Photo of the Day #8: Male Peacock

Male Peacock

Some of you may have noticed some changes to the front page of Sb and some new photos in the category sections, and I'm proud to say that one of my photos made the cut for this week under the Life Science section. Hence, I've decided to post the "full" version of the photo here. In case anyone's unfamiliar with the animal, it's an Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus, although not everyone could merely enjoy the aesthetics of the striking display of the male bird. Writing to Asa Gray, Charles Darwin once related;

...I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me feel uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!

Today, however, it is known that the elaborate feather trains present in males but absent in the females is a result of sexual selection, another important evolutionary mechanism Darwin articulated in his famous work The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.

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And then one opens its mouth and you hear it call - which just destroys the aesthetic.

Terry Pratchett once said that the peacock's call "sounds like it shouldn't be made by anything as beautiful as that". Personally, I'd describe it as someone doing something unspeakable to a small child.

Peacocks can't compete with songbirds for melody, surely, but to me their call always sounded like someone doing an impression of a jungle bird call than a call made by an actual bird.

Peafowl and donkeys - a staple in some parts of my home state. And the donkeys sound better.

My sister had a ?feral/run-away? peacock take up residence in her yard so she went online and bought him some peahens to entice him to stay. They left; he stayed. She and her long-suffering husband tracked the hens down, managed to catch them, and brought them back to a nice new pen. All are settled down now - apparently. A peacock in an oak tree is an odd sight. (I was moved to post some pictures

There's a small population of wild peafowl on my parent's property in northern New Zealand. Despite their apparent showiness, peafowl are actually very retiring animals and keep to the bush-covered gullies. The aforementioned calls meant that we were aware of their presence for some months before anyone actually saw one. You're most likely to see them in the breeding season, when each male stakes out a clearing on a hillside.

They are also absolutely terrible fliers. Turkeys fly more gracefully than peacocks do.

Thanks for the comments (and pictures)! I've always wondered about peafowl as invasive species as they're often left to roam free in zoos, but from what I've heard they generally stay in one place (although I could be wrong). While most of the ones I've seen are have the usual color pattern, I've also come across some that were entirely white (but not albino), although I've never seen on of these animals display.

Regarding long tailed fowl, Japanese traditionally bred onagadori cocks for long tails plumage for officials and warriors, the longest was 24' (~7+ meters) long. The hens had normal feathers. (Nat'l Geog. Nov. 1953)

I always wondered if the peacock's call was what mid-sized theropod dinosaurs might have sounded like.

Very impressive Sordes! I've never seen one quite like that.

Good point, DD, although I went with "male peacock" as most people I've run into call the birds "peacocks" regardless of sex. I have yet to hear anyone at a zoo call the female a peahen, so I figured I might as well go with the common usage to make things less complicated even if it technically isn't right. Still, I should probably change the text so that I don't continue the misunderstanding so thanks for being on your toes!