Peacock Facts

Scientific Name: Genera Pavo and Afropavo

Indian or blue peafowl male (peacock) and female (peahen)
Indian or blue peafowl male (peacock) and female (peahen).

Emmanuelle Bonzami / EyeEm, Getty Images

Peacocks are birds known for their showy plumage and piercing calls. While both males and females are often called peacocks, really only the male is the peacock. The female is a peahen, while the young are peachicks. Collectively, they are properly known as peafowl.

Fast Facts: Peacock

  • Scientific Name: Pavo cristatus; Pavo muticus; Afropavo congensis
  • Common Names: Peacock, Indian peacock, blue peafowl, green peafowl, Java peafowl, African peacock, Congo peafowl, mbulu
  • Basic Animal Group: Bird
  • Size: 3.0-7.5 feet
  • Weight: 6-13 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Forests of India, Southeast Asia, and Congo Basin of Africa
  • Population: Thousands
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern to Endangered (depending on species)

Species

Peafowl belong to the pheasant family (Phasianidae). The three genera are Pavo cristatus, the Indian or blue peacock; Pavo muticus, the Java or green peafowl; and Afropavo congensis, the African peafowl or mbulu. There are also subspecies of green peafowl. The male green peafowl and female Indian peafowl can mate to produce a fertile hybrid called a "spalding."

Description

Peacocks are easily identified by their fan-like crest of feathers and long train of colorful eye-spot feathers. Male birds have spurs on their legs which they use for territorial disputes with other males. While peahens have a feathered crest, they lack the elaborate train. Both males and females have iridescent feathers. Actually, the feathers are brown, but crystalline structures produce vibrant blue, green, and gold colors by the scattering and interference of light. The body of the blue peacock appears blue, while the body of the green peacock appears green. The African peacock is a darker blue-green and brown. Chicks bear cryptic coloring in shades of tan and brown that help them blend in with their environment.

Both males and females are large birds, but males are about twice the length of females because of their feather train. On average, adults range from three to over seven feet from beak to tail tip. They weigh between six and thirteen pounds.

African or Congo peafowl
African or Congo peafowl have shorter trains the green or blue peafowl. Stan Osolinski, Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

Originally, the Indian peacock came from the Indian subcontinent. Now it is widely distributed across South Asia. Green peafowl live in Southeast Asia, including China, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Java. The African peacock is native to the Congo Basin. The three peafowl species do not naturally overlap ranges. All three species prefer forested habitats.

Diet and Behavior

Like other pheasants, peafowl are omnivorous, basically eating anything that fits in their beaks. They eat fruits, insects, crops, garden plants, seeds, insects, small mammals, and small reptiles. At night, peacocks fly to tree branches to roost in family units.

Reproduction and Offspring

The breeding season is variable and depends largely on rain. Males fan their feathers to attract a mate. A female may select a mate based on several factors, which include the visual display, its low-frequency vibration (picked up by the female's crest feathers), or the male's call. A blue peacock has a harem of two to three peahens, while green and African peafowl tend to be monogamous.

After mating, the female scrapes a shallow nest in the ground and lays between four and eight buff-colored eggs. She incubates the eggs, which hatch after 28 days. Only the female cares for the chicks, which follow her around or may be carried on her back when she flies to roost. Peafowl reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age. In the wild, they live between 15 and 20 years, but they may live 30 years in captivity.

Green peahen with chicks
Green peahen with chicks. Ronald Leunis / EyeEm, Getty Images

Conservation Status

Peafowl conservation status depends on species. The IUCN classifies the conservation status of the Indian peacock as "least concern." The bird enjoys wide distribution across Southeast Asia, with a wild population over 100,000. The IUCN lists the Congo peafowl as "vulnerable" and decreasing in population. In 2016, the number of mature birds was estimated to range between 2,500 and 10,000. The green peafowl is endangered. Fewer than 20,000 mature birds remain in the wild, with a decreasing population.

Threats

Peacocks face numerous threats, including habitat loss and degradation, hunting, poaching and predation. Green peacocks are further endangered by introduction of hybrid birds into wild populations.

Peafowl and Humans

Blue peacocks are agricultural pests in some regions. Peafowl readily breed in captivity. They are most often kept for the beauty and their feathers and sometimes for meat. Peacock feathers are collected after the male molts each year. While peafowl are affectionate toward their owners, they can be aggressive toward strangers.

Sources

  • BirdLife International 2016. Afropavo congensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22679430A92814166. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679430A92814166.en
  • BirdLife International 2016. Pavo cristatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22679435A92814454. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679435A92814454.en
  • BirdLife International 2018. Pavo muticus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22679440A131749282. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22679440A131749282.en
  • Grimmett, R.; Inskipp, C.; Inskipp, T. Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-691-04910-6. 
  • Johnsgard, P.A. The Pheasants of the World: Biology and Natural History. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 374, 1999. ISBN 1-56098-839-8.