Peafowl are large birds in the pheasant family, and they have been domesticated for centuries both to eat and for their value as decorative birds. There are two peafowl species, Pavo cristatus and Pavo muticus, which has several subspecies, with biologists suspecting that more will be identified. In addition to the two primary species groups, there are many variations selected for by breeders, resulting in a wide range of plumage colors including striking white peafowl and blotchy pied peafowl.
The male bird, the peacock, has an astounding train of tail feathers which can be erected for display or to frighten off intruders. The feathers are extremely long, with distinctive eyes at their tips, a marked contrast from the dull plumage of the peahen. Babies are known as peachicks. The correct all-inclusive word to use when discussing the birds in general is peafowl, rather than peacocks, as this word refers only to male birds.
Like many other primarily ground dwelling birds, peafowl have spurs for self defense on their legs. In their natural habitat, peafowl live in the forest, nesting on the ground and foraging for food items such as insects, greens, and fruit. At night, peafowl typically find a roost to avoid ground based predation while they sleep. The peahens can get extremely aggressive while guarding the nest, and while they do not have the display abilities that peacocks do, they are capable of puffing up their plumage to look larger and more threatening.
In India, Pavo cristatus is the national bird, and it is an important part of pleasure gardens and decorative artwork. Many Indian textiles mimic the characteristic eyes of a peacock's tail, and the birds are highly prized, especially in rare color mutations such as white. The birds are sometimes known as blue peafowl, in a reference to their predominant color, a blue body with iridescent plumage. Pavo muticus, the green peacock, wanders Southeast Asia. These birds actually have more striking plumage, including black lined wings and deeper color saturation.
As food animals, peafowl are not terribly valuable. The meat tends to be primarily dark, and it is chewy, dry, and without much flavor. In the European Middle Ages, the birds experienced a brief period of popularity as exotic dishes, but most modern peafowl are intended to be ornamental, rather than functional. As ornamental birds, peafowl wander gardens and zoos all over the world, although they can also be quite destructive and messy.