Class: Aves (Birds)
Genus and Species:
Pavo cristatus (Indian, or blue, peafowl)
Pavo muticus (green peafowl)
Afropavo congensis (Congo, or African, peafowl)
Body length: 27 to 51 inches (70 to 130 centimeters), depending on species; males are larger
Train length (Pavo species only): 55 to 63 inches (140 to 160 centimeters)
Weight: 2.6 to 13 pounds (1.2 to 6 kilograms), depending on species
Wingspan: 31 to 63 inches (80 to 160 centimeters), depending on species
Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
Incubation: 28 to 30 days
Number of eggs laid: 3 to 8
Weight at hatch: about 3.6 ounces (103 grams)
Conservation status: Congo peafowl is endangered
A group of peafowl is called an ostentation, or a pride—very appropriate for this showy bird!
The Indian peafowl is the national bird of India and is protected in that country. To Hindus, the peafowl is a sacred bird because the spots on the peacock’s train symbolize the eyes of the gods.
There are several genetic color mutations of Indian peafowl, including white.
Peacocks are mentioned in the Bible as one of the most precious items brought from Asia by King Solomon's ships.
Listen to a peacock
Range: Indian peafowl in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; green peafowl in Southeast Asia; Congo peafowl in central Africa.
What are peafowl?
Peacocks and peahens—these are the birds known as peafowl, members of the pheasant family. Although most people call the species peacocks, the word really only refers to the male bird. Just like among chickens, where the male is called a rooster or cock and the female is called a hen, male peafowl are peacocks, female peafowl are peahens, and babies are peachicks! There are three species of peafowl in the world: the Indian, or blue peafowl, the green peafowl, and the Congo peafowl. Most people are familiar with the Indian peafowl, since that is the kind found in many zoos and parks.
Proud as a peacock
The peacock has some of the brightest feathers and one the most impressive courting displays of any bird in the world. The Indian peacock has very flashy plumage, with a bright blue head and neck, but the peahen is a drab mottled brown in comparison. The male needs his bright feathers to attract a mate and the female needs to be able to blend in with the bushes so that predators cannot see her while she is incubating her eggs. Male and female green peafowl have similar coloration, with green feathers on the head and neck, but the peahen's colors are not as vibrant as the peacock's.
Both Indian and green peafowl have bare patches of skin around their eyes and a funny crest on the top of their heads. It is made of feathers arranged in a fan shape. The Indian peafowl's crest looks like little dots on the end of sticks!
Long train running
The peacock’s back and belly have iridescent feathers in a scale pattern. But the thing that the Indian and green peacocks are best known for is—not the tail! These peacocks have a long “train,” which most people think is their tail. Actually, those long feathers are the male's tail coverts, or the feathers that cover the base of the tail. Normally, when a peacock is just walking around, his train drags on the ground behind him, like the train on a wedding dress. But when he wants to show off for a peahen, he props up the train with his shorter, stiffer tail feathers and it unfolds into a semicircle 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) wide and more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall! It is covered in ocelli, which are round spots that look a lot like shining eyes. If the peahen seems interested, he quivers, making his feathers shimmy and flash.
The peacock maintains a small territory and chooses a part of it for a lek. Breeding season starts with the monsoon rains. Because the peacock struts around and shows off, humans think that he looks very proud of himself. Hence the expression “proud as a peacock”!
Loud as a peacock!
Not only are peacocks “proud,” they are also loud! Peafowl have 11 different calls, but it is the peacocks that really yell. They have a call that sounds like “may-awe, may-awe” that carries for a long distance. Usually it is heard in the early morning and late evening, and practically all day during the breeding season. In the past, wealthy people brought peafowl to their estates to walk about the grounds and look pretty. Then the peafowl reproduced and spread out into the surrounding areas. This caused problems in some places because the peacocks made so much noise in the early morning that they became a real nuisance! Other animals don’t mind, though. With their sharp eyes, peafowl are likely to be the first to see a predator, such as a tiger, and call out a loud alarm.
The bigger the better
It may seem that having such a long train and bright feathers would slow a peacock down and make him an easy target for predators like mongooses, jungle cats, stray dogs, leopards, and tigers—and this is absolutely true! However, if a predator grabs the train, the long feathers pull out easily and the peacock can fly away.
Peahens seem to prefer males with the longest trains and biggest displays. When a peacock is in his second year he grows his first long train, but it has no ocelli. The train gets longer and more elaborate every year after that. At about five or six years of age, it reaches its maximum splendor. The peacocks that are the toughest—those that are able to survive long enough to have a really impressive train—are the ones that have the most mates and offspring.
The humble peahen
She may not look as impressive, but the peahen has a big job: raising her chicks all by herself! The peahen makes a scrape in the ground, lined with sticks, where she lays several light green or tan eggs. She sits on them almost constantly for about four weeks. The peachicks are able to walk and forage on their own right after they hatch, but they are very vulnerable. It takes two weeks before they can flap up into a tree for safety, where they crowd on both sides of their mother and are covered by her wings. At four weeks they grow crests, and at two months they look just like their mother (both males and females) but are only half her size. Out of every six chicks that hatch, usually only two survive to join the rest of the flock.
The Congo peafowl is the only pheasant species found in Africa and has not been studied much in the wild. The male doesn't have the long train like the other two peafowl species, probably because the Congo peafowl lives in the dense, dark rain forests of central Africa where long feathers would be impractical. The male has bright blue feathers and a crest, while the female has a mottled pattern of green and brown that helps with camouflage. This shy species seems to be a very primitive type of peafowl and may resemble early peafowl. A Species Survival Program (SSP) for Congo peafowl has been set up by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to help this endangered bird.
Peafowl follow a certain routine every day. They roost overnight in large groups in tall, open trees. That way they are safe from predators during the night and the males can travel through the branches. In the morning, they break up into small groups. In the nonbreeding season, these are usually groups of all peacocks or all peahens; but during the breeding season, there are harem groups of one peacock and several peahens or all bachelors. These groups forage on the ground for grain, insects, small reptiles and mammals, berries, figs, leaves, seeds, and flower parts. During midday, peafowl drink, preen their feathers, and rest in the shade. Once it cools down, they go back to foraging for food, take one last drink, and then return to their roost for the night.