YOU may have guessed from the title that we are speaking about the peacock. To be sure, the male peafowl has a train that is world famous. Have you ever wondered, though, what purpose is served by such extravagant plumage and if there is more to this creature than its beauty?
A member of the pheasant family, the peafowl comes in three varieties. We will deal here with the Indian, or common, peacock, which is primarily blue-green and measures 80 to 92 inches [200-235 cm] in length, including a 60-inch- [150 cm]long train. The feathers of the train are green and gold with markings that resemble eyes of blue and bronze. The feathers on the body are mostly a metallic blue-green.
Officially designated the national bird of India, the peacock certainly has a regal appearance. Perhaps that is why the expression “proud as a peacock” is used to describe haughty humans. However, this bird is not as aloof as its appearance suggests. In fact, it is easily tamed. Some consider the peacock sacred. For this reason, village farmers in India sometimes just endure it when the birds menace their grainfields.
Their Magnificent Performance
Of course, peacocks are most famous for the magnificent show they put on by spreading their train into a dazzling fan. What is the purpose of this showy display? Evidently it all has to do with impressing females.
The peahen is somewhat fussy, but she has a weakness for show-offs. The peacock’s wide fanned train, covered with brilliantly colored eyes, gets the peahen’s full attention. She tends to choose as a mate the peacock with the most impressive display.
The display of the train, though, is just part of the show. The male first fans out his long train, bending it forward. Then he commences his strutting dance. His chestnut wings hang down at his sides as he shakes his body, causing the upright feathers to make a rustling noise. He also lets out a loud cry. It is hardly musical, but at least it lets the peahen know that he is interested in her.
Occasionally, the peahen will attempt a pale imitation of the male’s antics, but most of the time, she appears uninterested. Nonetheless, the most outstanding show-off will win her over. A peacock may accumulate a harem of up to five hens and father as many as 25 chicks in one year.
Family Life of the Peacock
After the breeding season, it is time to shed the feathers. On average, an adult peacock’s full train consists of over 200 feathers. Indian villagers used to collect them for export to Western lands, until such export was prohibited to protect the species. Locally, of course, the feathers are still made into fans and other attractive items.
In the evening peacocks slowly climb up tall trees to find an appropriate location for roosting. In the morning they reverse the process by slowly climbing down. These creatures may please your eyes with their beauty, but do not expect their singing to reach a similar standard. Their plaintive calls shatter the evening quiet until the birds begin to search for food.
Peacocks are omnivorous
For all its apparent vanity, the peacock can be very protective. Quick to detect dangers, such as a prowling cat, the peacock responds by running through the forest with loud cries to warn of impending danger. Other males join the action. They run surprisingly fast, one behind the other. Peahens, however, refuse to abandon their chicks, even in the face of the gravest danger.
The long train of feathers does not seem to slow a peacock down, although the appendageappears to be a bit inconvenient when the bird takes to flight. Once the peacock takes off, though, it flies at great speed, flapping its wings very rapidly.
When they are eight months old, chicks are ready to leave their parents and begin caring for themselves. Their departure helps the mother to prepare for her next stint at raising offspring. The young males begin to grow their characteristic train at about eight months of age, but it is not until they are four years old that they attain the full male plumage. Then they are ready to begin their own family.
The Peacock in History
Live peacocks graced the gardens of ancient Greece, Rome, and India. In art and ornament, peacocks were featured in the royal courts of India for thousands of years. Indeed, the Peacock Throne was considered one of the most important examples of the riches of India. Encrusted with numerous diamonds, it reportedly had 108 rubies and 116 emeralds embedded in it. There was a golden peacock on the canopy, and from this came its name. The throne was assembled and occupied only on important ceremonial occasions.
The feathers of this train grow from the bird’s back, not its tail. The peacock uses its tail feathers to lift the plumage of the train upright.