Peafowl is the term given to 2 species of bird which are members of the pheasant family. The Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is a native bird to the Indian subcontinent and the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) breeds from east Burma to Java. Males are known as ‘Peacocks’ and females as ‘Peahens’. The Peacock is the national bird of India. Peacocks are well known for their magnificent, beautiful tail feather displays during courtship.
The Peacocks brilliant ‘train’ contains over 200 shimmering feathers, each one decorated with eyespots. The male Indian Peacock has iridescent colouring of blue and green on its head, neck and breast. Their long ‘trains’ are not the tail quill feathers but elongated upper tail feather coverts. The train is bronze and green and has a series of ‘eyes’ which are more prominent when the tail is fanned.
The male Indian Peafowls actual tail feathers are short and grey in colour and can only be seen from behind when the tail is extended and fully fanned. The males display their beautiful fanned trains as part of their courtship behaviour to the Peahens. During molting season, the males shed their train feathers and their grey quill feathers are more obvious.
Female Peafowl lack the bright colours of the male and have a more duller appearance which is common in many other bird species. Peahens are generally brown in colour with lighter underparts. They also lack the long upper tail coverts. They may have some iridescent green colouring on their neck.
Both male and female Peafowl have crests on top of their heads which are also present on the Green Peafowl species. Green Peafowl differ in appearance to the Indian Peafowl in that the male has a green and gold plumage and their wings are black with a sheen of blue. Unlike the Indian Peafowl, Green Peahens are similar to the Green Peacocks only having shorter upper tail feather coverts and slightly less iridescent in some parts. In the months where the male has no train, it is difficult to tell females and males apart.
Peafowl are large birds with males measuring up to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) in length and females being smaller at 86 centimetres (34 inches) in length. The tail length of the male Peafowl can be 4 – 5 feet. Peacocks weigh 9 – 13 pounds and Peahens weigh 6 – 9 pounds. Like other members of Galliformes, both male and female Peafowl have sharp, powerful metatarsal spurs also known as ‘kicking thorns’ which they use to defend themselves against predators. Their legs are strong and they have 3 strong toes facing forward and one facing backwards. Because their wing surface to bodyweight ratio is not large, most species of Peafowl are incapable of long flights.
Apart from the Indian Peafowl and the Green Peafowl, 1 or 2 mutations have been developed by those kept in captivity. One of them is a white Peafowl species called the Indian White Peafowl. Another species found in the rainforests of Central Africa is the Congo Peafowl.
Peafowl are mainly ground-dwelling birds preferring forests and farmland. They can also be found in bushlands and rainforests. Many will nest on the ground while some will roost in trees.
Peafowl are omnivores and their diet consists of plants and flower petals, seeds, ants, termites, ticks and locust. They will also eat small reptiles such as young Cobra snakes, arthropods and amphibians.
Peafowl Mating Behaviour and Peafowl Reproduction
The Peacock is a classic example of ‘sexual selection’ influencing evolution. Studies prove that Peahens prefer to mate with the most impressive males displaying the largest number of eyespots in their tails .Studies have shown that the males with the largest eyespots tend to father bigger, healthier and fitter young that are more likely to survive, proving that the beauty of the Peacock is more than skin deep. Peacocks molt their tail feathers around August time and begin to regrow them.
During courtship, the male spreads his train of feathers and makes it shiver to attract the female. The male will often back towards the receptive female, swinging around to confront her with the magnificence of his display before taking several steps back and bowing. The display is followed by the male vocalising very loud calls known as ‘crows’ that are even louder than a Roosters crow. If the Peahen is impressed, she will join his harem of females, for like most male birds with a highly ornamented plumage, the Peacock is polygamous.
Females are well equipped for their maternal roles with their discreet, cryptic colouration. Males play no part in rearing the young and being so conspicuous, would probably be a liability in the way of camouflage.
Peahens generally reach breeding age at around 2 years, Peacocks at around 3 years. Peahens lay 6 – 12 brownish, buff coloured eggs from April to September. They are laid in a nest which has been scratched out in the ground and lined with grass. The Peahen will sit upon the eggs and incubate them for 28 days.
Peachicks are born weighing 3.6 ounces (103 grams), fully feathered and can fly within a couple of weeks. They must learn to fly quite soon in order to stay with their mothers when roosting in trees to ensure survival from predators. Peachicks are taught how to eat and how to make a variety of sounds by the Peahen. Under the age of 1 year, young Peafowl are called ‘Peachicks’. A males train of feathers will not be present for 3 years and will develop over this time. The life span of a healthy Peafowl can be 40 – 50 years.
Peafowl Conservation Status
The IUCN lists the Green Peafowl as vulnerable to extinction due to hunting and a reduction in extent and quality of habitat.