Story Behind the Science
The term peacock is commonly misused to represent all birds of these species, however, only the males are considered peacocks. Peacocks in general are more accurately referred to as peafowl, a specific group of pheasants. Male peafowl alone are peacocks, while females are peahens and babies are peachicks. Though there are three species of peafowl, the Indian peafowl is regarded as the most popular, as it is the most commonly seen peafowl species in many zoos and parks.
Peacocks and peahens are very different in appearance due to sexual dimorphism. Male peacocks are the more beautiful creatures, since they are the ones with the long train of colorful, iridescent feathers. Their feathery trains typically drag along the ground while walking around, but when a male peacock wants to show off for a peahen, he will unfold his feathers into a kind of fan to put on a shimmery, flashy show for her.
These birds are admired for their beauty and have been kept as pets for centuries. In the past, peacocks and peahens were brought to live on the estates of wealthy people to act as a kind of natural decoration to enhance the surrounding landscape. Peafowl have since reproduced and traveled throughout neighboring areas, which is why they are no longer found solely in their native countries.
The poaching of Indian peacocks for their feathers is recognized as one of the main reasons why their population has decreased by more than 50 percent. Peacock feathers can be traded for a good price in both Indian and international markets. Peacocks shed their feathers naturally, but the demand for their beautiful feathers has increased, causing the creatures to be plucked for the sake of the trade. The environment ministry in India has tightened its restrictions on peacock feather trade in an effort to preserve these animals.
Because peacocks are prevalent in so many cultures and religions, they are respected and protected. Despite this fact, they do face a variety of threats due to the increase in human population. Peafowl face habitat loss like many other birds, causing them to have fewer sources of food, water and shelter. These birds are easily adaptable, so they can be introduced to other countries and can thrive in a variety of habitats. Other human threats include hunting peafowl for sport, as well as eating them and their eggs.
Peafowl have many different predators, but they are very clever and well-equipped to prevent potential attacks. Peacocks are often at greater risk of a surprise attack when they are drinking or displaying their plumage, since they cannot see predators approaching from behind. If their train is attacked, the feathers can be pulled out easily and the peacock can then fly away. Peafowl also have sharp eyes to detect predators and can use spurs on their legs as a method of defense.
Did You Know?
- A group of peacocks is referred to as a party.Learn More »
- The Indian peafowl is the national bird of India and is popular in Indian mythology and folklore.Learn More »
- Peahens choose their mate based on the peacock’s eyespots (also known as ocelli) and the length of its feathers.Learn More »
- The three species of peafowl include the Indian peafowl, green peafowl and Congo peafowl. The Congo peafowl is the only species of pheasant found in Africa.Learn More »
- The peacock’s ostentatious plumage is a significant visual sign to prospective peahen mates, as it communicates fitness.Learn More »
- When a peacock molts, more than 100 feathers can be collected. Gathering molted feathers this way does not harm peacocks in any way.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Peafowl||Pheasants|
|How many species?||3||Approximately 49|
|Where do they occur?||The Indian (or blue) peafowl is native to South Asia, whereas the green peafowl is native to Southeast Asia and the Congo peafowl is native to Central Africa.||Though pheasants are thought to have originated in Asia, they have spread throughout the northern hemisphere. They are most common in field and woodland habitats.|
|What do they eat?||Peafowl feed mainly on the ground, hence why they're referred to as ground-feeders. They commonly eat plants, flower buds, bamboo shoots, grains, berries, insects and small animals.||Seeds, berries, fruits, insects, worms and small reptiles are common foods for pheasants.|
|Do they have predators?||Some predators of peacocks include jungle cats, wild dogs and mongooses.||Foxes, dogs, wild cats, hawks, owls and most of all, humans, are a few predators of adult pheasants. Raccoons, skunks and other animals may prey upon pheasant nests.|