1950s.

She lives on the same 40,000-square-foot, wooded lot and in the same house the couple bought and moved a mile from Postal Lane. The carpenter who built it died right after it was complete, she said.

There have been peacocks on the property longer than there have been condo developments lining Plantation Road. At one point, and until relatively recently, said Dickerson, she had 13 peacocks.

“People say peacocks are difficult to raise, but I haven’t had any problems,” she said.

Dickerson now has two peacocks – one male, Petey, and one female, Penney.

Petey loves to look at himself in the mirror, she said. There are at least two mirrors in her backyard so the bird can admire himself.

Dickerson said when she was younger, she used to worry about the safety of the peacocks. She said she was afraid they’d get hit by a passing car or a fox would kill them, but over the years she’s learned the birds are pretty resilient.

Taking care of the peacocks must be keeping Dickerson young, because she moves around her property with ease and tells a funny story on a moment's notice.

Take, for example, the story behind the autographed Donald Trump campaign sign on an end table in her formal living room.

“It pays to be old and short,” she said, laughing. She then goes onto to explain that she and her daughter had gone to the Trump campaign rally in Harrington. She said they got stuck behind someone much taller than her and couldn’t see anything, so she decided to leave her daughter’s side to find a better view. The way she describes her maneuvering, she must have looked like a young kid with a long grey wig, ducking in and out, and squeezing through small spaces before getting right up front.

“All of a sudden I was right next to the stage. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but Trump is getting my vote,” she said.

Dickerson reminisces about how life on Plantation Road has changed. When she and her husband first settled down, she said, if a car went by, it almost always was someone the couple knew. Now, she said, traffic from the light at the intersection on Route 24 – nearly a mile away – can back almost all the way up to her house during the busy summer months.

“It’s funny how things happen,” she said.

The one thing that hasn’t changed, she said dryly, is the width of Plantation Road. All this traffic and it’s still a single-lane road, Dickerson said.

“I guess they’ve fixed some of the potholes,” she said.

Dickerson’s home is adorned with peacock-themed decorations a person might expect to find, but it's by no means a crazy collage. Instead, it’s a tasteful collection of home accents – a couple of wineglasses with peacock feathers painted on them, a pillow on her couch, three porcelain clocks and at least one candleholder.

The most impressive part of her collection are the large porcelain vases full of those powerfully colored peacock feathers.

Dickerson said she would have more feathers, but she gives a lot of them away for free.

Outside rain falls. Dickerson’s lawn is overgrown, an embarrassment to her because she couldn't run her lawnmower in the wet weather. In addition to the original fully-grown oak trees, with their wet canopy towering overtop, stand magnolia trees, azalea bushes, camellia bushes and a host of other large, leafy, flowering bushes. It was easy to forget the cars speeding by on one of the Cape Region’s busiest roads while looking for Petey and Penney. Stepping into Dickerson's yard is like stepping into the wilds of Sussex County.

Dickerson begins by calling Petey’s name out to see if he’ll come out from where’s he’s hiding.

“They know what we’re saying,” she says.

Then she moves straight out to the stable because it’s been raining and she thinks Penney will be inside. Penney doesn’t like the rain, Dickerson said.

She’s right. Penney, who’s perched on the top row of hay bales, bolts straight for the stable window when visitors come. It may be raining, but apparently Penney spooks easily.

Petey on the other hand, doesn’t care about the rain. He’ll spend all night up in the trees, said Dickerson.

Moving from the stable, we head to the side yard. The grass is shin high and our pants get soaked quickly. The yard isn’t too big, but when on the lookout for something that doesn’t care if it’s found or not, it seems enormous.

Dickerson moves toward one of the mirrors she’s set up. No Petey there. She moves toward a row of pine trees in the middle of the yard. No Petey there.

Then Petey bellows out one of those ear-piercing calls and Dickerson gets an I-know-we’re-close-look. She acknowledges her neighbors have complained about the peacock calls, but Petey only does them when he’s in heat, she said.

Dickerson begins to move towards the corner of her property that sits along Plantation Road. We moved past the trees, and then she points.

There’s Petey – sitting on the fence, watching cars spray rain water into the air. His long plume of feathers nearly touches the grass below. He cocks his head when he sees us, but he sits still. We move closer. He remains still. We move closer. He doesn’t move. Finally, we get too close and he hops off the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

Dickerson sighs, says to keep an eye on where Petey goes and that she’ll be right back. A few seconds later she’s on the other side of the fence with a small rake. Clearly, she’s corralled Petey before.

Petey has crossed one neighbor’s yard and is now making his way across a cornfield. Dickerson slowly makes her way toward him, and he stops when he does see her. When Dickerson gets within range to start swishing the rake back and forth, Petey comes straight back to the house. Dickerson makes her way back, rake over her shoulder.

As Petey makes his way around the yard, feathers down, with his blue head and neck, dark green body and grey legs moving quickly, it’s easy to see why Dickerson has owned the Liberace of the birding world for five decades.

“I watch them all the time,” she said. “I like to set on the top step of my back porch and just watch them.”


  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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