In 1963, the Indian peafowl became the national bird of India. However, the magnificent blue bird with its exquisite plumage was an icon long before and far beyond the Indian subcontinent. The Indian peafowl, symbolises opulence, royalty, beauty, wisdom and also vanity. These birds are a sign of joy for all who see them.
The Indian peafowl is significant for many cultures in all corners of India, and it’s often present in Indian mythology, folk stories and arts. Originally from India and Sri Lanka, it’s now present in parks and gardens all around the world. In India it is present throughout the nation, particularly to the south and east of the Indus River. Not only it has been protected by the Indian Wildlife Protection Act since 1972, but it also enjoys great sentimental protection from the whole nation.
Everything you need to know about the Indian peafowl:
This eccentric bird is the absolute star of any garden. It’s no coincidence that it’s bred above all for its admirable plumage, so much, so that its multicoloured tail is appreciated to the point, that today the Indian peafowl is bred mainly as an ornament for parks and public gardens. The wonderful and inimitable livery that the males are able to display is the characteristic that has made this animal famous in every corner of the world.
The Indian peafowl is a bird belonging to the Galliformes family, the distinctive feature of this animal is undoubtedly its tail, wonderful and colourful in the male specimens. It has a specific function in courtship, as it serves to impress and conquer the female during the mating season. In order to attract the attention of the chosen one, in fact, the male vibrates the coat and raises the feathers of the tail giving life to a wonderful fan with a thousand colourful shades. The other function of the “wheel” is purely defensive: the Indian peafowl uses it to scare other animals and disorient enemies. The ‘eyes’ drawn on the plumage and the grandeur of the unfolded tail, in fact, make the bird appear much larger and fearsome.
Unlike most birds, the Indian peafowl is not a migratory animal. On the contrary, it’s sedentary, it doesn’t fly, and it lives in small groups. Usually each male is accompanied by 4-5 females, often followed by chicks. Even if it’s a walking bird, it prefers to perch in high places, especially at night, when the risk of being killed by some predator is higher. And even if it doesn’t fly, with one leap it can rise several meters above the ground. On the farm, it shows a decisive and aggressive temperament, somewhat territorial towards other animals; and it can become attached to those who care for it.
- Scientific name: Pavo cristatus.
- Weight: 2.7 – 6 kg.
- Wingspan: 1.4 – 1.6 m.
- Age: Up to 25 years.
- Diet: It’s an omnivorous bird feeding on insects, worms, lizards, frogs, snakes and termites. But also, flower petals, wheat, grass, and bamboo sprouts.
- Habitat: Originally from the wooded areas of India and the island of Ceylon, it was imported to Europe in Roman times and today it adapted to live well in any environment.
- Threats: Predation, disease, electrocution due to power lines, pesticide poisoning, destruction of the natural habitat.
The males of this species present a worldwide appreciated beautiful appearance. They are as big as a Swan, reaching a length of about 195 – 225 cm. The Indian peafowl’s head, neck, and chest are an iridescent blue colour, with patches of white around their eyes, they also have a crest of short blue feathers on top of the head.
Obviously, the Indian peafowl’s most notable feature is its beautiful tail, which is fully developed after about 4 years from the hatching. The way the tails are coloured is extremely elaborate, creating a pattern that is kind of an optical phenomenon.
The female Indian peafowl completely lacks bright colours. They are predominantly brownish-grey in colour and sometimes have a brown crest. They totally lack the fancy tail and have dull, brownish, tail feathers, a white face and throat, brown back, white bottom and a green breast. They’re also generally lighter than males and can weigh up to 3.5 kg.
Native to India and Sri Lanka, the Indian peafowl is present in the wild in much of southern Asia below 1800 m of altitude. The extraordinary livery of the male has led man to breed the species as an ornamental animal almost all over the world.
Its preferred habitat is open woods full of clearings as well as shrubs with abundant food and close to bodies of water.
Its diet is extremely varied. Its favourites are fruits, seeds and insects, but it also eats small invertebrates from time to time. One thing that few people know is that it’s a fearless hunter of small to medium sized snakes! In fact its name in Sanskrit means “snake killer”, reason why in the Indian subcontinent this is often a precious and revered bird.
Parental care, from hatching to raising the offspring, is an exclusive task of the female, who produces a single brood of 3-5 eggs each year, which are incubated for about 4 weeks. The young males complete the development of the tail at about 3 years of age, and it can continue to grow it for another 3. In the wild, an Indian peafowl will live an average of 25 years, mostly by itself, it will form a couple exclusively during the breeding season. The rest of the year both males and females remain alone or at most in groups of 2 or 3 individuals.
In the 2018 Red List of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) the Indian peafowl is classified as “Less Concern”. As this species has been introduced pretty much all over the world, the threat of extinction is basically non existent. However, with the rapidly growing human population, Indian peafowls, in the wild, are facing an increasing reduction of their natural habitat, including access to water sources.
National Parks of India and neighbouring countries are making efforts towards the preservation of the habitats of this beautiful bird. As it’s as species that adapts extremely well, the Indian peafowl have been introduced to many countries in the world, in order to extend its population. Many people are actually raising and breeding this bird as a backyard pet.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.