Peacocks are beloved for their regal appearances and stunning breeding displays. Peacocks have become symbolic over their years of being kept by humans; often they signify royalty, but peacocks can also be associated with love or loyalty.
“Peacock” is how these birds are commonly described, but peacock actually only describes the male of the species; technically, these birds are known as peafowl.
Many people are familiar with the Indian Peafowl, which is common in captivity and a frequent addition to zoo menageries.
This bird is known for the male’s bright blue body and stunning train of feathers, which are additionally often used for arts and crafts supplies. But unknown to many, there are actually three peafowl species.
In addition to the Indian Peafowl, which has stolen the spotlight as the most popular peafowl, there is the Green Peafowl and Congo Peafowl. The Green Peafowl is similar in appearance to the Indian Peafowl, but with a vibrant green replacing the blue coloration, and a shorter train of feathers.
They’re also difficult to keep in captivity, making them lesser known to many. The Congo Peafowl is a smaller bird with a short train of feathers; they’re the only peafowl native to Africa.
Peafowl come in many different colors and markings. In captivity, you’re only likely to see the Indian Peafowl; however, some keep Green Peafowl, also known as Javan Peafowl.
You’re less likely to see them, as they are known to be temperamental and hard to breed, limiting their availability. However, you can frequently see Indian Peafowl in many different colors.
The most popular color is solid white, giving the bird a striking appearance. However, there are many available color mutations, including black-shouldered, cinnamon, and pied.
Are you fascinated by the characteristics of peafowl and looking for a similar species? Or, are you looking to keep an impressive bird as a pet, but you feel that a peacock is more than you can handle?
Whatever your reason, we have a list of birds similar to peafowl.
1. Peacock Pheasants
- Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)
- Malayan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron malacense)
- Bornean peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron schleiermacheri)
- Germain’s peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron germaini)
- Grey peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron bicalcaratum)
- Hainan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron katsumatae)
- Bronze-tailed peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron chalcurum)
- Mountain peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum)
Despite their names, peacock-pheasants bear no closer relation to peacocks than any other member of the pheasant family. However, they do share many traits.
Their name is contrived from their similarities to both pheasants and peacocks, which share a family with them. There are eight species of peacock-pheasant; each one has a different unique display of feathers & bright coloration.
However, none of them are quite as colorful or impressive as the peacock, which is perhaps why they weren’t as commonly captured for aviculture. You won’t see these birds as pets, dwelling in an aviary the way you might discover a peafowl – they just aren’t commonly available in captivity.
However, you might see one at a zoo or other ornithological collection.
The Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, often regarded as the most colorful of these birds, is native only to the Philippines. They are highly regarded and common in the culture of Palawan’s indigenous people.
This species features a short crest and a train of breeding plumage in the male that is smaller and less colorful than a peacock’s but impressive nonetheless.
Peacock-pheasants aren’t as common in captivity as peacocks. However, their numbers are also declining in the wild. Most peacock-pheasant species are facing threats of poaching, habitat loss, and other threats; the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant is considered Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Many of these species have very limited ranges, which gives habitat loss a larger impact than on a widely distributed species.
- Impeyan Pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus)
- Lady Amherst’s Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae)
- Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus)
- Congo Pheasant (Afropavo congensis)
- Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
- Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado)
Another group of birds that shares a family with peacocks, it’s sometimes hard to differentiate peacocks from pheasants. They are both large gamebirds, with males who perform elaborate breeding displays with a flowing train of feathers.
However, most pheasants are somewhat duller in coloration than peacocks, and relatively small. That doesn’t mean they should be valued any less, though.
Pheasants are often easier to keep in captivity than peacocks, and many pheasant species are more affable than peacocks, making it easier to keep them in mixed-species aviary.
The most common pheasant in the world is likely the Ring-Necked Pheasant. Hailing from China, this bird has now been distributed throughout much of the world.
They are commonly hunted, and have been released so heavily in the United States that they have naturalized and formed many feral colonies throughout the country. Male ringnecks have an impressive train of feathers, however, they’re closer in size to a chicken than a peacock.
Many pheasants have peafowl-like plumage, with intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and lengthy trains. However, perhaps the most peafowl-like pheasant is the Mikado Pheasant, a large game bird that is native to Taiwan.
The male is dark in coloration, but has iridescent plumage that is violet or blue in light. The long, striped feathers from the male’s train are sometimes used in ceremonial headdresses.
These birds are considered Near Threatened by the IUCN, there are approximately 10,000 in the wild, and very few in captivity.
- White-breasted guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides)
- Black guineafowl (Agelastes niger)
- Vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum)
- Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
- Plumed guineafowl (Guttera plumifera)
- Crested guineafowl (Guttera pucherani)
Another noisy, social bird, there are six guineafowl species native to Africa. At first glance, these birds don’t have much in common with peafowl. Small and predominantly gray, you might wonder how much they could really have in common.
But these birds are actually very spunky and share much of their personality traits with peafowl. They travel in small flocks that are close-knit and spend much of their time together.
Males are very territorial, and will attempt to chase off predators, even ones much larger than them. They are also known to be socially polygamous, a trait shared with the Congo Peafowl.
Many guineafowl are overall dull in color, but have bright facial markings.
The Helmeted Guineafowl, for example, has a bright blue face. In captivity, guineafowl have been bred to display many different color mutations, such as pied and lavender.
- Crested quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus)
- Golden-headed quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps)
- White-tipped quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus)
- Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)
- Pavonine quetzal (Pharomachrus pavoninus)
Quetzals are a member of the Trogon family, a group of primarily tropical birds found in Central & South America. These birds are primarily bright green, and large in relation to other birds of their family. So what makes these birds similar to the majestic peacock?
Male Quetzals have long, flowing trains of tail feathers that are longer than their overall body length.
Females also have bright tail plumage, but their tail feathers are shorter and less impressive than those found on males. However, they do not display with their elegant plumage in the same way that peacocks do.
Plumage in Quetzals actually serves a different purpose. Quetzals build their nest within a cavity the parents carve into a decaying tree. Both parents participate in this process; Quetzal males are praised as some of the best dads in the bird world.
Both parents take turns incubating the two to three eggs that are within the cavity, which is where the Quetzal’s tail plumage comes into play. While incubating, the tail is stuck out of the opening, appearing much like a bunch of ferns.
This leads potential predators into believing not only that no birds are present, but that there is no cavity within the tree at all.
After hatching, both parents contribute in raising the young; however, the fathers tend to contribute more food overall to the nestlings.
Growing an impressive train of feathers isn’t a task that can be completed overnight. Some male Quetzals don’t develop their distinctive plumage until three years of age.
Quetzals became a symbol of liberty some due to their ‘refusal to be caged’. This originated from the birds habit of dying quickly after being placed into captivity.
However, their frequent death rate was discovered to be due to sensitivity to iron, and now these birds can be safely kept for the duration of their lifespan.
5. Birds of Paradise
- Wilson’s Bird of Paradise (Cicinnurus respublica)
- Greater Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea apoda)
Birds of Paradise are a group of passerine birds native to Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia. The defining trait of most birds-of-paradise is the males’ distinctive breeding plumage.
Like peacocks, male birds-of-paradise often have long trains of tail feathers; they may also have unique breeding plumage on the wings or head.
These birds aren’t a part of the Pheasant family and bear little relation to peafowl. However, the courtship rituals performed by the males surpass anything peacocks are capable of!
Male birds-of-paradise often gather in leks (groupings of birds, sometimes accompanied by a structure built by the males), where females watch as males display for them in turn. Birds-of-paradise are not always monogamous, and sometimes take multiple mates.
However, they have to work hard for these opportunities; a bird-of-paradise who has lost their breeding plumage is unlikely to find a mate.
The Greater Bird of Paradise is perhaps both the best well-known of their family and the most similar to peafowl. Males of this species have extravagant yellow, white, and maroon tail feathers that are used to display to females.
They are the largest bird-of-paradise, and their breeding display is frequently regarded as the most impressive of any bird. However, after breeding, the male has no part in rearing the young.
Females work to select the males for successful offspring based on physical traits relating to good genetics. Displays for females are performed in a group lek or ‘court’, a common area where the males gather to dance.
- Long-tailed widowbird (Euplectes progne)
- Red-collared widowbird (Euplectes ardens)
- Jackson’s widowbird (Euplectes jacksoni)
- Red-cowled Widowbird (Euplectes laticauda)
The Widowbirds are a group of birds that form a portion of the weaver family; however, other birds in this family lack the unique features of the Widowbirds.
Females of these species often look very similar to the males; commonly, they are solid black with a few colorful markings. However, the males offer something truly eye-catching. They have long, thin tail feathers that can surpass twice the length of the bird’s actual body size.
Long trains of tail feathers are highly prized by the females of the species; they are incredibly sexually selective, and males with the longest tail feathers are almost guaranteed success over males with shorter feathers.
This group of birds is endemic to Africa. They’re known for being spotted in flight over their preferred habitat, grasslands, their long tail feathers trailing behind them.
The process of sexual selection in this species was first described by Charles Darwin in 1871. Darwin proposed that the males’ distinctive feathers could have one of two purposes – combat with other males, or they are preferred by females.
It was over ninety years after Darwin’s original proposal on the origin of these birds’ plumage that his theories were tested, and it was determined that males with longer plumage were in fact preferred by females.
The tail feathers of this species serve no other purpose, and seem to actually be detrimental to the health of the males, making them slower in flight and more noticeable to predators.
The experiment performed on widowbirds was one of the first of its kind, and made important strides in understanding birds’ reproductive behavior. Researchers altered some birds’ tails to be longer, cut some feathers shorter, and left some birds unaltered.
They found that females preferred males with the altered, longer tails; they were followed by unaltered birds, and last were the males with clipped tail feathers.
While it’s hard to find a complete match for the elegance of a peacock, there are many beautiful birds that have lots to offer as far as plumage and courtship displays. Many of these birds are less common than peafowl in captivity.
However, your local zoo is likely to have at least several of the species listed here. Don’t see any of your favorites? Consider donating to your local zoo.
Many avian collections are only held back by lack of funding, and supporting your local ornithological collections gives you & many others the opportunity to see more birds & support their futures through conservation.
If you’re planning on keeping peafowl, consider trying a similar, but easier species first. For example, if you find that keeping several chickens is a lot of work, you’re probably not ready to construct an aviary ready for peafowl!
While imagery of Indian Peafowl is common in day to day life, remember that the other two species deserve some love, too. Consider supporting conservation of the Congo Peafowl, considered Near Threatened by the IUCN.