This week we’re going to be looking at an animal which you will hopefully have all seen wandering about the zoo: the peacock! In fact, only the males are called peacocks, the females being peahens and the babies peachicks. Collectively, they’re known as peafowl! They come in three different species, with Indian peafowl being the type we keep here.
Peacocks are perhaps best known for their iridescent plumage and impressive tails. Only the males are brightly coloured, with shades of blue and green and a tail patterned with eye-like spots. Females and chicks are much duller in colour, mostly brown with a white underbelly and a greenish neck. Since it is the peahens that sit on the eggs, this is useful to them as it means they are well-camouflaged against their predators, which include tigers, leopards and large birds of prey. They also have an extremely loud call, which can warn other birds of a predator.
Although peacocks can fly, their massive tails make this quite tricky and so they will only do so when finding a high-up spot to roost at night. Luckily for them, their tails do have some use – namely, impressing the girls! During the breeding season, peacocks will fan out their tails behind them and strut and prance around the females to try to look as impressive as possible. A large tail requires a lot of energy to grow and maintain, and so the bigger and more beautiful the tail is, the stronger the male is likely to be. We see displays like this a lot in the animal world, and strength is not always determined by fighting! Male lemurs, for example, will rub their tails with the scent glands in their wrists and then waft the smell towards each other – the smelliest lemur will win the “stink fight”! Red deer prefer a somewhat cleaner solution, with stags bellowing at each other to establish dominance. The deer with the lowest and loudest call is also likely to be the strongest, and the winner will have the opportunity to breed.
Unfortunately, peacocks aren’t the smartest birds around, with their brains being around the same size as their eyes! During the summer months, they can often be found displaying their tails to vending machines, signs, and even people!