Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis)

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Male Congo peafowl
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Congo peafowl fact file

Congo peafowl description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyPhasianidae
GenusAfropavo (1)

This large ground bird from the Congo is the only true pheasant native to Africa (3) and, showing characteristics of both peafowl and guineafowl (4), has fascinated and perplexed ornithologists since its discovery in 1936 (5). Males are adorned with an elaborate array of colours, having dark bronze-green upperparts, black underparts, violet-blue breast and end tail feathers, and a vivid red naked throat (4) (6). These vibrant males also boast a conspicuous crest of long, dense white bristles on the crown, with a few darker feathers behind (2). The tail opens up into an impressive fan during displays, and a large spur on the inside of each leg may be used in male battles (3). Females are slightly smaller than males, and are rusty brown with metallic emerald-green upperparts and only a short russet crest (3) (6).

French
Paon du Congo.
Size
Male length: 64 – 70 cm (2)
Female length: 60 – 63 cm (2)
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Congo peafowl biology

Due to the scarcity and inaccessibility of its habitat, this shy and secretive bird has been little studied in the wild. Individuals are thought to live in pairs and small family groups that defend a shared territory, and captive studies have shown the pair-bond to be very strong. Mating and nesting behaviour have not yet been observed in the wild, but much has been learnt from observations in captivity. The most notable and striking feature of mating is the beautiful courtship display of the male, his tail and wing feathers fanned out while he struts, bows and offers food items to the female. A clutch of one to four eggs is laid in a scrape or hollow in the ground, and incubated for approximately 28 days by the female. During this time, the male stays close to guard the nest, and the female leaves only rarely to feed. After the chicks hatch, both parents help rear them by brooding, protecting and feeding them, although the well-developed young are soon able to forage for themselves (3).

The Congo peafowl appears to have a fairly diverse, generalist diet, having been observed eating a variety of vegetation, fruit and seeds from common trees throughout its range, and also on invertebrates such as aquatic insects and termites (3) (6).

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Congo peafowl range

Confined to the deep, inaccessible rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (formerly Zaire) (3).

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Congo peafowl habitat

Many different forest types are used, but this ground-dwelling species has most commonly been observed in dry forest with a relatively open floor, mainly on watersheds, which are patchy in distribution (6) (7).

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Congo peafowl status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Congo peafowl threats

Hunting and habitat loss, exacerbated by the demands of war and refugees, are rampant in Congo, and seriously threaten the survival of this endemic bird. Habitat is being destroyed by mining, subsistence agriculture and logging operations at several locations (6). Some reserves exist, but miner settlements are encroaching here and elsewhere, opening up remote areas to increased subsistence and commercial hunting (6) (7). Although the snares set may be intended for small mammals and antelope, Congo peafowl are thought to be a frequent victim. Guerrilla fighters and huge numbers of Rwandan refugees have occupied the eastern DRC since 1994, increasing the already mounting pressures of hunting and habitat loss (6).

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Congo peafowl conservation

There are around 150 Congo peafowl kept in captivity worldwide, and an international studbook is maintained to ensure that the captive population stays genetically diverse and healthy by coordinating selective breeding between individuals at different zoos. This captive population not only ensures the species’ survival should it go extinct in the wild, but also enables important research to take place into the bird’s ecological needs, which may help guide appropriate conservation measures to protect it in the wild (3).

With habitat loss and hunting continuing unabated, it seems that the conservation of this species in the wild may depend on populations in protected areas, where there is some possibility that hunting can be limited or banned. Important populations currently exist in the Maiko and probably also Salonga National Parks, and the species can also be found in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. In order to safeguard this bird’s future, however, protection of these nature reserves and national parks will need to be improved, and education campaigns to reduce bushmeat hunting and promote alternative livelihoods will be critical (6). The success of such conservation measures, however, is likely to depend upon the political situation of the country, which currently remains highly unstable (7). As such, Africa’s only native pheasant faces an uncertain future.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Congo peafowl see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Delacour, J. (1951) The Pheasants of the World. Country Life Ltd., London.
  3. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (July, 2006)
    http://www.durrellwildlife.org/upload/MainSite/Documents/pdfs/Congo%20peafowl.pdf
  4. gbwf.org: Dedicated to the Aviculture and Conservation of the World’s Galliformes (July, 2006)
    http://www.gbwf.org/pheasants/congo.html
  5. Kimball, R.T., Braun, E.L. and Ligon, J.D. (1997) Resolution of the phylogenetic position of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis: a biogeographic and evolutionary enigma. Proc. R. Soc. L., 264: 1517 - 1523. Available at:
    http://www.zoo.ufl.edu/ebraun/Papers/KBL97.pdf
  6. BirdLife International (July, 2006)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=284&m=0
  7. Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam (ZMA) (July, 2006)
    http://ip30.eti.uva.nl/zma3d/detail.php?id=144&sort=taxon&type=family
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Male Congo peafowl  
Male Congo peafowl

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