Dec 12 2010
Many birds have benefited by their association with humans. Some, like chickens, have expanded their range and variability because we cultivate them for food. Others now live worldwide merely because they are beautiful. That’s what happened to the peacock.
Native to South Asia, the blue peacock or peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is the National Bird of India. Male peafowl are so beautiful that people have deemed them sacred, used them as symbols of power, and kept them in captivity or semi-captivity for centuries.
Peacocks are especially suited for an ornamental life because they don’t stray far. Like our wild turkeys they nest and feed on the ground and roost in trees at night. They don’t migrate and they have strong local attachments so they’re perfect for gracing the palace grounds.
The males are pure ornament. They don’t help raise their young and, in the wild, would barely meet with the ladies at all. Their chief family-oriented activity is to lure the females to special display grounds where they dazzle them by raising and quivering their long, beautiful upper-tail coverts. Yes, this beauty is all in their upper-tail coverts. Their tails are insignificant.
Keeping peacocks does have a few drawbacks. I’ve read that they can be ornery and don’t mix well with other domestic birds. And they are loud. Their name, “Pea” fowl, comes from the sound they make — “pia-ow” — a loud plaintive cry that carries through the forest.
If you have heard the peacock’s call it is unforgettable.
(photo by Brian Herman)