Peafowl is a common name for three bird species in the ' and ' within the tribe of the family , the pheasants and their allies. Male peafowl are referred to as peacocks, and female peafowl are referred to as peahens, even though peafowl of either sex are often referred to as "peacocks". The two Asiatic species are the blue or originally of the , and the of Southeast Asia; the one African species is the , native only to the . Male peafowl are known for their piercing calls and their extravagant plumage. The latter is especially prominent in the Asiatic species, which have an eye-spotted "tail" or "train" of , which they display as part of a ritual. The functions of the elaborate and large "train" of peacocks have been the subject of extensive scientific debate. suggested that they served to attract females, and the showy features of the males had evolved by . More recently, proposed in his that these features of the males' fitness, since less-fit males would be disadvantaged by the difficulty of surviving with such large and conspicuous structures.


The Indian peacock has iridescent blue and green plumage, mostly metallic blue and green, but the green peacock has green and bronze body feathers. In both species, females are a little smaller than males in terms of weight and wingspan, but males are significantly longer due to the "tail", also known as a "train". The peacock train consists not of tail quill feathers, but highly elongated upper tail coverts. These feathers are marked with eyespots, best seen when a peacock fans his tail. Both sexes of all species have a crest atop the head. The Indian peahen has a mixture of dull grey, brown, and green in her plumage. The female also displays her plumage to ward off female competition or signal danger to her young. differ from Indian peafowl in that the male has green and gold plumage and black wings with a sheen of blue. Unlike Indian peafowl, the green peahen is similar to the male, but has shorter upper tail coverts, a more coppery neck, and overall less iridescence. The Congo peacock male does not display his covert feathers, but uses his actual tail feathers during courtship displays. These feathers are much shorter than those of the Indian and green species, and the ocelli are much less pronounced. Females of the Indian and African species are dull grey and/or brown. Chicks of both sexes in all the species are cryptically coloured. They vary between yellow and tawny, usually with patches of darker brown or light tan and "dirty white" ivory. Mature peahens have been recorded as suddenly growing typically male peacock plumage and making male calls. While initially was suspected, researchers have suggested that changes in mature birds are due to a lack of estrogen from old or damaged ovaries, and that male plumage and calls are the default unless hormonally suppressed.

Colour and pattern variations

Hybrids between Indian peafowl and Green peafowl are called ''Spaldings'', after the first person to successfully hybridise them, Mrs. Keith Spalding. Unlike many hybrids, spaldings are fertile and generally benefit from hybrid vigour; spaldings with a high-green phenotype do much better in cold temperatures than the cold-intolerant green peafowl while still looking like their green parents. Plumage varies between individual spaldings, with some looking far more like green peafowl and some looking far more like blue peafowl, though most visually carry traits of both. In addition to the wild-type "blue" colouration, several hundred variations in colour and pattern are recognised as separate morphs of the Indian Blue among peafowl breeders. Pattern variations include solid-wing/black shoulder (the black and brown stripes on the wing are instead one solid colour), pied, white-eye (the ocelli in a male's eye feathers have white spots instead of black), and silver pied (a mostly white bird with small patches of colour). Colour variations include white, purple, Buford bronze, opal, midnight, charcoal, jade, and taupe, as well as the sex-linked colours purple, cameo, peach, and Sonja's Violeta. Additional colour and pattern variations are first approved by the United Peafowl Association to become officially recognised as a morph among breeders. Alternately-coloured peafowl are born differently coloured than wild-type peafowl, and though each colour is recognisable at hatch, their peachick plumage does not necessarily match their adult plumage. Occasionally, peafowl appear with white plumage. Although peafowl do exist, this is quite rare, and almost all white peafowl are not albinos; they have a genetic condition called , which causes pigment cells to fail to migrate from the neural crest during development. Leucistic peafowl can produce pigment but not deposit the pigment to their feathers, resulting in their blue-grey eye colour and the complete lack of colouration in their plumage. Pied peafowl are affected by partial leucism, where only some pigment cells fail to migrate, resulting in birds that have colour but also have patches absent of all colour; they, too, have blue-grey eyes. By contrast, true albino peafowl would have a complete lack of , resulting in irises that look red or pink. Leucistic peachicks are born yellow and become fully white as they mature.


As with many birds, vibrant iridescent plumage colours are not primarily s, but . Optical , based on regular, periodic nanostructures of the s (fiber-like components) of the feathers, produce the peacock's colours. Slight changes to the spacing of these barbules result in different colours. Brown feathers are a mixture of red and blue: one colour is created by the periodic structure and the other is created by a peak from reflections from the outer and inner boundaries. Such structural colouration causes the iridescence of the peacock's hues. Color derived from physical structure rather than pigment can vary with viewing angle. Most commonly, during a courtship display, the visiting female peahen will stop directly in front of the male peacock - thus providing her the ability to assess the male at 90° to the surface of the feather. Then, the male will turn and display his feathers about 45° to the right of the sun’s azimuth which allows the sunlight to accentuate the iridescence of his train. If the female chooses to interact with the male, he will then turn to face her and shiver his train so as to begin the mating process.


Sexual selection

suggested in ' that the peafowl's plumage had evolved through sexual selection. He expanded upon this in his second book, '. Sexual selection is the ability of male and female organisms to exert selective forces on each other with regard to mating activity. The strongest driver of sexual selection is gamete size. In general, eggs are bigger than sperm, and females produce fewer gametes than males. This leads to eggs being a bigger investment, so to females being choosy about the traits that will be passed on to her offspring by males. The peahen's reproductive success and the likelihood of survival of her chicks is partly dependent on the genotype of the mate. Females generally have more to lose when mating with an inferior male due to her gametes being more costly than the male's.

Food courtship theory

Merle Jacobs' food-courtship theory states that peahens are attracted to peacocks for the resemblance of their eye spots to blue berries.

Natural selection

It has been suggested that a peacock's train, loud call, and fearless behaviour have been formed by natural selection (with or without sexual selection too), and served as an display to intimidate predators and rivals. This hypothesis is designed to explain Takahashi's findings that in Japan, neither reproductive success nor physical condition correlates with the train's length, symmetry or number of eyespots.

Female choice

Multiple hypotheses attempt to explain the evolution of female choice. Some of these suggest direct benefits to females, such as protection, shelter, or nuptial gifts that sway the female's choice of mate. Another hypothesis is that females choose mates with good genes. Males with more exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics, such as bigger, brighter peacock trains, tend to have better genes in the peahen's eyes. These better genes directly benefit her offspring, as well as her fitness and reproductive success. Runaway selection also seeks to clarify the evolution of the peacock's train. In runaway sexual selection, linked genes in males and females code for sexually dimorphic traits in males, and preference for those traits in females. The close spatial association of for involved in the train in males, and for preference for more exuberant trains in females, on the chromosome () causes a loop that exaggerates both the male traits and the female preferences. Another hypothesis is sensory bias, in which females have a preference for a trait in a nonmating context that becomes transferred to mating. Multiple causality for the evolution of female choice is also possible. Work concerning female behaviour in many species of animals has sought to confirm Darwin's basic idea of female preference for males with certain characteristics as a major force in the evolution of species.Zuk, Marlene. (2002). ''Sexual Selections: What we can and can't learn about sex from animals''. University of California Press; Berkeley, CA. Females have often been shown to distinguish small differences between potential mates, and to prefer mating with individuals bearing the most exaggerated characters. In some cases, those males have been shown to be more healthy and vigorous, suggesting that the ornaments serve as markers indicating the males' abilities to survive, and thus their genetic qualities. The peacock's train and iridescent plumage are perhaps the best-known example of traits believed to have arisen through sexual selection, though with some controversy. Male peafowl erect their trains to form a shimmering fan in their display to females. Marion Petrie tested whether or not these displays signalled a male's genetic quality by studying a feral population of peafowl in in southern England. The number of s in the train predicted a male's mating success. She was able to manipulate this success by cutting the eyespots off some of the males' tails: females lost interest in pruned males and became attracted to untrimmed ones. Males with fewer eyespots, thus with lower mating success, suffered from greater predation. She allowed females to mate with males with differing numbers of eyespots, and reared the offspring in a communal incubator to control for differences in maternal care. Chicks fathered by more ornamented males weighed more than those fathered by less ornamented males, an attribute generally associated with better survival rate in birds. These chicks were released into the park and recaptured one year later. Those with heavily ornamented feathers were better able to avoid predators and survive in natural conditions. Thus, Petrie's work has shown correlations between tail ornamentation, mating success, and increased survival ability in both the ornamented males and their offspring. Furthermore, peafowl and their sexual characteristics have been used in the discussion of the causes for sexual traits. Amotz Zahavi used the excessive tail plumes of male peafowls as evidence for his "". Since these trains are likely to be deleterious to an individual's survival (as their brilliance makes them more visible to s and their length hinders escape from danger), Zahavi argued that only the fittest males could survive the handicap of a large train. Thus, a brilliant train serves as an for females that these highly ornamented males are good at surviving for other reasons, so are preferable mates. This theory may be contrasted with 's theory (and Darwin's hypothesis) that male sexual traits are the result of initially arbitrary selection by females. In contrast to Petrie's findings, a seven-year Japanese study of free-ranging peafowl concluded that female peafowl do not select mates solely on the basis of their trains. Mariko Takahashi found no evidence that peahens preferred peacocks with more elaborate trains (such as with more eyespots), 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 did not correlate with male physiological condition. Adeline Loyau and her colleagues responded that alternative and possibly central explanations for these results had been overlooked. They concluded that female choice might indeed vary in different ecological conditions.

Plumage colours as attractants

A peacock's copulation success rate depends on the colours of his and the angle at which they are displayed. The angle at which the ocelli are displayed during courtship is more important in a peahen's choice of males than train size or number of ocelli. Peahens pay careful attention to the different parts of a peacock's train during his display. The lower train is usually evaluated during close-up courtship, while the upper train is more of a long-distance attraction signal. Actions such as train rattling and wing shaking also kept the peahens' attention.

Redundant signal hypothesis

Although an intricate display catches a peahen's attention, the redundant signal hypothesis also plays a crucial role in keeping this attention on the peacock's display. The redundant signal hypothesis explains that whilst each signal that a male projects is about the same quality, the addition of multiple signals enhances the reliability of that mate. This idea also suggests that the success of multiple signalling is not only due to the repetitiveness of the signal, but also of multiple receivers of the signal. In the peacock species, males congregate a communal display during breeding season and the peahens observe. Peacocks first defend their territory through intra-sexual behaviour, defending their areas from intruders. They fight for areas within the congregation to display a strong front for the peahens. Central positions are usually taken by older, dominant males, which influences mating success. Certain morphological and behavioural traits come in to play during inter and intra-sexual selection, which include train length for territory acquisition and visual and vocal displays involved in mate choice by peahens.


Peafowl are forest birds that nest on the ground, but roost in trees. They are terrestrial feeders. All species of peafowl are believed to be . In common with other members of the , the males possess metatarsal spurs or "thorns" on their legs used during territorial fights with some other members of their kind. In courtship, vocalisation stands to be a primary way for peacocks to attract peahens. Some studies suggest that the intricacy of the "song" produced by displaying peacocks proved to be impressive to peafowl. Singing in peacocks usually occurs just before, just after, or sometimes during copulation.


Peafowl are s and eat mostly plants, flower petals, seed heads, insects and other s, s, and s. Wild peafowl look for their food scratching around in leaf litter either early in the morning or at dusk. They retreat to the shade and security of the woods for the hottest portion of the day. These birds are not picky and will eat almost anything they can fit in their beak and digest. They actively hunt insects like ants, crickets and termites; millipedes; and other s and small mammals. Indian peafowl also eat small snakes. Domesticated peafowl may also eat bread and cracked grain such as oats and corn, cheese, cooked rice and sometimes cat food. It has been noticed by keepers that peafowl enjoy protein-rich food including larvae that infest , different kinds of meat and fruit, as well as vegetables including dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, beans, beets, and peas.

Cultural significance

Indian peafowl

The peafowl is native to and significant in its culture. In , the Indian peacock is the mount of the , Lord , and the warrior goddess , and is also depicted around the goddess . During a war with , Kartikeya split the demon king in half. Out of respect for his adversary's prowess in battle, the god converted the two halves into an integral part of himself. One half became a peacock serving as his mount, and the other a rooster adorning his flag. The peacock displays the divine shape of kara when it spreads its magnificent plumes into a full-blown circular form. Peacock feathers also adorn the crest of Lord , an avatar of Lord , one of the . , the founder of the , was born an orphan and raised by a family farming peacocks. According to the Buddhist tradition, the ancestors of the Maurya kings had settled in a region where peacocks (''mora'' in ) were abundant. Therefore, they came to be known as "Moriyas", literally, "belonging to the place of peacocks". According to another Buddhist account, these ancestors built a city called Moriya-nagara ("Moriya-city"), which was so called, because it was built with the "bricks coloured like peacocks' necks". After conquering the and defeating the , the Chandragupta dynasty reigned uncontested during its time. Its royal emblem remained the peacock until Emperor Ashoka changed it to a , as seen in the , as well in his . The peacock continued to represent elegance and royalty in India during medieval times; for instance, the seat of power was called the . The peacock is represented in both the and . To the , the peacock is the third animal of the zodiac of . Peacocks (often a symbol of pride and vanity) were believed to deliberately consume poisonous substances in order to become immune to them, as well as to make the colours of their resplendent plumage all the more vibrant – seeing as so many poisonous flora and fauna are so colourful due to , this idea appears to have merit. The Buddhist deity is depicted seated on a peacock. Peacocks are seen supporting the throne of , the ruby red sunset coloured archetypal Buddha of Infinite Light. India adopted the peacock as its national bird in 1963 and it is one of the .

Persia and Mesopotamia

In and , the peacock is seen as a guardian of royalty and is often engraved upon royal thrones. ( ar, طاووس ملك; fa, ملک طاووس; ku, Tawûsê Melek), the "Peacock Angel", is the name for the central figure of their faith. The Yazidi consider ''Tawûsê Melek'' an of and a benevolent angel who has In art and sculpture, ''Tawûsê Melek'' is depicted as a peacock. In the , the emanation is described as a peacock.


Ancient Greeks believed that the flesh of peafowl did not decay after death, so it became a symbol of immortality. In Hellenistic imagery, the Greek goddess 's chariot was pulled by peacocks, birds not known to Greeks before the conquests of . Alexander's tutor, , refers to it as "the Persian bird". When Alexander saw the birds in India, he was so amazed at their beauty that he threatened the severest penalties for any man who slew one. writes that there were peacocks in India, larger than anywhere else. One myth states that Hera's servant, the hundred-eyed , was instructed to guard the woman-turned-cow, . Hera had transformed Io into a cow after learning of 's interest in her. Zeus had the messenger of the gods, , kill Argus through eternal sleep and free Io. According to , to commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus preserved forever, in the peacock's tail. The symbolism was adopted by early Christianity, thus many early Christian paintings and mosaics show the peacock. The peacock is still used in the Easter season, especially in the east. The 'eyes' in the peacock's tail feathers symbolise the all-seeing Christian God and – in some interpretations – the Church. A peacock drinking from a vase is used as a symbol of a Christian believer drinking from the waters of eternal life. The peacock can also symbolise the cosmos if one interprets its tail with its many 'eyes' as the vault of heaven dotted by the sun, moon, and stars. By Christian adoption of old Persian and Babylonian symbolism, in which the peacock was associated with Paradise and the Tree of Life, the bird is again associated with immortality. In Christian iconography, the peacock is often depicted next to the Tree of Life. Among , the golden peacock is a symbol for joy and creativity, with quills from the bird's feathers being a metaphor for a writer's inspiration. The peacock motif was revived in the iconography that unified Hera and Juno, and on which European painters focused. In 1956, John J. Graham created an abstraction of an 11-feathered for American broadcaster . This brightly hued peacock was adopted due to the increase in colour programming. NBC's first colour broadcasts showed only a still frame of the colourful peacock. The emblem made its first on-air appearance on 22 May 1956. The current, six-feathered logo debuted on May 12, 1986. A group of peacocks is called an "ostentation" or a "muster". File:Caucasian albanian stone azerbaijan mingechaur2.jpg, Stone from . File:Kesi roundel with five-clawed dragon design.jpg, Roundel with five-clawed dragon design, China, late 17th century. Individual peacock feather s were placed, among silk and metal threads, to highlight the scales of the dragon. Metropolitan Museum, NYC.

Depictions in culture

File:Murugan by Raja Ravi Varma.jpg, Lord with his wives on his peacock mount. File:Abramishvili1.JPG, "Peacock" by . File:The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius - Carlo Crivelli - National Gallery.jpg, In the 1486 painting ''Annunciation with St. Emidius'' by '', a peacock is sitting on the roof above the praying . File:PeacockInTheWoods.jpg, Painting by and Richard Meryman for , wrongly suggesting that the peacock's plumage was . File:Pavo Cristafus- Common Pea Fowl. 64.98.209.jpg, Common Pea Fowl, John Gould, c.1880 . File:Bowl with Peacock Motif, ca. 1200–1230, 78.81.jpg, Syrian Bowl with Peacock Motif, c. 1200 . File:Golingeswara temple complex Biccavole 02.jpg, Peacock sculpture at Golingeshwara temple complex in , India. File:Peacock on a brass chariot of Searsole Rajbari, West Bengal, India.jpg, Peacock on a brass chariot of Searsole Rajbari, West Bengal, India


In ancient Rome, peafowl were served as a delicacy. The dish was introduced there in approximately 35 B.C.E. The poet ridiculed the eating of peafowl, saying they tasted like chicken. Peafowl eggs were also valued. in his also mocked the ostentation and snobbery of eating peafowl and their eggs. During the period, various types of fowl were consumed as food, with the poorer populations (such as ) consuming more common s, such as . However, the more wealthy were privileged to eat less usual foods, such as swan, and even peafowl were consumed. On a king's table, a peacock would be for as much as for consumption. From the 1864 ', regarding occasions and preparation of the bird:
Instead of plucking this bird, take off the skin with the greatest care, so that the feathers do not get detached or broken. Stuff it with what you like, as truffles, mushrooms, livers of fowls, bacon, salt, spice, thyme, crumbs of bread, and a bay-leaf. Wrap the claws and head in several folds of cloth, and envelope the body in buttered paper. The head and claws, which project at the two ends, must be basted with water during the cooking, to preserve them, and especially the tuft. Before taking it off the spit, brown the bird by removing the paper. Garnish with lemon and flowers. If to come on the table cold, place the bird in a wooden trencher, in the middle of which is fixed a wooden skewer, which should penetrate the body of the bird, to keep it upright. Arrange the claws and feathers in a natural manner, and the tail like a fan, supported with wire. No ordinary cook can place a peacock on the table properly. This ceremony was reserved, in the times of chivalry, for the lady most distinguished for her beauty. She carried it, amidst inspiring music, and placed it, at the commencement of the banquet, before the master of the house. At a nuptial feast, the peacock was served by the maid of honour, and placed before the bride for her to consume.


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