Peacock

Reviewed by: BD Editors

A common peacock with its covert feathers extended
A Peacock

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Galliformes
Family Phasianidae
Genus Pavo, Afropavo
Species Pavo cristatus, Pavo muticus, Afropavo congensis
Niche Omnivorous Avian
Length 35-98 in (90-250 cm)
Weight 6-13 lb (2.8-6 kg)
Lifespan 10-25 years
Social Structure Polygamous
Conservation Status Endangered (P. muticus), Vulnerable (A. congensis), Least Concern (P. cristatus)
Preferred Habitat Forests and woodlands
Average Clutch Size 2-10 eggs
Main Food Items and Prey Flowers, leaves, seeds, insects, birds, lizards, amphibians
Predators Tigers, leopards, mongoose, wild dogs

The Basics

Peacock, or peafowl, refers to a large mostly ground-dwelling bird of the genera Pavo and Afropavo. Belonging to Phasianidae, the same family as pheasants, peacocks are known for the colorful fan-like plumage they often display. Two species are native to Asia and one to Africa. However, they are common semi-domestic birds and can be observed in aviaries and parks around the world.

Description

Much like male chickens are often referred to as ‘cocks’, peacock refers to the male members of species collectively known as peafowl. Males are indeed distinctive and are well-known for their colorful feather-fan near their rump that they often open in displays for females. These feathers are very colorful and iridescent, featuring shimmering shades of bright green, blue, and white. When not spread out, these feathers follow the male in a ‘train’ about two thirds the length of the bird itself. Excluding this, peacocks grow to 70-98 in (140-160 cm) long and weigh 8-13 lb (3.8-6 kg).

A Congo Peacock
Male and female Congo peafowl do not display sexual dimorphism as the Indian and green peafowl do

In some species, females are less colorful, typically shades of grey and brown, and do not have as large of tail trains as males. They are also smaller, growing to 35-43 in (90-110 cm) from head to rump and weigh 6-8.8 lb (2.8-4 kg), depending on the species.

Distribution and Habitat

There are three species of peafowl. The Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is native to the Indian subcontinent and is also known as the common peacock or common peafowl. The green peafowl (Pavo muticus) is native to southeast Asia and the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) is endemic to the Congo Basin of Africa.

Within their ranges, peacocks prefer forested areas. Here, they will use trees as a refuge and roosting area, retreating to them in the night to avoid predators. In the mornings, peafowl emerge from their roosts to spend the day in clearings in search of food.

Diet and Predators

All peafowl species are omnivores, subsisting on mostly plant material such as flower petals and seeds. Peafowls also eat animals such as insects, small reptiles, and amphibians. They will spend their days walking around the open areas searching through the leaf litter and other debris. They use their beaks to move items out of the way and scratch at the dirt in search of anything edible. Typically, peafowl retreat to forests during the hottest part of the day to avoid the heat.

A green peacock standing on a log
A green peacock

Peacocks are native to areas that are home to many large predators. In India and Southeast Asia, peafowl are prey to tigers where they still exist as well as wild dogs and mongoose. Similar animals threaten the Congo peacocks as well, although lions effectively replace tigers in Africa. Not only do many animals prey on the peafowl themselves, but their eggs are also vulnerable to predation as well.

Nesting and Reproduction

Peafowl normally build nests on the ground. They will scrape out a small depression in the ground and line it with grass and other soft vegetation where available. Typically these nests are concealed under bushes or in high grass. Peafowl are polygamous, mating with multiple mates. Males will use their covert tail feathers in a courtship display in an attempt to attract a mate. During this performance, males will often shake their feathers and peck at the ground as if it were feeding.

Following copulation, females typically lay between 2-10 eggs. After about 4 weeks of incubation, chicks are born with cryptic plumages, typically varying between yellow and other shades of brown. These chicks will remain with their mothers for about 7-10 weeks for striking out on their own. However, most peafowl will not become sexually mature until between 2-3 years. By this point, they have grown into their adult plumage, although some mails require about 4 years to fully develop their tail feathers that make up their infamous ‘fan’.

Conservation

The common peafowl is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. Not only is the species somewhat common in the wild, but it is very popular in aviaries around the world. The green peafowl, however, is listed as Endangered since 2009 while the Congo peafowl is listed as Vulnerable, with just 2 500-9 000 individuals remaining in the Congo basin in 2013. Some peacocks have been observed to make use of secondary-growth forests, which may point to a potential conservation strategy for the species as old-growth forests become increasingly rare, threatening countless species around the world.

Fun Facts about Peacock!

All About Plumage

The peacock has an iridescent plumage of various shades of blue and green. The green peacock also has green and bronze feathers. This iridescent property gives peacock feathers an almost metallic appearance. These feathers are marked with ‘eyespots’ which further contribute to the intoxicating effects of the plumage when it is fully extended. The congo peafowl and the Indian peafowl exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females being distinct from males. However, both sexes of green peafowls are equally colorful, with much less obvious differences in plumage.

Peacock feathers are iridescent blue and green, appearing almost metallic in nature
Peacock feathers are iridescent blue and green, appearing almost metallic in nature

Sexual Selection

The colorful tail feathers of the peacock have long been held up as an example of sexual selection, a form of natural selection postulated by Charles Darwin in which certain traits evolve because they are selected for by mates and thus sexually selected for. The theory suggests that this selection promotes the maintenance of these traits in the population.

However, a more recent theory referred to as the handicap theory has also been proposed. In this theory, researchers suggest that the feathers are actually a hindrance that requires exceptionally fit males to overcome. They refer to this as a ‘true sign’ of fitness, a particular variation on the classic theory of sexual selection. This is referred to as a potential ‘missing piece’ to Darwin’s puzzle.

A Change of Sex

Since the 1930s several instances of peahens becoming peacocks have been observed. This sexual inversion is believed to be a form of bilateral gynandromorphism, a term used to describe species whose members contain sexual organs from both sexes and occasionally actually make that change. This is not well understood in Peacocks but may occur as a response to demographics and sex ratios within the peafowl population in the individual’s region.

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Biologydictionary.net Editors. “Peacock.” Biology Dictionary, Biologydictionary.net, 22 Sep. 2020, https://biologydictionary.net/peacock/.
Biologydictionary.net Editors. (2020, September 22). Peacock. Retrieved from https://biologydictionary.net/peacock/
Biologydictionary.net Editors. “Peacock.” Biology Dictionary. Biologydictionary.net, September 22, 2020. https://biologydictionary.net/peacock/.

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