Peafowl

Pavo cristatus Linnaeus, 1758

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: peacock, peahen, Indian peafowl

Geographical variation: Nil

Peafowl. Adult male in breeding plumage. Dome Valley, December 2014. Image © Les Feasey by Les Feasey

Peafowl. Adult male in breeding plumage. Dome Valley, December 2014. Image © Les Feasey by Les Feasey

A large, well-known pheasant. Males have a characteristic display, raising their extravagantly long ornamental tail coverts, during the breeding season. Females move in groups between displaying males. Both sexes are generally tame in park situations but can be very wary in feral populations.

Identification                                                                           

A large crested pheasant. Males are deep blue on the breast, neck, head and fan crest, and metallic green on the back and rump. The over-developed upper tail coverts have a tan, lilac and purple-brown sheen and are up to 1.4 m long. In mature males, about 140-150 feathers have ‘eyes’ which are deep blue in the centre and have outer layers of metallic lighter blue, gold and metallic green. The coverts are held up by the rigid tail feathers in their characteristic display, during which the tail coverts are violently shaken. Females are slightly smaller than males and have a coppery brown head, lighter brown throat and the rest of the neck is dull metallic green. The rest of the feathers are speckled brown. 

Voice: a series of repeated crowing ka and shrill eow calls of varying frequency given up to 8 times in a row by males, primarily in the breeding season. Other distress and warning calls given throughout the year. Clucking calls are used by females with young and when pointing out food.

Distribution and habitat

Peafowl have been released into the wild many times, mainly through benign neglect of birds kept for display. Peafowl are held on many lifestyle properties, and have become feral in the upper North Island, especially Northland, Auckland, East Cape and mid Hawkes Bay. The largest feral populations are in wooded lowlands and coastal farmland including the upper Wanganui River catchment, northern Mahia Peninsula and pine forests of the South Head of Kaipara Harbour. They are also present in isolated locations in Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury. Absent from Stewart Island.

Population

No population estimates. Peafowl are generally recorded in small mixed-sex groups of less than 10 birds in the pre-breeding season. They congregate in larger flocks during February-August. Up to 100 birds were in one field at Orere Point, Firth of Thames in April 2011, and more than 100 near Otane, central Hawke's Bay in June 2016. Other large flocks included 17 at Whakapirau, North Kaipara, and 35 at Waipu Caves, Northland.

Threats and conservation

Tame birds are often killed by dogs. Peahens are not attentive mothers, and many chicks are taken by predators. Feral population easily controlled by hunting. When disturbed, peafowl typically run downhill and then fly.

Breeding

Breeding season late August to early January. Displays end 7-10 days before males moult their train of tail coverts. Females lay in bare scrapes concealed within long grass, and incubate eggs and raise young on their own. Clutch size is typically 4-6 eggs. Incubation takes 28-30 days and chicks can stay with their mother for more than a year. In wild populations, clutches appear to be deserted when 1-2 young are hatched. Females with young remain separate from flocks, until the young are 4 months old. Chicks forage for themselves with the peahen pointing at food with her bill. A single brood is raised per annum. Males take 6 years to be fully mature.

Behaviour and ecology

Wild peafowl descend from roost trees within the first 2 hours of dawn, and ascend to their roosts about half an hour after sunset. They feed most actively in the early morning and during the last two hours of daylight. Males arrive quickly at display sites during the breeding season and seldom leave them until mid afternoon. Males display in expanded lek (i.e. several males display out of view but in vocal contact with each other) and are visited by groups of females. Outside the breeding season males flock together with females. Males tend to roost alone or in groups. Young males leave roost sites of females and young to roost with other males or alone at the end of their second year. Females and young less than 4 months old roost separately from other peafowl.

Food

Peafowl are omnivorous, taking grains, seeds and fleshy fruits, flowers, and invertebrates, especially cicadas and crickets. They peck at objects and climb trees to access fruits and flowers.

Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peafowl

References

Beauchamp, A. J. 2013. Breeding and behaviour records of peafowl (Pavo cristatus) at Mansion House Historic Reserve, Kawau Island, New Zealand, 1992-2010. Notornis 60: 224-232.

Beauchamp, A. J. 2014. Calling and display by peacocks (Pavo cristatus) at Mansion House Historic Reserve, Kawau Island, New Zealand. Notornis 61: 27-34. 

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Takahashi, M.; Hasegawa, T. 2008. Seasonal and diurnal use of eight different call types by Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus). Journal of Ethology 26: 375-381.

Recommended citation

Beauchamp, A.J. 2013 [updated 2017]. Peafowl. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Peafowl

Social structure
female-only incubation and brood-care
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level hollow
Nest description
Hidden in long grass and occasionally covered
Nest height (mean)
0 m
Nest height (min)
0 m
Nest height (max)
0 m
Maximum number of successful broods
1
Clutch size (mean)
Unknown
Clutch size (min)
4
Clutch size (max)
6
Mean egg dimensions (length)
69 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
51 mm
Egg colour
Cream
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown days
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
Unknown
Incubation length (min)
27 days
Incubation length (max)
30 days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (min)
1 days
Nestling period (max)
2 days
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
12 months
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Greater than 33 years in parkland
Maximum dispersal
Unknown