Across the animal kingdom there are several species that showcase their beauty with amazing colors, and patterns.
One animal known for its outstanding beauty is the peacock, due to its colorful green and blue tail feathers, with an eye shaped pattern.
The male peacocks are the only types with these large ornamental feathers, while peahens lack them entirely.
A peacock’s colorful feathers are just as iconic as a lion’s mane, or a lizard’s bright scales, and these traits also serve similar purposes in the wilderness.
Peacocks have often been seen showing their bright plumage at peahens, humans, and even inanimate objects like fire hydrants.
This article will go over why peacocks spread their feathers, but also other interesting facts, including how a peahen may choose her mate.
Anatomy of Peacock Feathers
There are three peafowl species that live around the world, which include the Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus), the green peafowl (Pavo muticus) and the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis).
The Congo peacock is a lesser known species of peafowl, and is a more distant relative to the other two.
Male Indian peafowl, and green peafowls are the only peacocks that have the large tail displays.
The Indian peafowl is the most abundant of peacock species, and also one of the most well known.
Male Indian peafowls have a length up to 1.17 meters (3.83 ft), while female peahens are slightly smaller, with a length around 0.95 meters (3 ft).
The neck of the Indian peacock is vibrant blue, and their display feathers are extremely long, growing up to 1.5 meters in length (5 ft).
Indian peacocks are one of the heaviest peacock species, and have a weight between 2.7 to 5.8 kgs. (6.1 to 13 lbs).
Green peacocks are the longest species of peacocks, with a length between 1 to 2.9 meters (3.3 up to 9.8 ft) when including their display feathers.
The Congo peacock is the only species that does not showcase the long display feathers, but males do have an iridescent blue, and green plumage, with a white tuft of hair on the top of their heads.
The male species of Indian and green peacocks’ large back feathers are called train feathers, which they use to spread them out behind them, and create one of the most elegant displays in the wilderness.
When fully grown male Indian and green peacocks have an average of 200 train feathers. Some of their feathers have an eye-like pattern with green, tan and blue coloring, while others are T shaped.
Around 170 of their feathers are eye feathers, and 30 of them are their T feathers.
The Science Behind Peacock Feathers
Peacock feathers have one of the most complex color structures out of all birds which give them their vibrant, and iridescent colors.
It is not only the train of the peacock that has vibrant colors, but they have bright shiny hues over their body.
By looking at the keratin structures of a peacock’s feathers using X-ray diffractions scientists have been able to examine the various features of the peacock and see why they have their shiny appearance.
The blue iridescent coloring of the peacock comes from the photonic crystal structure in their feather barbules, made by the two-dimensional rectangular lattice of melanosomes, and air channels in their keratin.
Structure from the melanin rods in keratin within the peacocks feathers is why they have their flashy colors.
Genetic mutations and breeding has caused a variety of colors to occur, but blue, yellow, brown, and green are the most common.
White peacocks can occur due to a mutation called Leucisms, and this takes away their colors, but they still have their large fanlike tails.
The large tails that males showcase not only helps differentiate them from females, but is an example of sexual selection in nature, even though this trait may seem more burdensome.
Producing these giant feathers alone make up for around 3% of the peacocks energy during the mating season.
The shape and location of the males’ train feathers also help them fly quickly, but due to their massive size they can only move short distances, and their feathers are mainly for looks.
Mating Rituals: The Primary Purpose
The main reason peacocks spread and shake their train feathers is since it is a part of their mating ritual.
The large vibrant colors, shining appearance, eye feathers, and large fantail train is what the male peacock uses to attract mates.
Spring to fall months is when peacocks begin to mate, and at around 3 years of age is when peacocks reach sexual maturity.
Like other birds, peacocks shed their beautiful feathers every year after the breeding season, which is called molting.
When molting, peacocks can lose their feathers very quickly, and will look similar to a peafowl until they eventually grow back next year.
Peak length, and color of a peacock train feathers is reached at around 6 years of age.
Peahens reach sexual maturity quicker than males, and choose a mate based on the dancing appearance, and sound of their potential mate.
When not in presence of a mate, peacocks will use a mating call, or hoot to attempt to attract mates nearby.
Peacocks when in sight of a female will rattle, and shake their feathers very quickly.
Males with impressive feathers can win mates, and those with the best looks can have multiple females in the season.
In captivity peacocks have also been shown to have monogamous pairs.
The primary flashiness of the male peacock is so it can attract as many mates as possible, and males with the best genes have the most offspring.
Mating begins when peacocks align their tails, and use their cloaca to transfer sperm to the peahen.
Anywhere between 3 to 12 eggs are laid, which take around 1 month to hatch.
After being born young peacocks will follow their mother’s around until they are old enough to care for themselves.
Other Functions of Feather Displays
You may wonder what it means when a peacock spreads its feathers since they sometimes do this action when there is no mate around.
A peacocks’ feathers are not just for mating, but it also helps them show dominance over other birds, and predators.
Males will use their large feathers to make themselves look much larger, and when moving their train feathers they can hide in plain sight.
The large eyes markings and size of the peacock may also alarm a predator.
The predators of peacocks include:
- Wild Dogs
Being so large the train feathers do slow down the peacock, and can also get them eaten since it can block a large portion of their view.
The feathers weigh around 300 grams (10 oz.), and due to their size it may make it harder for the peacock to fly.
In general peacocks are not great flyers, and will only lift off to escape danger, or go into a tree to roost at night.
Using the large feathers as a defense mechanism is better than having to waste energy to fly away.
In the breeding seasons peacocks are also very territorial with other males, and will use their large fans to show their dominance.
The talons and beaks of these birds are their other defenses.
The Female Perspective: What Peahens Look For
Peahens will not just mate with the first bird that shows their feathers, but have specific traits that they look out for.
The size, and shape of a peacock’s tail is what they look at, and judge their potential mates by how healthy they look.
Healthier mates will have a higher chance of producing better offspring.
Better fed peacocks with better genes may look the flashiest.
Peacocks shake their bodies around 26 times per second, which create a stunning show with their colors, and eye feathers that catch the pickiest females attention.
Peahens may sometimes mate with more than one male in a breeding season if they do not get their preferred mate first.
If there are lots of peahens trying to mate then females may get more aggressive, and territorial over the top peacocks.
The Evolutionary Advantage of Feather Displays
Peacocks were an important animal in helping Charles Darwin better understand evolution, and sexual selection in animals.
The male peacock’s large tail may make them very vulnerable to predators, but it makes their chances of passing on their DNA much higher.
Other examples of sexual selection include the large antlers on a deer, and other flashy dances birds do.
The preference of females for peacocks with enormous displays is why these birds have evolved to look the way they have.
Sexual dimorphism in other animals can be found with size, hair, and colors, which can also be things used by animals to attract females.
Eye patterns on animals are also common evolutionary traits used to defend from and scare predators.
Bright colors are used in animals like lizards and birds, and even ancient dinosaurs.
Peacocks first appeared in history in the 10th century B.C.E. and are the oldest known ornamental bird.
The elegant and iridescent feathers have not only given peacocks some of the best fashion sense, but also help make the species more successful with breeding.
Not only are peacocks loved for their amazing colors, but in several places around the world these birds are eaten, and enjoyed for their tasty meat similar to chicken, or turkey.
The colors of peacocks are loved by humans with their patterns seen on objects like clothes, carpets, and jewelry.
Due to their unique color and traits peacocks are often considered one of the most beautiful types of birds in the world.
Their appearance helped scientists like Charles Darwin understand sexual selection, and how animals may evolve overtime to help with getting mates.
You can find many other birds with shining feathers like pigeons, starlings, and ducks, but peacocks take their flashiness to another level.
Are peacocks kept as pets?
The blue peacock is a common peafowl that is kept as a pet, and is legal to own in many areas across the world including the United States, Australia, Canada, and the U.K.
In some regions peafowl are illegal, and you should research your region’s laws if you want to own one.
Why are peacocks important in certain cultures?
Peacocks are found in India, Asia, and Africa, and due to their amazing colors and size these birds have picked up several meanings.
Confidence, and beauty are some of the most common meanings for peacock symbolize.
They also represent vision, strength, divinity, and have been associated with kings in India.
Are peacocks endangered?
The Indian blue peacock is a species that has been listed as “least concern” by the IUCN, but the green peacock is a species that is classified as endangered.
Hunting from humans, and habitat loss is why green peacocks are going endangered, and their population is now less than 10,000 adults.