Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

Also known as: blue peacock, blue peafowl, common peacock, common peafowl, peafowl
GenusPavo (1)
SizeLength: 1.8 – 2.3 m (2)
Weight2.75 – 6 kg (2)

The Indian peafowl is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.

The national bird of India, the spectacular appearance of the male Indian peafowl, or ‘peacock’, is well-known throughout the world (3) (4). The male’s head, neck and breast are a glossy, iridescent blue, with white patches above and below the eyes, along with a crest of upright, blue-tipped feathers on the crown of the head. By contrast, the back and wings are greyish-brown with brown barring. Undoubtedly the most striking feature of this species is the long ‘train’ of feathers at the rear, which, in the male, can encompass nearly two-thirds of the total body length (4). Often mistaken for a tail, the train is in fact composed of long tail coverts, while the true tail feathers comprise short stiff quills that help to hold the train aloft (2) (5). The feathers of the train lack the barbed structure that normally holds bird feathers together, hence they look loose and fluffy, and each bears a striking eyespot or ‘ocellus’ (3) (4). The female Indian peafowl or ‘peahen’ is far more understated, with a whitish face and throat, brown crown, hindneck and back, a white belly and a metallic green upper breast. The train is present, but much shorter and lacks the distinctive eyespots (4). The call of the Indian peafowl, which is commonly used to advertise the presence of the male during the breeding season, but also heard in the late afternoon and after dark, is a loud, trumpet-like scream “kee-ow” (2) (4) (5).

The native range of the Indian peafowl encompasses India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Captive specimens are found throughout the world, and introduced, feral populations now occur in Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and the USA (6).

In its native range, the Indian peafowl can typically be found inhabiting the undergrowth in open forest and woodland, usually near a river or stream (4). The Indian peafowl is also known to occur in farmland, villages, and increasingly, more urban areas (7).

Active during the day, the Indian peafowl feeds on the ground, seeking out seeds, fallen fruits, and insects (2) (4). While the majority of its diet comprises plant material and invertebrates, it is known to take small rodents and reptiles on occasion (4). During the night, this species roosts in trees, where there is less danger of predation (2). The Indian peafowl displays highly regular behaviour, often roosting and feeding in the same locations for life, hence the propensity for captive individuals to remain in the vicinity of a single building or garden (4). Despite its large size and, in the males, the lengthy train, the Indian peafowl is remarkably agile, and while it can quickly escape from predators by foot, when pressured it will take to the air (7).

The fan-like spread of the tail coverts, and the frequent shaking of them, exhibited by the male is a spectacular form of courtship display, and can be induced not only by the presence of female Indian peafowl, but also other bird species and even humans (4). The display is not limited to the males, however, as both the female Indian peafowl and chicks are also known to fan their shorter, less colourful tail coverts as well (4). The Indian peafowl breeds from January to March in southern India, and as late as September in other parts of its range (4). During this time, males occupy small, adjacent territories known as leks, where they display to prospective mates (5) (8). The females visit a number of these leks, before selecting the most suitable mate, a decision which is based on the length of the train feathers and the number of eyespots (5) (9). Favoured males may be surrounded by several dominant females which engage in repetitive courtship and mating, possibly as a way of guarding the male from other prospective females. Indeed, the most favoured males are so sought after that, after mating with an inferior male, females will still attempt to court and mate with the prize male (8). The female lays 4 to 6 eggs in a shallow scrape in the ground, or in a tree if predation is intense, which are incubated for 28 to 30 days. After hatching, the chicks are reared for around seven to nine weeks, and are initially fed food from the mother’s bill, but later taught to forage for grubs and insects (5).

While the Indian peafowl is revered in many parts of its range, in others it has suffered from the effects of hunting for its meat and feathers (4). In some parts of India, it is threatened by retaliatory killings to reduce crop depredation (7). Nevertheless, this species is extremely abundant and widespread and there is little threat to its survival at present (6).

Owing to its spectacular appearance and religious associations, the Indian peafowl is protected in many parts of its range, especially in India, where it is considered sacred by Hindus (3).

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Authenticated (04/11/2010) by Dr. S. Sathyakumar, Wildlife Institute of India.

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Smithsonian National Zoological Park (September, 2009)
  4. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  5. New Zealand Birds (September, 2009)
  6. BirdLife International (September, 2009)
  7. Sathyakumar, S. and Kaul, R. (2007) Pheasants. In: Sathyakumar, S. and Sivakumar, K. (Eds). Galliformes of India. ENVIS Bulletin: Wildlife and Protected Areas, 10(1): 33-52. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.
  8. Whistler, H. (1928) Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. Gurney & Jackson, London.
  9. Petrie, M., Hall, M., Halliday, T., Budgey, H. and Pierpoint, C. (1992) Multiple mating in a lekking bird: why do peahens mate with than one male and with the same male more than once? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 31: 349–358.
  10. Petrie, M. and Halliday, T. (1994) Experimental and natural changes in the peacock's (Pavo cristatus) train can affect mating success. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 35: 213–217.