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Peacocks Can Fly! plus 9 Other Feathery Facts You Need To Know

 

Now why would anyone want to know about a peacock, you might ask. Well, why not? They’re mesmerizing, intriguing, and according to the Business column of the Kenyan website Daily Nation, peacocks = Beautiful Birds, Big Money

Peacocks indeed are big money – the birds have been lucrative business for a long time now since the day they were raised for commercial purposes. Mostly, they are sold as ornamental birds for enthusiasts or form part of the poultry farming business (the same as chickens, ducks and other fowl) where they are bred for their meat, eggs and feathers.

And speaking of feathers, as anyone would attest ─ there are no other feathers like peacock feathers. Those plumes, with their distinctive “eye” markings in a rainbow of electric hues, have spun a myriad of mystical imaginings and are quite the eye-catcher, helped along of course, by their magical iridescence.

Why Are The Feathers Iridescent?

Iridescent or iridescence (noun) definition by Merriam-Webster:  A lustrous rainbowlike play of colour caused by differential refraction of light waves (as from an oil slick, soap bubble, or fish scales) that tends to change as the angle of view changes.

 

What makes peacock feathers iridescent? Says National Geographic: Tiny, intricate, two-dimensional crystal-like structures that selectively filter and reflect different wavelengths of light according to their spacing, result in the peacock’s bright fluorescent colours. But these relatives of pheasants are not the only ones with gossamer wings. Hummingbirds, some butterflies, moths and beetles, have mastered a similar visual effect on their own wings.
What makes peacock feathers iridescent? Says National Geographic: Tiny, intricate, two-dimensional crystal-like structures that selectively filter and reflect different wavelengths of light according to their spacing, result in the peacock’s bright fluorescent colours. These relatives of pheasants are not the only ones with gossamer wings. Hummingbirds, some butterflies, moths and beetles, have mastered a similar visual effect on their own wings.

 

But there’s more to those feathers than electric lightplay. A Science Direct study published in The British Journal of Animal Behaviour also revealed that these fabulous tail feathers, usually fanned open to attract the ladies during mating season, are also able to emit infrasound –  a low-frequency sound inaudible to human ears –  to add resonance to the visual mating “call”. Furthermore, they can change the tone of the call by shaking different parts of those feathers, sending different messages to their intended mate/s.

 

“And besides, in the end, perhaps love demands marble palaces, white peacocks and swans.” ─ Irène Némirovsky

“A peacock that rests on its feathers is just another turkey.” ─ Dolly Parton

 

Fabulousity it seems has its upside. People are simply wowed by the beauty and mistique. But there’s a downside to that.

Recently, the Daily Mail reported that TRAFFIC, an arm of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that in India, its own national bird was being poached and consumed as potions, to near extinction. Their feathers, legs and fat were too often being prescribed as traditional medicine to cure hiccups, vomiting, morning sickness and a host of other ailments. Peacock feather ash when mixed with honey is said to cure asthma, and when mixed in cow’s milk and drunk first thing in the morning for five days, can help hopeful mothers conceive a male child.

 

That lacy train sure is evocative of fairy tales, dream weddings and princesses. However, that’s a male bird you’re looking at.
That lacy train sure is evocative of fairy tales, dream weddings and princesses. However, that’s a male bird you’re looking at.

 

It’s Great To Be Worshiped, But…

On the one hand, it’s great to be worshipped in mythology and religion (Here’s a great read: The Peacock, worshipped and revered around the world, and not just because he is a showoff!) and it’s great those feathers are in such demand.

Fortunately, the birds don’t have to be killed for a feather harvest. Peacocks naturally shed their long trains every year, right after the mating season. As for their body feathers, they molt all year round. Therefore, there are plenty to pick up from off the ground.

But the same cannot be said for demand on their body parts. In India, the native breed – the Indian Blue Peafowl (Pavo Cristatus), revered for its mythical guardianship of palaces and temples, has had its population decimated by poachers who prize the birds’ legs and oil or ghee as main ingredient for folk medicine, and also by farmers who poison them with pesticides to protect their crops.

Sometimes, you know, when you have too much of a good thing, and especially when those good things get into the wrong place at the wrong time.

But Anyway, Let’s Find Out More About The Peacock In Order To Appreciate Them:

 

Really Regal.
Really Regal.

1.There Is Such A Thing As A White Peacock

The Congo Peacock. Left: Male, Right: Female. Pic from Searching for Bonobo.com
The Congo Peacock. Left: Male, Right: Female. Pic from Searching for Bonobo.com
Of course there is! You’re looking at some of the most beautiful white peacocks from around the world in this article. None are photoshopped. Because peacocks are known foremost for their “coat of many colours” so to speak, it’s quite the quirk to see white ones. According to National Geographic, the coloured ones like the blue peacocks (Pavo Cristatus) originated from India and Sri Lanka while green peacocks (Pavo Muticus) were from Java and Myanmar.  The Congo peacock – a rotund and less-known species – inhabits the African rainforests.

Today, the original breeds are no longer confined to their countries of origin but spread all over Europe and America where they are crossbred, hybrid-ed and genetically re-engineered. Of the ones that were exported and kept in captivity,  it seems one fine day, out of the blue, the white variety appeared. They became all the rage and are now bred carefully for that specific colour.  These white peacock feathers, unlike those of their coloured relatives, are not iridescent however.

 

Testosterone-packed femininity? Hmmm.
Testosterone-packed femininity? Hmmm.

 

2.The Peacock Is Not A Peacock Unless It’s Male

Only the males (white or otherwise) are “peacocks”. The females are “peahens”. The babies are “peachicks”. And the birds collectively are known as “peafowl”. According to the Baltimore Birdclub, a flock of peafowl is called an “ostentation”. Sometimes they are called a bevy, a muster, a pride or even a party.

 

 

3.White Peacocks Aren’t Albino

White peacocks are not albinos. Albino animals and birds have a complete lack of colour and have red or pink eyes. White peacocks have blue eyes. Chicks are born yellow and become white as they mature, according to the Peafowl Varieties Database. Indian peacocks of all colours, including white, have pink skin. (info from cuteness.com).

Scientifically-speaking, the white is due to a loss in pigmentation called Leucism resulting in white, pale or patchy colouration. Unlike albinism, says Wikipedia, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin.

 

Simply stunning.
Simply stunning.
A pair of blackshoulder peafowl (pic from Backyard Chickens)
A pair of blackshoulder peafowl (pic from Backyard Chickens)

 

4.How Did They Turn White?

According to United Peafowl Association Knowledge Base the first colour variation was the blackshoulder peafowl which appeared in 1830. As mentioned above, exactly when the colour white appeared is unknown. White, pied and blackshoulder colour patterns of Indian blues are not often found in the wild as white would make the bird more visible to predators. The theory is that in the safety of being in captivity, their recessive colouration genes emerged. This has also happened in pet birds such as the zebra finch and other animals like the gerbil and the Syrian hamster.

 

A beautiful silver-pied peacock.
A beautiful silver-pied peacock.

 

For more Fowl Findings on Pretty Poultry, read:

Poultry in Motion: 10 of the World’s Most Stunning Chickens

8 ‘Did-You-Knows’ about Chickens U just Gotta Know

5 Chicken and Eggs Questions Answered

 

A picture of grace.
A picture of grace.

5.A Whiter Shade of Pale

Actually, while on the subject of captivity, a wide variety of colourations have appeared such as the white; the pied white, which is a combination of white and the usual Indian blue colors; the blackshoulder pied, where the coloration is normal except for white under parts, wings and a spot under the chin, and the blackshoulder peahen, which is white sprinkled with black spots, according to the Peafowl Varieties Database.

 

Fierce! Those eyes mean business!
Fierce! Those eyes mean business!

6.Pure And White, Clean And Bright But They Make A Helluva Racket

White peafowl, like their coloured brethren, are not the demure brood they appear to be. Despite their angelic countenance, they are not tame and tolerant. In fact, they are cocky and pretty feisty. They will try to escape from pens, peck at or kick anyone who tries to touch them. These birds are definitely for admiring from a distance, the draw the line themselves! Peafowl, regardless of colour, are also very loud, especially at night, with the noise made worse by their ghastly voice. The males actually bray like a donkey when they call and the racket can be heard for miles.

Yet another thing peafowl of any colour have in common: All can fly pretty well.

 

All peafowl can fly. Chicks start flying as early as three days old.
All peafowl can fly. Chicks start flying as early as three days old.

 

A beautiful lace-carved peahen egg from Etsy.
A beautiful lace-carved peahen egg from Etsy.
Fresh peahen eggs.
Fresh peahen eggs.

 

7.How to Get a White Peafowl

When white peacocks are bred to white peahens, all of their chicks will grow up to be white. They are not born white though, but yellow. In time, their feathers grow progressively whiter until they turn all white.

Peafowl do not have their full plumage (adult feathers and colours) until they are three years old. This includes the stunning train (the long tail) which can grow to six feet in length.

Mother and child reunion.
Mother and child reunion.

Peacocks breed with a harem of up to five peahens. That’s because peafowl live in groups.

Most peahens do not lay eggs during their first year. In the second and third years, they will begin to lay just a few eggs. By the fourth year they may lay five to nine eggs a year. To make a peahen lay more eggs, remove the eggs from the nest as they are laid. The mature (four years or older) peahen may lay a second and even third clutch of eggs. This could result in more eggs than one peahen can incubate. A peahen can incubate up to 10 eggs. The eggs are off-white in colour regardless of colour of the peahen. Eggs hatch in 27 to 30 days. Peahens make very good mothers.

Peachicks are able to fly (for short distances) as early as three days after they are hatched.

The peacock’s exquisiteness is deeply etched in the mythology and art of China, India, Greece, Byzantine, Ottoman and many other ancient civilizations.
The peacock’s exquisiteness is deeply etched in the mythology and art of China, India, Greece, Byzantine, Ottoman and many other ancient civilizations.

 

8.Peafowls Eat Everything. They Are Omnivorous

Peafowls are omnivorous. They eat almost everything including grains like rice and wheat, all kinds of vegetables, seeds, small animals like snails, snakes, mice, frogs, worms, grubs, fruits like papaya, banana, melon, berries, wild figs, nuts, leaves, and insects like ants, grasshoppers, termites and so on and so forth.

Peafowl don’t drink water frequently like other domestic poultry birds.

 

9.How Long Do They Live?

The average life expectancy of a peafowl in captivity is 35 years (some captive peafowl have been reported to live till 50!). In the wild, they generally live between 10 and 20 years of age.

 

Watch The Most Awesome White Peacock Open Its Feathers

 

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