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Peacock is an omnivorous polygamous bird belongs to the genus Pavo and Afropavo and order Galliformes. This ground-dwelling bird belongs to the same family as pheasants that is Phasianidae.
These semi-domestic birds exhibit characteristic fan-like colorful plumage. Out of the 3 species, 2 are native to Asia and one to Africa. They can be seen in parks and aviaries throughout the world.
The term peacock is used for males and they are collectively called peafowl. It is the male members that exhibit distinctive feather fans near their rump. These colorful displays are made for the female.
The plumage is iridescent, the feathers exhibit shades of white, blue, bright green. When these feather fans are not displayed they follow the birds in a train manner. They may grow up to measure 140 to 160 cm in length and may weigh up to 6 kg.
A Congo Peacock
In the case of congo peafowl, no sexual dimorphism is observed in males and females. But green and Indian peafowl show sexual dimorphism.
Generally, females have plumage of brown and grey and are not as colorful as the males, and also do not have a trail train. They weigh around 2.8 to 4 kg and are smaller than males and measure up to 90-110 cm in length.
Peacock Distribution and Habitat
The 3 species of peafowl include Pavo cristatus, Pavo muticus, and Afropavo congensis. The Pavo cristatus or Indian peafowl is a common native bird of the Indian subcontinent.
The Pavo muticus or green peafowl is found in southeast Asia, while the Afropavo congensis or Congo peafowl is endemic to the Congo Basin of Africa.
They prefer forested regions as their habitat. They often utilize trees as a roosting area and shelter, where they spend their night safely. During the day, they move away from the roosting area in search of food.
Peacock Diet and Predators
They are omnivores birds and forage for seeds and flower petals or other plant materials. They also feed on small animals like amphibians, small reptiles, and insects. They spend their daytime foraging for food in leaf litter in open areas.
They scratch the dirt and debris to hunt for edible plant materials. They will retreat back to their roosting place in the forest during the hottest times of the day. The native places they occur are also home to their predators like tigers, mongooses, and dogs in Southeast Asia and India.
In the case of Africa, the Congo peacocks are preyed on by lions. Their eggs are also preyed upon and hence are vulnerable.
Peacock Nesting and Reproduction
Peafowl’s nests are found on the ground and they build these by scraping out small depressions and then lining them with soft vegetation and grass in the ground. These nests are well concealed among high grass and under bushes to avoid any predators.
The peafowl will often mate with many males over their lifetime and are polygamous. The males display their tail feathers and shake them in courtship for attracting females and often during this time they will also peck on the ground.
The average clutch size is 2-10 eggs. After copulation and a period of 4 weeks of incubation chicks emerge from the eggs. The chicks often display cryptic plumage of brown and yellow shades.
They stick by their mother’s side for 7 to 10 weeks. Peafowl sexually matures by 2-3 years and grow adult plumage. While the males attain sexual maturity by 4 years and they also grow out their feather fan.
As these birds are common they are listed under least concern species on the IUCN Red List. While the rest of the species are popular and common in aviaries throughout the world, the green peafowl has since 2009 been listed as Endangered and the Congo peafowl has come under the vulnerable category.
The decrease of the forest area has caused some species to inhabit secondary growth forests as a potential conservation strategy.
Fun Facts about Peacock!
All About Plumage: The green peacock besides its iridescent plumage also has bronze and green feathers. This iridescent plumage gives them a metallic look. Eyespots can also be observed in their feathers that make them more colorful. In the case of green peafowls, both sexes possess colorful plumage.
Sexual Selection: The tail feather fan of males is an example of sexual selection that is a result of natural selection. The selection pressures favor the maintenance of certain traits that are favorable for the population and increase their survivability.
In the recent handicap theory that has been proposed the researchers postulate that these feather fans are a hindrance that fit males will overcome. Thus, it represents the fitness of the male.
A Change of Sex: Sexual inversions have been observed in peahens. They may exhibit bilateral gynandromorphism where the individual possesses sexual organs of both sexes and under genetic or environmental influences can undergo sexual inversion.
This process in peacocks may occur due to sex ratios or demographics. The exact mechanism behind this hasn’t been discovered yet.
- Characterisation of peacock (Pavo cristatus) mitochondrial 12S rRNA sequence and its use in differentiation from closely related poultry species.Br Poult Sci . 2007 Apr;48(2):162-6.
- Deceptive copulation calls attract female visitors to peacock leks. Am Nat . 2014 Apr;183(4):558-64.
- Isolation and characterization of peacock Chlamydophila psittaci infection in China. Avian Dis . 2011 Mar;55(1):76-81.
- Biomechanics of the Peacock’s Display: How Feather Structure and Resonance Influence Multimodal Signaling. PLoS One . 2016 Apr 27;11(4):e0152759.
- How conspicuous are peacock eyespots and other colorful feathers in the eyes of mammalian predators? PLoS One . 2019 Apr 24;14(4):e0210924.