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SPECIES: Pavo cristatus
POPULATION SIZE: 100,000
LIFE SPAN: 15-25 YRS
TOP SPEED: 16 KM/H
WEIGHT: 2.5-6 KG
LENGTH: 100-115 CM
WINGSPAN: 1.6 M
About the Indian Peafowl
The Indian peafowl is a magnificent member of the pheasant family native to the Indian subcontinent. It has also been introduced to many other countries. The male (peacock) is brightly colored, with a predominantly blue fan-like crest of spatula-tipped wire-like feathers and is best known for the long train (tail) made up of elongated upper-tail covert feathers which bear colorful eyespots. These stiff feathers are raised into a fan and quivered in a display during courtship. Despite the length and size of these covert feathers, peacocks are still capable of flight. Females (peahens) lack the train and have a greenish lower neck and duller brown plumage. Downy chicks are pale buff with a dark brown mark on the nape that connects with the eyes. Young males look like the females but their wings are chestnut colored.
- The Indian peafowl is celebrated in Hindu and Greek mythology and is the national bird of India.
- Some have suggested that the peafowl was introduced into Europe by Alexander the Great, while others say the bird had reached Athens by 450 BCE and may have been introduced even earlier.
- Indian peafowl are among the largest and heaviest representatives of the pheasant family. So far as is known, only the wild turkey grows notably heavier.
- 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 female. The colors result not from any green or blue pigments but from the microstructure of the feathers. 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.
- The Indian peafowl’s “train” contains more than 200 feathers, while the actual tail has only 20 feathers and nearly all of these feathers end with an elaborate eye-spot.
- The loud calls of Indian peafowl make them easy to detect, and in forest areas often indicate the presence of a predator such as a tiger.
- In Buddhist philosophy, the peacock represents wisdom. Peacock feathers are used in many rituals and ornamentation and peacock motifs are widespread in Indian temple architecture, old coinage, textiles and continue to be used in many modern items of art and utility.
- 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.
Where Peafowl Live
Indian peafowl are resident breeders across the Indian subcontinent and inhabit the drier lowland areas of Sri Lanka. They are found in moist and dry-deciduous forests near water but can adapt to live in cultivated regions and around human habitations.
How Peafowl Live
Indian peafowl live mainly on the ground where they forage in small groups that usually have a cock and 3 to 5 hens. After the breeding season, the groups 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. Indian peafowl often dust-bathe and at dusk and groups walk in single file to a favorite waterhole to drink. When disturbed, they usually escape by running and rarely take to flight. During the night, peafowl roost in groups on tall trees but may sometimes make use of rocks, buildings, or pylons. Birds arrive at dusk and call frequently before taking their position on the roost trees. Indian peafowl produces loud calls, especially in the breeding season. They may call at night when alarmed and neighboring birds may call in a relay like series. The most common calls are a loud ‘pia-ow’ or ‘may-awe’. 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.
What Peafowl Eat
Indian peafowl are omnivorous and eat seeds, insects, fruits, small mammals, and reptiles. They feed on small snakes but keep their distance from larger ones. Around cultivated areas, peafowl feed on a wide range of crops such as groundnut, tomato, paddy, chili, and even bananas.
MATING BEHAVIOR: Polygyny
REPRODUCTION SEASON: depends on rainy season; peaks: April-May in southern India, June in northern India, January-March in Sri Lanka
INCUBATION PERIOD: 28 days
INDEPENDENT AGE: 8 weeks
FEMALE NAME: peahen
MALE NAME: peacock
BABY NAME: peachick
Indian peafowl are polygynous (one male to several females), and their breeding season usually dependents on the rains. The peak season in southern India is April to May, January to March in Sri Lanka and June in northern India. During this time 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 favor 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. Indian peafowl nest on the ground; it is a shallow scrape lined with leaves, sticks, and other debris. The clutch consists of 4-8 fawn to buff white eggs which are incubated only by the female about 28 days. The chicks are precocial (fully-developed) and follow the mother around soon after hatching. Downy young may sometimes climb on their mothers’ back and the female may carry them in flight to a safe tree branch. The chicks can fly about one week after hatching and become self-sufficient in 8 weeks. They usually reach reproductive maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years old.
How Many Peafowl are There?
Indian peafowl are widely distributed in the wild across South Asia and protected both culturally in many areas and by law in India. However, illegal poaching for their meat and feathers and accidental poisoning by feeding on pesticide-treated seeds are known threats to wild birds. In parts of India, these birds can also be a nuisance to agriculture as they damage crops. 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 programs. These include educating citizens on how to prevent the birds from causing damage while treating the birds humanely.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the exact number of the Indian peafowl total population size. According to the Wikipedia resource conservative estimates of the population put them at more than 100,000 individuals. According to the IUCN Red List national population sizes of this species have been estimated at around 100-10,000 introduced breeding pairs in Taiwan and around 100-10,000 introduced breeding pairs in Japan. Overall, currently, Indian peafowl are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are stable.
Indian peafowl play a beneficial role in their ecosystem. Due to their diet habits, these birds control the numbers of venomous snakes, lizards, and especially pests such as grasshoppers and other insects.