Peafowl are two Asiatic and one African species of flying bird in the genus Pavo of the pheasant family, Phasianidae, best known for the male’s extravagant eye-spotted tail covert feathers, which it displays as part of courtship. The male is called a peacock, the female a peahen, and the offspring peachicks. The adult female peafowl is grey and/or brown. Peachicks can be between yellow and a tawny colour with darker brown patches or light tan and ivory, also referred to as “dirty white”. The term also embraces the Congo Peafowl, which is placed in a separate genus Afropavo.
In common with other members of the Galliformes, males possess metatarsal spurs or “thorns” used primarily during intraspecific fights.
Peacock in flight
As stated above, Peacocks are large, colorful pheasants (typically blue and green) known for their iridescent tails. These tail feathers, or coverts, spread out in a distinctive train that is more than 60 percent of the bird’s total body length and boast colorful “eye” markings of blue, gold, red, and other hues. The large train is used in mating rituals and courtship displays. It can be arched into a magnificent fan that reaches across the bird’s back and touches the ground on either side. Females are believed to choose their mates according to the size, color, and quality of these outrageous feather trains.
The term “peacock” is commonly used to refer to birds of both sexes. Technically, only males are peacocks. Females are peahens, and together, they are called peafowl.
Suitable males may gather harems of several females, each of which will lay three to five eggs. In fact, wild peafowl often roost in forest trees and gather in groups called parties.
Peacocks are ground-feeders that eat insects, plants, and small creatures. There are two familiar peacock species. The blue peacock lives in India and Sri Lanka, while the green peacock is found in Java and Myanmar (Burma). A more distinct and little-known species, the Congo peacock, inhabits African rain forests.
Peafowl such as the blue peacock have been admired by humans and kept as pets for thousands of years. Selective breeding has created some unusual color combinations, but wild birds are themselves bursting with vibrant hues. They can be testy and do not mix well with other domestic birds.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Pavo cristatus feather extract in the form of water or ash can be used to treat the poisonous bites of Russell vipers Vipera russelii, common cobras Naja naja, and Malabar pit vipers Trimeresurus malabaricus. The extract is high in iron, protein, and steroids, and acts as an inhibitor to harmful enzymes in the venom that cause tissue damage. This is a traditional treatment in India for those who live far away from hospitals and doctors.
Not only can the feathers be used for medical purposes, but can be used for decoration. Feathers were used to embellish helmets and hats during the Middle Ages, and more recently are used in flower arrangements. The feathers were used to fletch arrows and were woven into clothes. Over one hundred feathers can be collected from a single peacock when it molts, a collection method that does not harm the birds.
Their eggs are a profitable source of income in areas where they are not revered and protected through religion. Because of their extravagant trains, peacocks have been depicted in art and literature throughout the ages. In Hindu and Buddhist religions, Pavo cristatus is considered a vehicle for the gods. Religion is not the only reason Indian blue peafowl are respected and loved. They also kill deadly snakes such as cobras, and consumes a large number of insects reducing the amount of pesticides used on crops. (Jackson, 2006; Murari, et al., 2005)
Economic Importance for Humans:
In areas where Indian blue peafowl have been introduced and allowed to roam free, it has the potential to disrupt the ecosystem if it feeds on endangered lizards, for example. This could result in irreversible and expensive damage. A high density of peafowl can easily cause destruction to farmers’ crops or flowerbeds. In some residential communities, this species can be a nuisance because of its frequent screeching. (Jackson, 2006)
Because this species is so thoroughly woven into many cultures, they face little threat of becoming endangered. However, because the human population is growing so quickly, peafowl face the loss of natural habitat and access to water sources. National parks are working to protect the habitats in India and nearby countries considered native to peafowl. Because Indian blue peafowl are so adaptable, it has been introduced to different countries to extend its range. There are also a large number of aviculturalists who raise and breed this species as pets. (Brickle, 2002; Jackson, 2006)
Peafowl Distribution map World Wide