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What are Peafowl?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Feb 04, 2013

I buy peafowl feathers and use them for decoration. Are peafowls harmed for these feathers? Or are these ones that fall off of them naturally and then are collected?

By SarahGen — On Feb 04, 2013

@MikeMason-- Most do actually. Of course, they don't have the amazing tail with colors and designs that the peacock has. But they usually have blue or green colored necks and they have this thing on top of their head. But there are different types of peafowls and I think the white peafowl doesn't have any colors.

Also, even peacocks don't look very extraordinary when their tail feathers are not erected. I've seen peacocks at a peafowl breeders farm but their feathers were all closed up and I couldn't see anything. They were just very large, black, turkey like birds with colorful necks.

By stoneMason — On Feb 03, 2013
I learn something new everyday! I didn't know females are peafowls. I used to call them all peacocks. Thanks for that information!

So what color is the female peafowl? Do peafowls have any of the beautiful colors associated with peacocks?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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