Spectacular Courtship Ritual of Peafowl

April 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Best known for the spectacular courtship display put on by the males of the species, peafowl originate in Asia and belong to the genus Pavo of the Phasianidae (pheasant) family. While the term “peacock” is often used to describe the entire species, irrespective of sex, “peacock” is the correct term for the male in the species, with the female being referred to as a “peahen” and their offspring are known as “pea chicks”. The name for a group of peafowl – pride or ostentation – is very descriptive and this colorful bird has long been associated with high social standing and royalty, particularly in Asian cultures. It also features in Hindu mythology as the mount of the god of war, Karthikeya.

The species of peafowl are the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) and Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congensis). The Indian Peafowl is found in South Asia and is the national bird of India. The male of the species has a brilliantly blue colored body and head, which is topped by a fan-like crest of feathers. Its most prominent feature is its long train of upper-tail covert feathers covered in colorful, iridescent spots resembling eyes. During courtship, this breathtakingly beautiful tail is spread out into a fan and quivered by the male in an attempt to attract a mate. The female of the species has a duller brown plumage with its neck being a greenish color. Although they can fly and often roost in tall trees, Indian Peafowl are usually found on the ground, where they forage for berries, grains and other plant material, with lizards, snakes and small rodents also being on the menu.

While Indian Peafowl are considered to be of “Least Concern” by the IUCN, the Green Peafowl is listed as “Endangered”. Found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl is a target of predators such as Leopards, Tigers, Jungle Cats and humans. Hunting and a loss of habitat has resulted in numbers of these beautiful birds dwindling to the extent that they are now considered to be endangered. The males and females of Green Peacocks are relatively similar in appearance, with the male’s upper tail coverts being longer than the female during breeding season. After breeding season the male molts, resulting in the appearance of the two sexes being even more similar.

Found in the Congo Basin, the Congo Peacock looks like a cross between a peafowl and a guineafowl, with the male’s feathers being a deep blue, tinged with green and violet, while the female is brown with shiny green feathers over its back. Due to habitat loss and hunting, the Congo Peacock has the IUCN status of “Vulnerable”.

The Majestic Blue Peafowl

February 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Peafowl constitutes three species, the Indian peacock or the Indian peafowl or the Blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus L.) distributed widespread across the entire Indian subcontinent; the Green peafowl or the Java peafowl (Pavo muticus L.) restricted predominantly to South-East Asia; and the Congo peafowl or Congo peacock (Afropavo congensis Chapin) endemic to the Congo basin of central Africa. Although the Blue Peafowl is in the Least Concern category of IUCN, the green peafowl has been placed under Endangered and the Congo Peacock under Vulnerable status. The Indian and African species are sexually dimorphic, suggesting that male and female members show distinctly different appearance and plumage; while the Green peafowls are almost similar in appearance. The most common and widely distributed among these three is the majestic Indian peafowl or the Blue Peafowl found across the entire Indian subcontinent including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, as far as Sri Lanka (Pavo cristatus singhalensis) and as an introduced species in the continents of North America, Europe and Australia. The species is unfortunately reported to be extinct in the wild in Bangladesh.
 

Map of the Indian subcontinent showing native range/distribution of Blue peafowl.

 
The Blue peafowl (peacock) is the national bird of the Republic of India and has been an inseparable part of the local culture, religion, tradition and history, art and sculpture, myths and legends of the great Indian subcontinent from time immemorial. It is believed that the bird was introduced in Europe by Alexander’s retreating army after their grand campaigns in Persia and India; as an exotic bird species for the elites of the society with spectacular beauty. The spectacular courtship behavior of the Blue peafowl has been a part of several local myths and legends related to eternal love and romanticism for centuries and mentioned in several ancient texts and scriptures suggesting their long association with their human neighbors. The bird has been a symbol of the royalty and elites and has been a regular pet reared in the royal gardens and parks in both ancient and medieval India along with spotted (axis) deer and black bucks.
 

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi
 
The blue peafowl has a characteristic blue and green image with iridescent properties. Occasional white peafowls (mostly leucistic) are also reported that are commonly breed by zoological gardens and by private bird parks or gardens across the globe for their high ornamental values and popularity with the visitors. True albinos are also reported but comparatively rare in nature. The most spectacular aspect of the Blue peafowl is the majestic tail feathers of the males (peacocks) with distinct “eyes” that are best observed when the males display their tail feathers well stretched to attract the females for breeding purposes. Although the males of the species (peacocks) are characterized by their spectacular colorful feathers; the females (peahens) are less spectacularly ornamented with a mix of dull green, grey, white and brown feathers and are slightly smaller in size than the males. They also lack the long extensive tail feathers of the peacocks. Both have crest or crown on their heads, but the peacocks have brighter colors compared to the peahens. The young and immature peafowls (peachicks) are dull in coloration, varying between tawny to yellow and with inconspicuous patches or streaks of dull brown or white.
 

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi
 
The species exhibit elaborate courtship displays, with several competing males (peacocks) displaying their majestic tail feathers with distinctive eyes to a target female (peahen). The peahens sleet the individuals with most elaborate displays which is believed to be sign for their genetic fitness and good health and features. There are several theories put forward since the time of Charles Darwin in explaining such elaborate courtship displays and their role in evolution. They constitute one of the best examples for sexual selection.
 

Photo credit: Rahul Ray
 
The males are extremely territorial and they defend their territory fiercely by engaging in close combats with their challengers and intruders; and are often quite aggressive during the breeding season and in defending their nesting sites from different predators. These are terrestrial birds that nest and forage on the ground and roost on the branches of high trees. Their diets include a mixture of various plants and plant parts, different arthropods including insects, reptiles (snakes) and amphibians (frogs). They are a noisy species with frequent territorial and alarm calls of the males are a well know feature of wild India. Several pairs may nest close to one another and raise their chicks; but are extremely territorial and intolerant, if another (particularly males) dare to venture into the territory claimed by a resident breeding couple.

Photo credit: Rahul Ray
 
Article contributed by: Rahul Ray and Saikat Kumar Basu