Which bird from Asia is sought after worldwide, holds a beautiful crown with a purpose, and graces our eyesight with colorful feathers?
It’s highly likely you have seen a peafowl wandering around a zoo, park, or in my case, an apartment complex. Soon after I moved here one year ago, I noticed one of my neighbors had beautiful feathers. She liked to hang around apartment balconies during the day, and towards the evening she would fly over the gate to relax by the pool. Some residents were afraid of her (I even witnessed one person throw strawberries at the poor bird, so I reassured them that this unique neighbor posed no harm as long as you gave her space). I, being a wildlife advocate and nature lover, thought she was the best neighbor ever.
Unfortunately, towards the end of last year, my favorite neighbor was no longer to be found. My mom and I assumed she went off to find herself a mate, or perhaps some gal friends (that didn’t look so strange like me). Although I may never know where she ended up, I still cherish the times I would walk my dog Chico around the neighborhood and we would admire her presence.
Famous yet misnamed
Like I said, it’s likely that you have encountered one of these birds before since they are domesticated around the world. We often call them ‘peacocks,’ but that term only refers to males. Females are peahens, offspring are peachicks, and altogether they are peafowl.
The most iconic peafowl is the Indian Blue Peafowl, but there are two other species – the Congo Peafowl and the Green Peafowl. Ironically, due to our obsession with the tails of the Indian Blue Peacocks, the most famous species is of Least Concern on the IUCN Conservation List. The other two species, which have fewer feathers and aren’t as colorful, are endangered due to hunting and loss of habitat. It’s one of the few times our dedication for domesticating birds has proved helpful.
You can easily identify an Indian Blue Peacock by their tails and colors. Females, like my neighbor, carry grayish colors and shorter tails that aren’t as vibrant. At three months old, males grow their famous bright blue feathers and at three years old their tails reach the length we all admire. These tails account for 60% of their body’s length, and can include up to 200 feathers!
A dazzling display
As the name suggests, all Indian Blue Peafowl come from India and other parts of Asia. There, their mating season coincides with the monsoon season around May. As they carry out their rituals in the rain, people have begun to say that peacocks “dance in the rain.” During the ritual, males will ruffle their various sets of feathers and spread out their iconic colorful ones in an effort to impress females. Birds have more acute color vision than we do, so just imagine how a female must feel with this dazzling display! The feathers contain microscopic structures that reflect various wavelengths of light, so females will observe the display at different angles to reveal varying extravagant colors.
Peahens also judge peacocks based on their ‘train rattling’ (known as their dancing or the vibrating of the feathers) and vocalizations. This is where their ‘crowns,’ or crests, come in: they act as a sensor. When males are shaking their feathers, at a rate that measures to about 25 times per second, females see and feel it in their crest. This adds a layer to the ritual, and to the amount of points a male receives during the fateful jury.
The wild side
Have you ever seen a peafowl fly? Since these birds prefer the ground, there’s a myth that they can’t fly, but they sure can – up to 10mph with a wingspan up to six feet! These large birds can’t fly far, and they only resort to flight when predators are near or at night when they return to their treetop roosts. Although they build their nests in the ground, peafowl will sleep in trees, as it’s safer from their natural predators including jungle cats, wild dogs, and mongooses. Outside of Asia, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, and domesticated dogs prey on them.
Peafowl prefer warm habitats with plenty of vegetation and low trees. This is why they thrive in man-made parks, farmlands, and small forests. Another reason they thrive in different environments is their wide-ranged diet. Peafowl are omnivorous, and their diet consists of fruits, seeds, flower petals, insects, bread and other grains, small reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and anything else that’s small enough – whether it’s a plant or animal.
A world-renowned bird
Indian Blue Peafowl were named India’s national bird in 1963. They are a symbol of Indian royalty, and they’re represented in traditional Indian art and in Hinduism. They are often associated with gods and goddesses, such as the Hindu god Lord Krishna who is believed to wear a peacock feather in his crown.
In Greek mythology, these birds are a symbol of immortality, and Ashkenazi Jewish people see them as symbols of creativity. The peacock’s tails seem to have eyes on them, and for this reason early Christian paintings illustrate their tails as the all-seeing God. In ancient Persia, peafowl were associated with the Tree of Life, and in Feng Shui the feathers are said to protect you from danger.
Although the Indian Blue Peacock is revered and, for that reason, not endangered, it’s time we spread love to all peafowl, including all three species and both males and females. There is an obvious beauty found in the peacock’s tail display, but all of these birds bring something special to our cultures, religions, and to the Asian bushlands they inhabit.
In appreciation of all our neighbors,
By Tania Roa
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