12 Colorful Peacock Facts

A close up on a peacock with feathers displayed

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You might not know this when you visit peacocks in nearby parks, farms, and zoos, but blue and green peacocks, those mythical creatures with iridescent plumage, are only native to Asia — though their remarkable beauty has led them to all corners of the world.

There's a lot more to peafowl than their mesmerizing tail feathers. Explore their intricate nature with these 12 peacock facts.

1. Only Males Have Those Long, Beautiful Feathers

Peahen Perching On Retaining Wall

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Like other bird species, it's the male of the peafowl species that has such eye-catching color and lovely decorative tail feathers. And just the males are called peacocks — females are called peahens — though both sexes are commonly referred to as peacocks. A group of peafowl is called a bevy, an ostentation, or a muster.

2. Peacocks Take Three Years to Grow Their Tail Feathers

When they hatch and for months afterward, male and female peachicks look identical. The males don't start to develop color until they are about three months old, and it's not until full maturity at three years old that their famous display tails are in full feather.

3. The Indian Peacock Is the Country's National Bird

Indian Peacock close-up
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In 1963, the blue or Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus) was designated India's national bird. Its range covers nearly the entire Indian subcontinent, where it is a species of Least Concern (common and healthy populations throughout its range), according to the IUCN. It has a rich tradition of depiction in Indian art and Hindu religious culture, including being associated with gods and goddesses as well as royalty.

4. Peacock Tail Feathers Are Shed Regularly

Peacocks naturally shed their feathers every year after mating season, when they can be gathered by those who want to keep a collection of the brightly patterned plumage.

5. That Dramatic Plumage Is Designed to Attract Peahens

Pattern of multi colored bright feathers of a peacock tail, background
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When a peacock fans out his dramatic tail, it isn't just appealing and enjoyable to our human eyes. Peahens judge the fitness of the males in their vicinity via this visual display, during which subtle rattling by the males creates an illusion of spots hovering over a glimmering background.

Some scientists theorize that the females find the male feathers appealing because they look like blueberries, while others think it's because the colorful display can help protect them from predators. Research on peahen behavior has studied what exactly they focus on during courtship, and it seems that the angle of the peacock's tail feathers might be more important than the size of the display.

There's also evidence that vibrations, dancing (feather-shaking and moving), and vocalizations (peacocks make a distinctive trumpet-like sound) are important in mate choice among peahens.

6. The Crests on Their Heads Are Actually Important Sensors

Peahen portrait
Daniela Duncan / Getty Images

With their mesmerizing plumage, peacocks have so much going on that their crests, which resemble floating crowns, are often overlooked. Peafowl crests serve an important purpose in mating. Both males and females have these long, especially shaped feathers, but for peahens they're more than decorative — they use them as a sensor.

When male peacocks rattle their tails (scientists have measured it at about 25 times per second) to attract females, the female both sees the display and feels it in her head via the crown sensors.

7. Peacocks Have a Long and Revered History in Many Human Cultures

In addition to their status as the national bird of India, peacocks have also been a part of Greek mythology, where they were a symbol of immortality, and Ashkenazi Jewish people have included golden peacocks as symbols of creativity (their feathers connected to the idea of inspiration for writers). Early Christian mosaics and paintings often depict peacocks, as the "eyes" on their tail feather were thought to represent the all-seeing God or the Church. In ancient Persia, peacocks were associated with the Tree of Life.

8. Peacocks Used to Be Eaten

In Medieval times, exotic animals were served at the tables of the wealthy as a sign of their riches — they didn't eat the same food as peasants did. Recipes from that time describe how to prepare peacocks for a feast, which was tricky. Skin was removed with feathers intact, so the peacock could be cooked and flavored, and then the skin would be reattached for a striking visual display prior to eating.

According to the English and Australian Cookery Book, "No ordinary cook can place a peacock on the table properly. This ceremony was reserved, in the times of chivalry, for the lady most distinguished for her beauty. She carried it, amidst inspiring music, and placed it, at the commencement of the banquet, before the master of the house."

Apparently, peacocks don't taste like chicken, though. Records indicate that most people found them tough and not very flavorful.

9. Their Dramatic Tails Are the Species Default

Some elderly peahens may grow peacock feathers and make male calls. According to research on peafowl sex inversion, when peahens age, those with damaged or aged ovaries stop producing as much estrogen and they start to look and sound like males because that's the default development for the animal. Peahens are plainer looking due to hormones repressing the plumage.

10. All-White Peacocks Aren't Albinos

White Peacock In Forest

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Snow-white peacocks are a little more common than they used to be, because the trait can be achieved by selective breeding. Unlike albinism, which usually includes loss of pigmentation from feathers and eyes (resulting in red-looking eyes), leucism is the genetic condition that results only in the loss of pigment from feathers, in the case of peacocks.

11. Peacocks Can Fly

Even though their tail feathers are long and heavy when they are folded up out of fan position, peacocks regularly fly short distances in order to escape to a tree branch for protection from predators, or to nest at night. Interestingly, when scientists compared how far peacocks flew both before and after molting (when they naturally lose their feathers), not much of a difference was noted.

12. The Congo Peafowl's Tail Display Is More Subtle

Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis)
wrangel / Getty Images

The Congo (Afropavo congensis) is the lesser known species of peafowls. Native to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the bird is considered Vulnerable with a decreasing population by the IUCN. Its brilliant plumage is deep blue with tinges of green and violet (males) or brown and green with black abdomens (females). Unlike other peafowl species, Congo peacocks are smaller and have short tail feathers, which they also fan out during mating rituals.

View Article Sources
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