Peafowl are one of the most recognizable birds globally, owing to the male’s unique tail feathers patterned with eyespots. The males are referred to as a peacock, which is also the colloquial term for the bird in general, while the females are called peahens.
Males of two of the three species are blue, a unique color to occur naturally. This adds to their striking appearance in addition to their train of feathers.
List of the Common Types of Peafowl Species
There are three known species of peafowl.
Physical Description and Appearance
Size: Length:Males: 70-98 in (180-250 cm) Females: 35-43 in (90-110 cm)
Weight:Males: 8-13 lbs. (3.8-6 kg) Females: 6-8.8 lbs. (2.8-4 kg)
Body and Coloration: Sexual dimorphism is observed between the peacock and the peahen. While both sexes have a crest made of stiff, spatula-like feathers, females are generally smaller than males and have a shorter wingspan. The biggest notable distinction between the two is the tail feathers possessed by the male, commonly referred to as a “train”. These consist of tail quill feathers and highly elongated upper tail coverts, marked with eyespots. This is most commonly seen when a peacock fans his tail.
Indian and Congo peacocks are iridescent bluish-green in plumage, while the peahens are a duller brownish-green, though the latter are slightly less impressive in appearance. Both green peafowl sexes are similar in coloration, appearing green and gold, with black wings that have a shade of blue.
Where are they found
Indian peafowl live in the Indian subcontinent, mainly in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Green peafowl are found in Java and Myanmar in Southeast Asia, and Congo peafowl are from central Africa.
Where do they live
Peafowl prefer to live in warm climates in open lowland and deciduous forests. Most peafowl are observed close to a water source that isn’t dependent on seasonal fluctuations like creeks or rivers. They have also been seen close to parks, cities, orchards, and gardens, though they will avoid human contact.
How long do they live
On average, peacocks live for 10-25 years in the wild.
What do they eat
Omnivorous in nature, their diets consist of berries, figs, flowers, grains, grasses like bamboos, insects, leaves, seeds, small mammals and reptiles, and worms.
They are social, living in groups called parties. These groups are generally harems consisting of a single male peacock and several peahens.
However, males are fiercely territorial when it comes to other birds and even competing peacocks, aggressively attacking those entering their territory.
They roost in trees while spending most of their time on the forest floor.
As a result of the male peacock’s train, several predators often target them. These include big cats like leopards, lions, and tigers, civets, mongooses, and wild cats and dogs.
The plumage of the male plays several vital roles. Not only does it help attract a mate, but it also serves to intimidate predators and rivals for mating.
One key feature of the train of feathers present in the peacock is that they are easily detachable. So if a predator grabs it by its tail feathers, it can escape and fly away.
In the case of the peahens, their more muted green coloration allows them to blend into greenery such as bushes and shrubs. This camouflages her against predators.
How do they reproduce
Females appear to choose their potential mates based on the number of ornamental tail feathers. This was further highlighted in a study by Marion Petrie. She discovered that not only did females prefer mates with a higher feather count, but the resulting chicks were shown to be much healthier. However, a seven-year Japanese study contrasted her findings, not finding a massive correlation between the peacock’s plumage and their ability to attract peahens.
Besides their plumage, the peacocks are known to sing and dance to attract a peahen. They are polygamous, with a single male mating with multiple females.
After an incubation period of around 29 days, the peahen lays 3-6 eggs. The male plays no part in raising the chicks. Chicks of both sexes are similarly colored regardless of gender, varying between yellow and tawny, with brown and white patches. Once they hatch, the chicks can fly small distances within three days. The peahen takes care of her chicks for a few months, teaching them to care for themselves, communicate with others, and what to eat.
Males are fully grown in around a year, and in two years, they look like adult males, lacking only the “eye” patterned tail feathers. They reach sexual maturity when 3 years old, while females do so much earlier at 1 year. Though most females only do so after two years.
As per the IUCN, all three species of peafowl are classified at differing levels of risk. While the Indian peafowl is “Least Concern” or “LC”, the Congo peafowl is “Vulnerable” or “VU”, and the green peafowl is “Endangered” or “EN”. Both the Congo and green peafowl have lost a significant portion of their habitat, which is the main reason for their population decline. The green peafowl has also been hunted and poached repeatedly, causing a further decrease in its numbers.
Attempts have been made to restore the peacock population, with the Congo peafowl being bred at the Belgian Antwerp Zoo and Salonga National Park.
Peafowl – FAQs
1. Does a peacock fly?
Peacocks are, in fact, capable of short bursts of flight but cannot do so over long distances. Estimates suggest that peafowl spend only 2% of their lifespan flying, only while traveling between feeding sites and roosting at night.
2. What does a peacock sound like?
The call of a peacock is similar to that of a baby crying or a cat meowing. At times, they are also known to make a honking sound identical to geese and ducks.
3. Do female peafowl display?
Peahens display their tail feathers; however, they cannot fan them out like their male counterparts.
4. Why do peacock feathers look like eyes?
There are several reasons why the male peafowl’s feathers resemble eyespots or “ocelli”. They can use them to attract a mate, as Charles Darwin posited. The ocelli also make the peacock appear as a much larger creature, intimidating potential predators.
4. Can one have a peacock as a pet?
While desired as pets by many, peafowl are not particularly good companions or protectors. However, if given enough free outdoor space with access to a tree for roosting, they can be easy to keep. It is important to note that potential legal issues exist in keeping peafowl depending on where one lives.
The peacock has played a major role in Indian culture and history. The Hindu god of war Kartikeya rides one as a mount and the Buddhist deity Mahamayuri is often depicted seated on one. In 1963, India adopted it as its national bird.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Hera took the eyes of the fallen hundred-eyed monster Argus, who watched over her while she was shape-shifted into a cow, and preserved them as the tail feathers of the peacock.
Peafowl was often served as a delicacy in ancient civilizations such as Rome and medieval Europe.