Overview

Comprehensive Description

Summary

An unmistakable large and bright blue member of the pheasant family with the male metallic blue with a crest and tail with irridiscent greenish blue feathers. Usually seen foraging on the ground in groups.
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Distribution

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 )

  • Hopkins, C. 1997. "Peafowl: Family Phasianidae" (On-line). Accessed April 20, 2010 at http://www.peafowl.org/ARTICLES/14/.
  • Jackson, C. 2006. Peacock. London: Reaktion Books LTD.
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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).

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Range

Forests and scrub of e Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

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

  • Somes, R., R. Burger. 1993. Inheritance of the white and pied plumage color patterns in the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus). Journal of Heredity, 84/1: 57.
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"The gorgeous ocellated train of the adult cock is in reality not his tail but abnormally lengthened upper tail-coverts. The hen is smaller, lacks the train and is a sober mottled brown with some metallic green on her lower neck. She is crested like the cock."
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Size

Length: 254 cm

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"About that of the Vulture, excluding the train of the cock which is 3 or 4 feet long."
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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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

  • Brickle, N. 2002. Habitat use, predicted distribution and conservation of green peafowl (Pavo muticus) in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam. Biological Conservation, 105: 189-197.
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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).

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General Habitat

"Seen in droves, in deciduous forest chiefly plains and foothills. Also semi-wild about villages and cultivation."
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Migration

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.

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Trophic Strategy

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

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Associations

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).

Mutualist Species:

  • Intestinal bacteria Clostridium perfringens

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Intestinal bacteria Clostridium perfringens
  • Intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli
  • Louse Amyrisdea minuta
  • Louse Goniodes pavonis
  • Respiratory bacteria Bordetella avium
  • Respiratory bacteria Mycoplasma synoviae

  • Hollamby, S., J. Sikarskie, J. Stuht. 2003. Survey of peafowl (Pavo cristatus) for potential pathogens at three Michigan zoos. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 34/4: 375-379.
  • Moller, A., P. Christe, E. Lux. 1999. Parsitism, host immune function, and sexual selection. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 74/1: 3-20.
  • Stewart, I., F. Clark, M. Petrie. 1996. Distribution of chewing lice upon the polygynous peacock Pavo cristatus. The Journal of Parasitology, 82/2: 370-372.
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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.

Known Predators:

  • Civet Civettictis civetta
  • Tiger Panthera tigris
  • Leopard Panthera pardus
  • Dhole Cuon alpinus
  • Jackal Canis aureus
  • Human Homo sapiens

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

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

  • Takahashi, M., T. Hasegawa. 2008. Seasonal and dinural use of eight different call types by Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus). Journal of Ethology, 26/3: 375-381.
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Behaviour

"In the wild state, Peafowl inhabit dense scrub and deciduous jungle abounding in rivers and streams. They keep in small Hocks usually composed of a cock and 4 or 5 hens but sometimes all of one sex, and emerge into firelines, clearings and fields in the mornings and evenings to scratch the ground for food. After the sun is fairly high up and also in the late afternoons, the Hocks troop down to the water, tripping gingerly and with the utmost circumspection. Thev are possessed of phenomenally keen sight and hearing, are excessivelv wary and will slink away through the undergrowth on the least suspicion. The birds are loathe to leave the ground, but when suddenly come upon they rise with laborious, noisy flapping. The flight, slow and heavy at first, develops considerable speed once the birds are well under way. At night they roost in lofty trees and at early dawn the jungle resounds with the loud, screaming may-awe calls of the cock which are such an anti-climax to his gorgeous appearance. He is the first to detect the presence of the larger cats on the prowl and follows their progress through the jungle with his ugly may-aweing, a warning well understood by the other denizens. In many parts of India peafowl are protected by religion or sentiment. Here the birds have become very abundant and semi-domesticated, freely entering the precincts of villages and roosting in the neighbouring trees. Their food consists mainly of grain and vegetable shoots, but they are omnivorous, and insects, lizards and small snakes seldom go. past."
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Life Expectancy

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.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
10 to 25 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
18 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10 to 23.2 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
15 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
10 to 20 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
10 to 18 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
15 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 23.2 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

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)

  • Dakin, R. 2008. The role of the visual train ornament in the courtship of peafowl, Pavo cristatus. Masters Abstracts International, 47/03: 97.
  • Jackson, C. 2006. Peacock. London: Reaktion Books LTD.
  • Loyau, A., M. Saint Jalme, C. Cagniant, G. Sorci. 2005. Multiple sexual advertisements honestly reflect health status in peacocks (Pavo cristatus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 58/6: 552-557.
  • Loyau, A., M. Saint Jalme, R. Mauget, G. Sorci. 2007. Male sexual attractiveness affects the investment of maternal resources into the eggs in peafowl (Pavo cristatus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61/7: 1043-1052.
  • Petrie, M., A. Williams. 1993. Peahens lay more eggs for peacocks with larger trains. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 251/1331: 127-131.
  • Petrie, M., M. Hall, T. Halliday, H. Budgey, C. Pierpoint. 1992. Multiple mating in a lekking bird - Why do peahens mate with more than one male and with the same male more than once. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 31/5: 349-358.
  • Petrie, M., T. Halliday. 1994. Experimental and natural changes in the peacock's (Pavo cristatus) train can affect mating success. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 35/3: 213-217.
  • Walther, B., D. Clayton. 2005. Elaborate ornaments are costly to maintain: evidence for high maintenance handicaps. Behavioral Ecology, 16/1: 89-95.
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"January to October. Nest, usually a shallow scrape in dense undergrowth lined with sticks and leaves, Eggs three to five -glossy, broad oval, pale cream or ' white coffee '. Incubation (hen only) 20 to 28 days. Cock polygamous. Displays before his bevy of hens by erecting and fanning out his train and strutting about with peculiar paroxysms of violent quivering."
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pavo cristatus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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