Indian blue peafowl, Pavo cristatus, (also known as peacocks) are native to Sri Lanka and India, but can also be found naturally in Pakistan, Kashmir, Nepal, Assam, Nagaland, Burma, Java, Ceylon, Malaya, and the Congo. Peafowl are prized possessions and therefore can be found in any country in captivity through trade. The Arakan hills prevented this species from moving naturally to the east, while the mountains of the Himalayas and Karakoram further prevented their travel north.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Introduced ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Introduced ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )
Global Range: Native to India and southeastern Asia. Introduced and established in scattered localities in Hawaii (Hawaii, Oahu, Niihau, and Maui) and in North America (small semi-domesticated populations) (AOU 1983, Pratt et al. 1987).
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Indian blue peafowl are known best for their exquisite train and plumage. If the length of the tail and wing span is included, the peafowl is considered one of the largest flying birds. They weigh in between 2.7-6 kg and have a wingspan of 1.4-1.6 m. They vary widely in length from 0.86-2.12 m. This species has long, strong, grayish-brown legs equipped for running away into brush for safety. Both sexes are equipped with spurs that are around 2.5 cm long; males will use them during the breeding season to ward off other competing males. Females are brown, grey, and cream-colored. Chicks are usually a light yellow to brown color. The males have a long train, about 1.2 m in length on average, from June to December. The train is discarded in January, but is grown again at a rapid pace when breeding season approaches. Their necks and breasts are a bright blue, golden feathers line their sides and backs, and their trains are an iridescent arrangement of multiple colors featuring ocelli (eye-spots). When displayed, the male’s train spreads out in a wide fan, showing off gold, brown, green, and black feathers. Around 30 to 40 of the ocelli around the outer edges of the fan are not round but v-shaped. This complicated pattern is thought to be an advantage in mating, and even though it might seem like this bright pattern would make peafowl stand out, they can very easily disappear into foliage, making it extremely hard to spot.
There are three variations in the Indian blue peafowl. The white feathered peafowl has completely white feathers from the top of its head to the end of its train, with the ocelli barely visible. These are not albinos because they are true breeders (when bred with another white feathered peafowl, all their offspring will be white feathered peafowl as well) and have brown eyes. In another version known as pied, random white feathers appear in the plumage. This results from an incomplete dominant gene. Due to a different mutation, another variation results in dark feathers with blue and green tips, called the black-winged peafowl. In addition, Pavo cristatus can hybridize with the green peafowl, Pavo muticus. For the past two decades, a new mutation in the plumage has been discovered almost every year.
Range mass: 2.7 to 6 kg.
Average mass: 4 kg.
Range length: 0.86 to 2.12 m.
Average length: 1.50 m.
Range wingspan: 1.4 to 1.6 m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful; ornamentation
Length: 254 cm
Indian blue peafowl do not migrate or travel widely. They are most common in deciduous, open forest habitats. In one study in Dak Lak, Vietnam, green peafowl preferred dry deciduous forest over mixed and evergreen forest. Areas that had sufficient water sources and were relatively distant from any human presence were also preferred if given the choice. Their basic requirements include a suitable roost tree, a small territory, and sufficient food. In their native range, peafowl are only found from 900 to 1200 m above sea level in areas with appropriate forest habitat to support them. Peafowl are able to adapt to much colder climates than their native range. In captivity, they can survive winters in southern Britain with only a simple shelter. However, in areas that are both damp and cold, peafowl do not fare as well. They are often kept in urban gardens and zoos.
Range elevation: 900 to 1200 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; mountains
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Open forest, forest edge, second growth, scrub, open areas with scattered trees, cultivated lands (AOU 1983). Hawaii: very "shy" in wild, usually in dense forest (Pratt et al. 1987).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Indian blue peafowl are omnivorous. They consume insects, worms, lizards, frogs, and snakes. Termites are their food of choice. This species name in Sanskirt means “killer of snakes” because they eat young cobras (Ophiophagus Hannah), making them invaluable and often revered. They also feed on tree and flower buds, petals, grain, and grass and bamboo shoots. In order to help with the breakdown of their food, peafowl will ingest pebbles which are stored in their gizzard and help grind up grains. It is also reliant on an abundance of water for survival.
Animal Foods: amphibians; reptiles; insects; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers
Primary Diet: omnivore
Indian blue peafowl help regulate the numbers of venomous snakes, abundant lizards, and insects to maintain a stable ecosystem. Peafowl are a carrier of lice and microorganisms. In one study, Pavo cristatus was found to be a host for two louse species, Goniodes pavonis and Amyrisdea minuta. Because males and females only come together to mate and there is no parental care by the father, louse distribution is largely continued from the mother to the offspring. The father can still pass on the lice secondarily by infecting the mother, who then passes the lice to the peachicks. Females avoid this situation by picking the favored males because those mates most likely have the best parasite resistance and are less likely to pass on any parasites during copulation. In another study of captive peafowl at three different zoos, scientists tested the birds for the presence of harmful microorganisms. All three zoos had peafowl that carried Bordetella avium, Mycoplasma synoviae, Clostridium perfringens, and Escherichia coli. Bordetella avium and Mycoplasma synoviae are contagious and can be passed on to other species, but do not result in high mortality rates. Clostridium perfringens is a helpful bacteria for the digestive system of birds and is opportunistic, only becoming harmful under certain circumstances (like if the immune system is compromised by some other illness).
- Intestinal bacteria Clostridium perfringens
- Intestinal bacteria Clostridium perfringens
- Intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli
- Louse Amyrisdea minuta
- Louse Goniodes pavonis
- Respiratory bacteria Bordetella avium
- Respiratory bacteria Mycoplasma synoviae
The natural enemies of Indian blue peafowl are large cats like civets (Civettictis civetta), tigers (Panthera tigris), and leopards (Panthera pardus). Wild dogs like dholes (Cuon alpines) and jackals (Canis aureus) are also considered to be main predators. Because peafowl are so effective at running away and disappearing into shrubbery, predators usually take the birds down in a surprise attack.
The male train can contribute to a higher predation rate on this species. When they are drinking or displaying, the train obstructs their view of potential predators stalking them from behind. Predators can also snatch a male's train if they are roosting too low. For example, tigers can stretch up to three meters and male peacocks can have trains over a meter long therefore it’s crucial for the peacock to be up at least five meters from the ground in order to be secure. Peafowl can use the spurs on their legs to defend themselves, but do not easily deter predators. However, humans have done the most damage to peacock populations and are considered to be the greatest enemy. Humans have been destroying their natural range, reducing their habitat, hunting them for sport, and eating them and their eggs.
- Civet Civettictis civetta
- Tiger Panthera tigris
- Leopard Panthera pardus
- Dhole Cuon alpinus
- Jackal Canis aureus
- Human Homo sapiens
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
The calls of Indian blue peafowl are extremely loud and are often described as unpleasant, harsh shrieking. These calls are extremely varied, with up to six alarm calls issued by both sexes and seven additional calls that males emit during territorial disputes. Three of the calls the males produce are only associated with reproduction, and are typically only used during breeding season. These calls are only created by sexually-mature males, and can affect mating success. The calls mostly differ in pitch and the number of notes. These calls could be more important than the actual visual display of the males trains in which even the most elaborate can have varying rates of mating success. Vocal calls with more than five notes are generally more successful and it is believed that these types of calls are sexually selected by the females. Also, when predators, humans, or any other type of disturbance agitates a peafowl, they can issue an alarm call. The type of alarm call emitted depends on the threat. However, no matter how great the level of alarm, peafowls of any age and gender call back to increase awareness among the group. If the call indicates great danger, the peafowls will relocate to a safer position.
The elaborate ornamentation of male plumage is an important visual cue that communicates fitness to potential mates. Indian blue peafowl perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical stimuli.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Pavo cristatus can live up to 25 years in the wild, but the average is around 20 years due to predation, diseases, electrocution from flying into power lines, pesticide poisoning, and destruction of their natural habitat. In captivity, the maximum life span is 23.2 years, with an average around 16 years. These differences in lifespan between captivity and the wild can be due to the diet. In the wild, peafowl have an entirely different lifestyle because they are always searching for food and must eat whatever they can find. In captivity, peafowl eat the feed that is given to them and do not have to search constantly for food. Because they are not burning off excessive protein and calcium, gout and kidney failure can shorten the lifespan of these captive birds. Those who decide to have Pavo cristatus as pets need to worm the peafowl twice a year to get rid of any parasites and prevent disease.
Status: wild: 10 to 25 years.
Status: wild: 18 years.
Status: captivity: 10 to 23.2 years.
Status: captivity: 15 years.
Status: wild: 10 to 20 years.
Status: captivity: 10 to 18 years.
Status: captivity: 15 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
There is a significant positive correlation between a peafowl’s train and its mating success. This correlation is due to female’s preference for more elaborate trains on their mates. Males spend a great deal of energy to produce and maintain good tail conditions, resulting in a trade-off between a longer train and avoiding predators or searching for food. Mating success is usually more successful for the males with the highest number of eyespots (also called ocelli) on their train. If eyespots were experimentally removed from a male’s train below the the range of other individuals eyespot numbers, mating success decreased significantly. There is also a positive correlation between the number of eyespots, the amount of time a male displays to a female during the breeding season, and the overall health of the individual. A peacock that displays less often and has less eyespots has more heterophils circulating in its body, indicating the peacock is spending more energy to fight off an infection than a male that displays more often with more eyespots. Peahens choose the peacocks with the most eyespots because her chicks will hopefully inherit the male’s superior immune system and have a greater chance at survival.
However, females rely on more than one trait when picking a male. Feather ornaments, such as length and number of eyespots during breeding season, is a fixed characteristic based on genetics and can reflect their past condition such as attacks or illnesses. Behavioral displays are flexible characteristics that can change day to day, mate to mate, and improve with experience. For example, peacocks use the sun at different angles when performing visual displays such as “train-rattling” or “wing-shaking”. Visual genetic traits and behavior of the male allow the peahen to determine the health of a mate and the benefits it would confer to their offspring.
Peahens are also very aggressive when it comes to finding a suitable partner. The bigger and stronger females will fight away other females and try to monopolize the male by repeatedly mating with him. Favored males tend to mate with more females and the same female more than once, increasing their fitness significantly. On average, males usually mate with up to six different peahens every breeding season. Because the male only contributes its sperm, females must pick the best possible choice and try to limit the access of other females to increase their own offspring’s survival rates.
Mating System: polygynous
This species becomes sexually mature at three years, though some males can breed at age 2. Females will lay 3-5 brownish oval eggs, but in some cases have laid up to 12. The eggs are laid one at a time every other day. Their glossy shells have deep, small pores that let in water to keep it moist. The incubation period lasts up to 28 days.
The nest is made up of dry sticks and leaves, and is located on the ground, under shrubs. Naturally, a peahen will only lay one clutch per breeding season. If raised in captivity and a clutch is taken away from the female, she will mate again and can lay up to three clutches in a breeding season. The clutches removed from the mother can be given to a foster parent such as a turkey hen.
Chicks are mobile and fully feathered at hatching, can fly in about one week, and rely on their mother for only an additional few weeks. Although the chicks are fairly resilient, they do need relatively warm temperatures to survive and can die in colder climates. Some aviculturists have avoided this problem by raising eggs in incubators. Peachicks must be taught to eat and drink through imitation. Males and females look alike until the males develop their train and bright feathers. It takes up to three years for males to develop a full train. It is almost impossible to tell the difference until a couple of months after hatching in which the males have longer legs. Also, the males will have light gray outer primary feathers and their female counterparts will be brown.
Breeding interval: Indian blue peafowl breed once per year, and more often if clutch is lost.
Breeding season: Indian blue peafowl breed from April to September.
Range eggs per season: 3 to 12.
Average eggs per season: 5.
Range time to hatching: 27 to 29 days.
Range fledging age: 1 to 2 weeks.
Average fledging age: 1 weeks.
Range time to independence: 7 to 10 weeks.
Average time to independence: 8 weeks.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 3 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Only the females are involved in the incubating of the eggs and the rearing of the chicks. Chicks are mobile and fully feathered at hatching, can fly in about one week, and rely on their mother for only an additional few weeks. If the female mates with a favored male, they usually have larger eggs with a higher amount of testosterone deposited in the yolk. Chicks of males who have the largest or most eye-spots tend to grow faster and have a better survival rate.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pavo cristatus
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Because this species is so thoroughly woven into many cultures, they face little threat of becoming endangered. However, because the human population is growing so quickly, peafowl face the loss of natural habitat and access to water sources. National parks are working to protect the habitats in India and nearby countries considered native to peafowl. Because Indian blue peafowl are so adaptable, it has been introduced to different countries to extend its range. There are also a large number of aviculturalists who raise and breed this species as pets.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
In areas where Indian blue peafowl have been introduced and allowed to roam free, it has the potential to disrupt the ecosystem if it feeds on endangered lizards, for example. This could result in irreversible and expensive damage. A high density of peafowl can easily cause destruction to farmers’ crops or flowerbeds. In some residential communities, this species can be a nuisance because of its frequent screeching.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Pavo cristatus feather extract in the form of water or ash can be used to treat the poisonous bites of Russell vipers Vipera russelii, common cobras Naja naja, and Malabar pit vipers Trimeresurus malabaricus. The extract is high in iron, protein, and steroids, and acts as an inhibitor to harmful enzymes in the venom that cause tissue damage. This is a traditional treatment in India for those who live far away from hospitals and doctors.
Not only can the feathers be used for medical purposes, but can be used for decoration. Feathers were used to embellish helmets and hats during the Middle Ages, and more recently are used in flower arrangements. The feathers were used to fletch arrows and were woven into clothes. Over one hundred feathers can be collected from a single peacock when it molts, a collection method that does not harm the birds.
Their eggs are a profitable source of income in areas where they are not revered and protected through religion. Because of their extravagant trains, peacocks have been depicted in art and literature throughout the ages. In Hindu and Buddhist religions, Pavo cristatus is considered a vehicle for the gods. Religion is not the only reason Indian blue peafowl are respected and loved. They also kill deadly snakes such as cobras, and consumes a large number of insects reducing the amount of pesticides used on crops.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; source of medicine or drug ; controls pest population
Comments: Sometimes kept as a "watchdog" and/or pet by private landowners.
The Indian peafowl or blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus), a large and brightly coloured bird, is a species of peafowl native to South Asia, but introduced in many other parts of the world like the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea and Australia. The species was first named and described by Linnaeus in 1758, and the name Pavo cristatus is still in use now.
The male peacock is predominantly blue with a fan-like crest of spatula-tipped wire-like feathers and is best known for the long train made up of elongated upper-tail covert feathers which bear colourful eyespots. These stiff feathers are raised into a fan and quivered in a display during courtship. Females lack the train, and have a greenish lower neck and duller brown plumage. The Indian peafowl lives mainly on the ground in open forest or on land under cultivation where they forage for berries, grains but also prey on snakes, lizards, and small rodents. Their loud calls make them easy to detect, and in forest areas often indicate the presence of a predator such as a tiger. They forage on the ground in small groups and usually try to escape on foot through undergrowth and avoid flying, though they fly into tall trees to roost.
The function of the peacock's elaborate train has been debated for over a century. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin found it a puzzle, hard to explain through ordinary natural selection. His later explanation, sexual selection, is widely but not universally accepted. In the 20th century, Amotz Zahavi argued that the train was a handicap, and that males were honestly signalling their fitness in proportion to the splendour of their trains. Despite extensive study, opinions remain divided on the mechanisms involved.
Taxonomy and naming
The Indian peafowl was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his work, Systema Naturae, in 1758 and it still bears its original name of Pavo cristatus. The Latin genus name Pavo and the Anglo-Saxon pawe (from which the word "peacock" is derived) are believed to be echoic in their origin and based on the usual call of the bird. The species name cristatus refers to the crest.
The earliest usage of the word in written English is from around 1300 and spelling variants include pecok, pekok, pecokk, peacocke, peocock, pyckock, poucock, pocok, pokok, pokokke, and poocok among others. The current spelling was established in the late 17th century. Chaucer (1343–1400) used the word to refer to a proud and ostentatious person in his simile "proud a pekok" in Troilus and Criseyde (Book I, line 210).
The Greek word for peacock was taos and was related to the Persian "tavus" (as in Takht-i-Tâvus for the famed Peacock Throne). The Hebrew word tuki (plural tukkiyim) has been said to have been derived from the Tamil tokei but sometimes traced to the Egyptian tekh.
Peacocks are a larger sized bird with a length from bill to tail of 100 to 115 cm (40 to 46 inches) and to the end of a fully grown train as much as 195 to 225 cm (78 to 90 inches) and weigh 4–6 kg (8.8–13.2 lbs). The females, or peahens, are smaller at around 95 cm (38 inches) in length and weigh 2.75–4 kg (6–8.8 lbs). Indian peafowl are among the largest and heaviest representatives of the Phasianidae. Their size, colour and shape of crest make them unmistakable within their native distribution range. The male is metallic blue on the crown, the feathers of the head being short and curled. The fan-shaped crest on the head is made of feathers with bare black shafts and tipped with blush-green webbing. A white stripe above the eye and a crescent shaped white patch below the eye are formed by bare white skin. The sides of the head have iridescent greenish blue feathers. The back has scaly bronze-green feathers with black and copper markings. The scapular and the wings are buff and barred in black, the primaries are chestnut and the secondaries are black. The tail is dark brown and the "train" is made up of elongated upper tail coverts (more than 200 feathers, the actual tail has only 20 feathers) and nearly all of these feathers end with an elaborate eye-spot. A few of the outer feathers lack the spot and end in a crescent shaped black tip. The underside is dark glossy green shading into blackish under the tail. The thighs are buff coloured. The male has a spur on the leg above the hind toe.
The adult peahen has a rufous-brown head with a crest as in the male but the tips are chestnut edged with green. The upper body is brownish with pale mottling. The primaries, secondaries and tail are dark brown. The lower neck is metallic green and the breast feathers are dark brown glossed with green. The remaining underparts are whitish. Downy young are pale buff with a dark brown mark on the nape that connects with the eyes. Young males look like the females but the wings are chestnut coloured.
The most common calls are a loud pia-ow or may-awe. The frequency of calling increases before the Monsoon season and may be delivered in alarm or when disturbed by loud noises. In forests, their calls often indicate the presence of a predators such as the tiger. They also make many other calls such as a rapid series of ka-aan..ka-aan or a rapid kok-kok. They often emit an explosive low-pitched honk! when agitated.
Mutations and hybrids
There are several colour mutations of Indian peafowl. These very rarely occur in the wild, but selective breeding has made them common in captivity. The black-shouldered or Japanned mutation was initially considered as a subspecies P. c. nigripennis (or even a species), and was a topic of some interest during Darwin's time. It is however only a case of genetic variation within the population. In this mutation, the adult male is melanistic with black wings. Young birds with the nigripennis mutation are creamy white with fulvous tipped wings. The gene produces melanism in the male and in the peahen it produces a dilution of colour with creamy white and brown markings. Other variations include the pied and white forms all of which are the result of allelic variation at specific loci.
Cross between a male green peafowl, Pavo muticus and a female Indian peafowl, P. cristatus, produces a stable hybrid called a "spalding", named after Mrs. Keith Spalding, a bird fancier in California. There can be problems if birds of unknown pedigree are released into the wild, as the viability of such hybrids and their offspring is often reduced (see Haldane's Rule and outbreeding depression).
Distribution and habitat
The Indian peafowl is a resident breeder across the Indian subcontinent and is found in the drier lowland areas of Sri Lanka. In South Asia, it is found mainly below an altitude of 1,800 metres (1.1 mi) and in rare cases seen at about 2,000 metres (1.2 mi). It is found in moist and dry-deciduous forests, but can adapt to live in cultivated regions and around human habitations and is usually found where water is available. In many parts of northern India, they are protected by religious practices and will forage around villages and towns for scraps. Some have suggested that the peacock was introduced into Europe by Alexander the Great, while others say the bird had reached Athens by 450 BC and may have been introduced even earlier. It has since been introduced in many other parts of the world and has become feral in some areas.
In isolated cases, the Indian peafowl has been known to be able to adapt to harsher climates, such as those of northern Canada. The species has been spotted as far north as Schomberg, Ontario,thriving in its newly adapted northern climate.
Behaviour and ecology
Peafowl are best known for the male's extravagant display feathers which, despite actually growing from their back, are thought of as a tail. The "train" is in reality made up of the enormously elongated upper tail coverts. The tail itself is brown and short as in the peahen. The colours result not from any green or blue pigments but from the micro-structure of the feathers and the resulting optical phenomena. The long train feathers (and tarsal spurs) of the male develop only after the second year of life. Fully developed trains are found in birds older than four years. In northern India, these begin to develop each February and are moulted at the end of August. The moult of the flight feathers may be spread out across the year.
Peafowl forage on the ground in small groups, known as musters, that usually have a cock and 3 to 5 hens. After the breeding season, the flocks tend to be made up only of females and young. They are found in the open early in the mornings and tend to stay in cover during the heat of the day. They are fond of dust-bathing and at dusk, groups walk in single file to a favourite waterhole to drink. When disturbed, they usually escape by running and rarely take to flight.
Peafowl produce loud calls especially in the breeding season. They may call at night when alarmed and neighbouring birds may call in a relay like series. Nearly seven different call variants have been identified in the peacocks apart from six alarm calls that are commonly produced by both sexes.
Peafowl roost in groups during the night on tall trees but may sometimes make use of rocks, buildings or pylons. In the Gir forest, they chose tall trees in steep river banks. Birds arrive at dusk and call frequently before taking their position on the roost trees. Due to this habit of congregating at the roost, many population studies are made at these sites. The population structure is not well understood. In a study in northern India (Jodhpur), the number of males was 170–210 for 100 females but a study involving evening counts at the roost site in southern India (Injar) suggested a ratio of 47 males for 100 females.
The colours of the peacock and the contrast with the much duller peahen were a puzzle to early thinkers. Charles Darwin wrote to Asa Gray that the "sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!" as he failed to see an adaptive advantage for the extravagant tail which seemed only to be an encumbrance. Darwin developed a second principle of sexual selection to resolve the problem, though in the prevailing intellectual trends of Victorian Britain, the theory failed to gain widespread attention.
The American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer tried to show, from his own imagination, the value of the eyespots as disruptive camouflage in a 1907 painting. He used the painting in his 1909 book Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, denying the possibility of sexual selection and arguing that essentially all forms of animal coloration had evolved as camouflage. He was roundly criticized in a lengthy paper by Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote that Thayer had only managed to paint the peacock's plumage as camouflage by sleight of hand, "with the blue sky showing through the leaves in just sufficient quantity here and there to warrant the author-artists explaining that the wonderful blue hues of the peacock's neck are obliterative because they make it fade into the sky."
In the 1970s a possible resolution to the apparent contradiction between natural selection and sexual selection was proposed. Amotz Zahavi argued that peacocks honestly signalled the handicap of having a large and costly train. However, the mechanism may be less straightforward than it seems – the cost could arise from depression of the immune system by the hormones that enhance feather development.
The ornate train is believed to be the result of sexual selection by the females. Males use their ornate trains in a courtship display: they raise the feathers into a fan and quiver them. However, recent studies have failed to find a relation between the number of displayed eyespots and mating success. Marion Petrie tested whether or not these displays signaled a male's genetic quality by studying a feral population of peafowl in Whipsnade Wildlife Park in southern England. She showed that the number of eyespots in the train predicted a male's mating success, and this success could be manipulated by cutting the eyespots off some of the male's ornate feathers. Although the removal of eyespots makes males less successful in mating, eyespot removal substantially changes the appearance of male peafowls. It is likely that females mistake these males for sub-adults, or perceive that the males are physically damaged. Moreover, in a feral peafowl population, there is little variation in the number of eyespots in adult males. It is rare for adult males to lose a significant number of eyespots. Therefore, females' selection might depend on other sexual traits of males' trains. The quality of train is an honest signal of the condition of males; peahens do select males on the basis of their plumage. A recent study on a natural population of Indian peafowls in the Shivalik area of India has proposed a "high maintenance handicap" theory. It states that only the fittest males can afford the time and energy to maintain a long tail. Therefore, the long train is an indicator of good body condition, which results in greater mating success. While train length seems to correlate positively with MHC diversity in males, females do not appear to use train length to choose males. A study in Japan also suggests that peahens do not choose peacocks based on their ornamental plumage, including train length, number of eyespots and train symmetry. Another study in France brings up two possible explanations for the conflicting results that exist. The first explanation is that there might be a genetic variation of the trait of interest under different geographical areas due to a founder effect and/or a genetic drift. The second explanation suggests that "the cost of trait expression may vary with environmental conditions," so that a trait that is indicative of a particular quality may not work in another environment.
Fisher's runaway model proposes positive feedback between female preference for elaborate trains and the elaborate train itself. This model assumes that the male train is a relatively recent evolutionary adaptation. However, a molecular phylogeny study on peacock-pheasants shows the opposite; the most recently evolved species is actually the least ornamented one. This finding suggests a chase-away sexual selection, in which "females evolve resistance to male ploys". A study in Japan goes on to conclude that the "peacocks' train is an obsolete signal for which female preference has already been lost or weakened".
However, some disagreement has arisen in recent years concerning whether or not female peafowl do indeed select males with more ornamented trains. In contrast to Petrie's findings, a seven-year Japanese study of free-ranging peafowl came to the conclusion that female peafowl do not select mates solely on the basis of their trains. Mariko Takahashi found no evidence that peahens expressed any preference for peacocks with more elaborate trains (such as trains having more ocelli), a more symmetrical arrangement, or a greater length. Takahashi determined that the peacock's train was not the universal target of female mate choice, showed little variance across male populations, and, based on physiological data collected from this group of peafowl, do not correlate to male physical conditions. Adeline Loyau and her colleagues responded to Takahashi's study by voicing concern that alternative explanations for these results had been overlooked, and that these might be essential for the understanding of the complexity of mate choice. They concluded that female choice might indeed vary in different ecological conditions.
A 2013 study that tracked the eye movements of peahens responding to male displays found that they looked in the direction of the upper train of feathers only when at long distances and that they looked only at the lower feathers when males displayed close to them. The rattling of the tail and the shaking of the wings helped in keeping the attention of females.
Peacocks are polygamous, and the breeding season is spread out but appears to be dependent on the rains. Peafowls usually reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years old. Several males may congregate at a lek site and these males are often closely related. Males at lek appear to maintain small territories next to each other and they allow females to visit them and make no attempt to guard harems. Females do not appear to favour specific males. The males display in courtship by raising the upper-tail coverts into an arched fan. The wings are held half open and drooped and it periodically vibrates the long feathers producing a ruffling sound. The cock faces the hen initially and struts and prances around and sometimes turns around to display the tail. Males may also freeze over food to invite a female in a form of courtship feeding. Males may display even in the absence of females. When a male is displaying, females do not appear to show any interest and usually continue their foraging. The peak season in southern India is April to May, January to March in Sri Lanka and June in northern India. The nest is a shallow scrape in the ground lined with leaves, sticks and other debris. Nests are sometimes placed on buildings and in earlier times have been recorded using the disused nest platforms of the white-rumped vultures. The clutch consists of 4–8 fawn to buff white eggs which are incubated only by the female. The eggs take about 28 days to hatch. The chicks are nidifugous and follow the mother around after hatching. Downy young may sometimes climb on their mothers' back and the female may carry them in flight to a safe tree branch. An unusual instance of a male incubating a clutch of eggs has been reported.
Peafowl are omnivorous and eat seeds, insects, fruits, small mammals and reptiles. They feed on small snakes but keep their distance from larger ones. In the Gir forest of Gujarat, a large percentage of their food is made up of the fallen berries of Zizyphus. Around cultivated areas, peafowl feed on a wide range of crops such as groundnut, tomato, paddy, chilly and even bananas. Around human habitations, they feed on a variety of food scraps and even human excreta. In the countryside, it is particularly partial to crops and garden plants.
Adult peafowl can usually escape ground predators by flying into trees. Large animals such as leopards, dholes and tigers can sometimes ambush them however, and in some areas such as the Gir forest, peafowl are fairly common prey for such formidable predators. Foraging in groups provides some safety as there are more eyes to look out for predators. They are also sometimes hunted by large birds of prey such as the crested hawk-eagle and rock eagle-owl. Chicks are somewhat more prone to predation than adult birds. Adults living near human habitations are sometimes hunted by domestic dogs or by humans in some areas (southern Tamil Nadu) for folk remedies involving the use of "peacock oil".
In captivity, birds have been known to live for 23 years but it is estimated that they live for only about 15 years in the wild.
Conservation and status
Indian peafowl are widely distributed in the wild across South Asia and protected both culturally in many areas and by law in India. Conservative estimates of the population put them at more than 100,000. Illegal poaching for meat however continues and declines have been noted in parts of India. Peafowl breed readily in captivity and as free-ranging ornamental fowl. Zoos, parks, bird-fanciers and dealers across the world maintain breeding populations that do not need to be augmented by the capture of wild birds.
Poaching of peacocks for their meat and feathers and accidental poisoning by feeding on pesticide treated seeds are known threats to wild birds. Methods to identify if feathers have been plucked or have been shed naturally have been developed as Indian law allows only the collection of feathers that have been shed.
In parts of India, the birds can be a nuisance to agriculture as they damage crops. Its adverse effects on crops, however, seem to be offset by the beneficial role it plays by consuming prodigious quantities of pests such as grasshoppers. They can also be a problem in gardens and homes where they damage plants, attack their reflections breaking glass and mirrors, perch and scratch cars or leave their droppings. Many cities where they have been introduced and gone feral have peafowl management programmes. These include educating citizens on how to prevent the birds from causing damage while treating the birds humanely.
Prominent in many cultures, the peacock has been used in numerous iconic representations, including being designated the national bird of India in 1963. The peacock, known as mayura in Sanskrit, has enjoyed a fabled place in India since and is frequently depicted in temple art, mythology, poetry, folk music and traditions. A Sankrit derivation of mayura is from the root mi for kill and said to mean "killer of snakes". Many Hindu deities are associated with the bird, Krishna is often depicted with a feather in his headband, while worshippers of Shiva associate the bird as the steed of the God of war, Kartikeya (also known as Skanda or Murugan). A story in the Uttara Ramayana describes the head of the Devas, Indra, who unable to defeat Ravana, sheltered under the wing of peacock and later blessed it with a "thousand eyes" and fearlessness from serpents. Another story has Indra who after being cursed with a thousand ulcers was transformed into a peacock with a thousand eyes. In Buddhist philosophy, the peacock represents wisdom. Peacock feathers are used in many rituals and ornamentation. Peacock motifs are widespread in Indian temple architecture, old coinage, textiles and continue to be used in many modern items of art and utility. In Greek mythology the origin of the peacocks plumage is explained in the tale of Hera and Argus. The main figure of the Kurdish religion Yezidism, Melek Taus, is most commonly depicted as a peacock. Peacock motifs are widely used even today such as in the logos of the US NBC and the PTV television networks and the Sri Lankan Airlines.
These birds were often kept in menageries and as ornaments in large gardens and estates. In medieval times, knights in Europe took a "Vow of the Peacock" and decorated their helmets with its plumes. Feathers were buried with Viking warriors and the flesh of the bird was said to cure snake venom and many other maladies. Numerous uses in Ayurveda have been documented. Peafowl were said to keep an area free of snakes. In 1526, the legal issue as to whether peacocks were wild or domestic fowl was thought sufficiently important for Cardinal Wolsey to summon all the English judges to give their opinion, which was that they are domestic fowl.
In Anglo-Indian usage of the 1850s, to peacock meant making visits to ladies and gentlemen in the morning. In the 1890s, the term "peacocking" in Australia referred to the practice of buying up the best pieces of land ("picking the eyes") so as to render the surrounding lands valueless. The English word "peacock" has come to be used to describe a man who is very proud or gives a lot of attention to his clothing.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly known as Common Peafowl, but name modified to conform to general worldwide usage (AOU 2012).