Peafowl facts for kids

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Peafowl
Indian blue peacock
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Genus: Pavo
L, 1758

A peafowl is a bird of the Phasianide family. It is a relative of the pheasant.

There are two species of peafowl: the Asiatic peafowl (Pavo) or the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis). The Congo peafowl is the only member of the pheasant family that originated outside Asia.

The male peafowl can have up to 150 brightly colored feathers on its tail coverts.

For centuries peafowl have been admired for their beauty and hunted for their meat. Recently peacocks have become more popular in parks and gardens.

Plumage

Peacock-JS
Head
Paon blanc Madère 2008
A leucistic Indian peacock
Peacock by Nihal jabin
The Royal beauty of the jungle

The Indian peacock has iridescent blue and green plumage, mostly metallic blue and green, but the green peacock has green and bronze body feathers. In both species, females are as big as males, but lack the train and the head ornament. The peacock "tail", known as a "train", consists not of tail quill feathers, but highly elongated upper tail coverts. These feathers are marked with eyespots, best seen when a peacock fans his tail. Both sexes of all species have a crest atop the head. The Indian peahen has a mixture of dull grey, brown, and green in her plumage. The female also displays her plumage to ward off female competition or signal danger to her young.

Green peafowl differ from Indian peafowl in that the male has green and gold plumage and black wings with a sheen of blue. Unlike Indian peafowl, the green peahen is similar to the male, only having shorter upper tail coverts, a more coppery neck, and overall less iridescence.

The Congo peacock male does not display his covert feathers, but uses his actual tail feathers during courtship displays. These feathers are much shorter than those of the Indian and green species, and the ocelli are much less pronounced. Females of the Indian and African species are dull grey and/or brown.

Chicks of both sexes in all the species are cryptically coloured. They vary between yellow and tawny, usually with patches of darker brown or light tan and "dirty white" ivory.

Colour and pattern variations

Hybrids between Indian and Green peafowl are called Spaldings, after the first person to successfully hybridise them, Mrs. Keith Spalding. Unlike many hybrids, spaldings are fertile and generally benefit from hybrid vigor; spaldings with a high-green phenotype do much better in cold temperatures than the cold-intolerant green peafowl while still looking like their green parents. Plumage varies between individual spaldings, with some looking far more like green peafowl and some looking far more like blue peafowl, though most visually carry traits of both.

In addition to the wild-type "blue" colouration, several hundred variations in colour and pattern are recognised as separate morphs of the Indian Blue among peafowl breeders. Pattern variations include solid-wing/black shoulder (the black and brown stripes on the wing are instead one solid colour), pied, white-eye (the ocelli in a male's eye feathers have white spots instead of black), and silver pied (a mostly white bird with small patches of colour). colour variations include white, purple, Buford bronze, opal, midnight, charcoal, jade, and taupe, as well as the sex-linked colours purple, cameo, peach, and Sonja's Violeta. Additional colour and pattern variations are first approved by the United Peafowl Association to become officially recognised as a morph among breeders. Alternately-coloured peafowl are born differently coloured than wild-type peafowl, and though each colour is recognisable at hatch, their peachick plumage does not necessarily match their adult plumage.

Occasionally, peafowl appear with white plumage. Although albino peafowl do exist, this is quite rare, and almost all white peafowl are not albinos; they have a genetic condition called leucism, which causes pigment cells to fail to migrate from the neural crest during development.

Male peafowl

Peacock Milwaukee County Zoo
The front of a peacock

Appearance

The male peafowls (called peacocks) have long, colorful feathers. Female peafowls (called peahens) have shorter, brown feathers.

Habits

Eating habits

They like to eat any kind of green shoots (flowers, veggies, grass etc.) as well as wheat, cracked corn or wild game feed. They can handle freezing temperatures as long as they have a dry perch that is out of the wind and weather. Dry dog and cat chows make excellent winter feed for peafowl, who are omnivores, eating insects, small snakes, lizards, grain, as well as many varieties of greens. They are particularly fond of petunias and similar pot plants, leaving nothing but a small green circle where the stem once emerged from the soil. The birds will learn to come to a specific place at specific times of day to be fed, and a regular light feeding during summer adapts them to coming to the feeding place in winter.

Origin

The peafowl is native to southeast Asia, including India and Pakistan. They were brought to Europe long ago, and can acclimatize to colder areas.

Mating

Paon de dos - peacock
The back of a peacock

The very long, elegant and colorful plumage of the male birds, peacocks, is grown over the winter months so that they are ready for the early spring mating season, during which each male establishes a territory. The male calls to the females to come and admire his dance.

He displays a rustling of tail quills which hold up the fanned back plumes (= tail feathers) as he stamps and turns. The summoning call is loud, repeated, happens sometimes at night, and sounds, to some people, like a woman screaming. Often it is tri-syllabic, mi-fa-sol. Once the mating season is over, the tail feathers are naturally shed.

The peacock's display is a classic example of sexual selection.

Female peafowl

The female birds, peahens, are soft brown and gray with white chests and bellies and some light green on the neck, the colors blending so well with weeds and grasses that when the female is nesting on the ground, she is almost invisible.

Mothering

Pavo cristatus -Calgary Zoo -female with chicks-8a
Female with chicks

The hen teaches her chicks what to eat by putting her beak down at a chosen bug, grain, seed, or leaf and making a throaty "grock" sound. The chick put its beak against the mother's, follows the beak to the tip, and eats whatever it points at. The chicks can learn what to eat from a hen of another species, but, unlike baby chickens, peachicks need to be shown what to eat. Chicks hatched in a hatchery can starve to death if there is no hen to teach them what to eat.

In addition to the "eat this" sound, the female has a particular call for a missing chick, a "where are you," "hoo-hah" call, two toned, high then low, mi-do, mi-do. When a chick is missing, this call can go on for hours.

Reproduction

Pavo cristatus -Zurich Zoo, Switzerland -chick-8a (1)
Chicks

She lays from two to six eggs in the spring time and, once all are laid, sits on the eggs for about thirty days to hatch them, leaving the nest once or twice a day to feed and drink. Often the female will utter a shrieked "trouble" call, a quickly repeated "cuk, cuk, cuk, cuk" when she leaves the nest, to attract predators away from it.

Chicks

Once the chicks are hatched, the mother leads them away from the broken eggs, as the smell of the eggs attracts predators. They are able to flutter a little within hours, and in a few days can fly up into sheltering trees by going first to lower branches and working their way higher, preferring high, protected branches. The chicks roost on either side of the peahen, and she extends her wings to cover them during the night, thus protecting them from rain, hail, and visits from owls. They begin to grow their "crowns" when they are only a few weeks old and it takes about a year for them to reach full size, though it may take three years to reach breeding age. Both males and females are hatched with the same plumage; nine to twelve months after hatching, the males' necks begin to turn peacock blue, and their splendid plumage takes about four years to reach full size.

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Peafowl Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.