Mid-week Reptilian #19: Indian Peafowl (aka Peacock)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 11:34 AM Bookmark and Share
Better known in the U.S. as the peacock, the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is a common domestic bird, native to India.  They're in the order Galliformes with chickens, quail, turkeys, grouse and pheasants, and are in the same family as the pheasants, partridges and turkeys: Phasianidae.

Male peafowl are known as peacocks, and the females are accordingly called peahens. If you know some Spanish, or recall reading this post around Thanksgiving last November, you'll recognize the genus name Pavo is also the spanish word for the turkey (Meleagris gallipavo).  Upon seeing turkeys brought back from the Americas to Europe, the birds' resemblance to the peafowl earned them the shared name.

Many believe that peacocks fan their tails, but those long gaudy feathers are not tail feathers!  Instead, they're modified feathers called upper tail coverts, which grow from just above the tail and cover the base of the actual tail feathers.

Don't believe me?  Just search for images of "peacock butt" on the web, and you'll see that the actual (shorter) tail feathers are right where you'd expect them to be, on the back of the fan of upper tail coverts.  For example...

Figure 1: Hind view of a displaying peacock
showing the tail feathers & bases of the modified 
upper tail coverts that form the fan. The tips
of the folded wings are also visible.  [Source]

Still, that train of iridescent feathers is quite a stunning site.  If you haven't recently seen one up close, here's a high resolution photo of a male photographed in 2009 at the Denver Zoo.  Click to enlarge...

Figure 2: The full frontal assault of the peacock. Click to zoom in.

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