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About Peafowl

This web page is an accumulation of information and many years of experience with peafowl.  As I am not always right, I welcome any information or corrections. Please fell free to send your comments and suggestions via the Contact Information .

 

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PEAFOWL BASICS

Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) are beautiful birds that are native to Southeast Asia. The male peafowl is called a peacock; the female peafowl is called a peahen. In the wild, they live in deciduous tropical rainforests. Peacocks do not migrate. A group of peafowl is called a muster.

Anatomy: The male peafowl, the peacock, is about 7 feet long with a full train. The female, the peahen, is about 3 feet long. Both have a fan-shaped crest on the head called the corona. The peacock has a long, brilliantly colored train of feathers that grow from its shimmering green back. He can raise the train of feathers, forming a stunning display. The peahen does not have a train; her plumage is gray-brown, green, white, and black to camouflage them from predators while sitting on their nests.

Diet: Peafowl eat seeds, fruit, berries, other plant material, and small animals (mice) and insects. Domesticated peafowl do well with corn and dog or cat food, and fresh fruit and berries. They also like broken up bread.

Nest and Eggs: Peafowl build shallow nests made of sticks, leaves, and grass.  Their eggs are about the size of goose eggs and a dirty white color.

The peafowl's [Latin] scientific name, pavo, derives from a Sanskrit epithet, Pavana [purity] that refers to the Hindu deity Vayu, the wind who is also the breath of life It is native to India and Shri Lanka. A green variety, p. muticus, is found in neighbouring countries of south Asia. The Phoenicians introduced the peafowl to the pharaohs of Egypt, then it made its way to Europe among the spoils of Alexander of Macedon's returning army.

 

bullet EVERY DAY PEAFOWL

Peafowl are very intelligent and adaptable  birds. They love to roam around eating bugs and grasses.  They sun and preen on a low perch or dig in soft dirt for a warm dirt bath. At night they roost 40-80 feet up in trees, or as high as they can get.  Peacocks preen and dry their feathers before leaving their perch in the morning. Then they drift gracefully down from the trees and walk around their territory, checking things out and feeding. Peacocks are excellent bug hunters, and they like small chunk dog or cat food and corn.

If they see something that's not normally present, an animal or person or say a bag blows through, they will HONK an alarm, sounding much like geese. They ruffle up their neck feathers so they look larger than life, and will walk as a group to confront the offending stranger. If they are satisfied that it's not a threat, they will resume their feeding. I

 

bullet EYE FEATHERS

Peacocks do not grow the feather train (eyes) or tail until they are 2 years of age, and they usually breed by the spring of their third year. The true tail of a peacock is gray in color and strong enough to support the train when flying or displaying. The Peacocks molt in the summer after the chicks are hatched and start growing their long train feathers in the fall. The longer "eyes" grow through the winter and are a major part of the mating rites of the peafowl. As the Peacocks grow older, their tail becomes more beautiful and full as the small green feathers on the back become part of the train and full eye feathers. The older the Peacock is, the thicker the train of eyes become.

 

bullet BREEDING

Peacocks shake their whole display of eye feathers very quickly, which produces a sort of rattling sound to attract the Peahens. The Peahen makes a big show of ignoring the Peacock, but will casually feed and stroll around near him.  When she is ready to mate, she runs around the Peacock and presents herself in front of him.  This dance is not often seen by humans unless the birds feel secure in their surroundings. Peafowl do form family groups and couples.

Raising a peacock alone is very difficult.  Peachicks will die of loneliness.  The Peahen makes a continuous low clucking sound and the chicks respond with peeps. This connection seems to be necessary for their development.  The Peahen mothers the chicks throughout their first year and only leaves them when she again mates and starts sitting on new eggs. 

The Peahen lays an egg every other day until she has 6 or more eggs in her nest.  She then sits on the eggs for 28 days.  All the eggs hatch within a few hours of each other.  The chicks are hatched with flight feathers and can make short flights within 3 days of hatching.  The Peahen never leaves her chicks during their first few months.  I have watched Peahens teach their chicks what to eat and how to preen their feathers as well as the language of peacocks. The young Peahen will breed at one year but many do not until their second spring.  If a nest is destroyed the Peahen will start another in a different place.  The Peahen will continue to nest until the weather starts to turn cool in the fall.  The earlier the chicks hatch the better their chances are for survival through the winter.

The one-year old Peafowl are like teenagers.  They play, pester their parents and wander everywhere.   The best time to relocate Peafowl is in their second year before the long train of eyes start to develop on the Peacocks.  Catching free-range Peafowl is a subject full of funny stories and failures.  It can be done without hurting the bird or inuring the trapper - honest.

 

bullet COMMUNICATION

Peacocks are social and curious. They will look you in the eye, unlike many birds. But if you stare at them or seem aggressive in body movements, they will feel threatened. When uneasy, they make a short, low-pitched CLUCK sound, to signal discomfort or possible danger. Slow movements of head and body are best around them. If you have to move close to them, talk softly and keep your eyes averted, or even better, pretend that you don't see them at all. This comforts them and reaffirms their trust in you as a non-predator.

bullet IN HISTORY

In Asia, the feathers of the peacock are considered auspicious and protective. However in the European tradition, it used to be considered very bad luck to keep them in the home. 

One silly explanation for this superstition is that it was promoted intentionally to prevent people from eating this large, member of the pheasant family. In that way, the bird would be protected from extinction, for many people thought it was rare.

At the height of both the Greek and Roman cultures, the bird was served at formal dinners with its feathers cunningly pasted back on, possibly with a honey mixture used as glue, so that the dramatic beauty concealed the roasted fowl.

At the excessive and luxurious banquets of European kings and queens of the Renaissance, there was an epicurean delight consisting of stuffed roast birds one inside the other like the famous Russian wooden mamushka dolls. The outermost shell was the glorious peacock, its many-eyed train stretching the length of the middle of the "groaning board. As Margaret Visser, in Much Depends On Dinner points out: "People have always thought that what looks amazing must certainly taste wonderful, too."  As the eating of peacocks has fallen out of fashion, the flavor of peafowl must not be worth the bother of preparing them.

 

Symbols in Religions

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The peacock was associated with the Middle Eastern deity, Tammuz, consort of the goddess, Anat.

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In Greece, it was sacred to Hera, queen of heaven and lawful wife of Zeus, a pair of them drew her chariot, and they were kept at her temples.

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In the Roman Empire, peacocks were Juno's birds and on coins symbolized the females of the ruling houses, the lineage princesses.

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In Nepal, practitioners of Jhankrism, a shamanic tradition pre-dating both Buddhism and Hinduism, wear a tall head-dress of peacock feathers as an essential part of their regalia. Photo, Bill Wassman Our World in Colour: Nepal.

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Among the Muslims of Java in Indonesia there is a myth about how the peacock guarding the gates to Paradise ate the devil, and that is how he managed to get inside.  This myth makes a unity of the duality of good and evil, and also explains the bird's mysterious iridescent color.  It also incorporates the Indian notion of the incorruptibility of the peacock.

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A standard made of peacock feathers used to indicate the presence of a 19th-century rajah, whose power is worldly.

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In the old Chinese bureaucratic system, members of the third highest level displayed a peacock as the insignia of rank.  These badges were in the form of large embroidered squares applied to the front of an official's formal gown. (A similar system for indicating status was used in the Byzantine Empire.)

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Peacocks are considered sacred in India, especially in the north where its feathers may be burnt to ward off disease, and even to cure snakebite.

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The motif of two peacocks, one on each side of the Tree of Life, is a well-known feature of Persian decorative arts. A pair of peacocks stands for the "psychic duality of man" similar to the role played by the Gemini in western astrology, says Cirlot (A Dictionary of Symbols.)

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In the iconography of European alchemy and hermaneutics, the peacock represents the soul. In Christianity, it stands for immortality and the incorruptibility of the soul.

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In both the Hindu and the Buddhist traditions, the peacock's influence is mainly in the realm of worldly appearance. Hence, the Mother-of-Buddhas, Mahamayuri-vidyarajni (Skt.) has a peacock as her vehicle.  Mayuri, known in Japan as Kujaku Myo-o, is the Buddhist wisdom deity associated with the peacock who protects against calamity especially drought. .

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Skanda (called also, Murugan,) one of the two sons of Indian god, Shiva, has a peacock for his mount. Lord of the elements of form, he is also a war god.

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In the Hindu tradition it is said that at the time of Creation of the universe, when the primordial poison was churned out of the Sea of Milk and transmuted into the amrita of immortality, it was a peacock that absorbed the negative effects.  Thus the bird is thought of as a protector, though its flesh is consequently considered to be poisonous.

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Since a potentially deadly emotion such as anger is depicted as a serpent, and the peacock is immune, the peacock also symbolizes victory over poisonous tendencies in sentient beings. Peacock in the Poison Grove by Dharmarakshita, a Tibetan classic in translation, is a well-known text for training the mind.

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In the discourse, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, another Buddhist treatise by Dharmarakshita, the peacock is credited with an ability to neutralize and use black aconite (aconitum ferox) as a nutriment. This highly toxic plant, also known as "wolf-bane," is an important ingredient in traditional Asian medicine including that of Tibet. 

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One of Green Tara's many epithets is The Peahen.

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Palden Lhamo, (pron. Penden Hamo, Skt. Shri Devi) the dark blue protector of all Tibetan Buddhist denominations who rides her mule through a burning [with wisdom] sea of blood [opportunity of life in the bodily form] is sheltered by a peacock-feather umbrella.

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Lakshmi, wife of the Hindu god, Vishnu, sometimes is depicted with armbands in the form of peacocks.  The birds are sacred to her since their cries are associated with the rainy season and hence, fertility

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The hero of the Indian epic, Mahabharat is called Arjun, a name that refers to the peacock. Also, there is a north Indian/Nepali deity called Janguli who protects against snakebite and poisoning. Described as having 3 faces, 6 arms, her vehicle is, not surprisingly, a peacock.

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The peacock's beautiful colouring is said to be a gift from the god, Indra. One day the Indra was doing battle with Ravana, the Demon King. The peacock, which in those days resembled his plain brown hen, took pity on Indra and raised its tail to form a blind or screen behind which Indra could hide. As a reward for this act of compassion, the bird was honored with the jewel-like blue-green plumage that it bears to this day.

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Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu who is "God-as-the-one-responding-to-devotion", is also depicted in the company of peacocks.

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The Amitabha association of this jewel-tone bird with its sun-like fan of a tail evocative of the Wheel of Dharma, Buddha's teachings; its connection to the ideas of immortality and compassion, and the unification of views or opposites, as well as the correspondence with the Garden which is the Pure Land, demonstrates in Mahayana Buddhism the archetypical nature of the relationship between the peacock and Amitabha. In the depiction of Buddha of Eternal Light, he is seated under a tree; we see its flowers and leaves peeking through the pavilion. Tenga Rinpoche says, " . . . birds, in particular, have strong desire and craving, so, as a symbol of craving transformed into discriminating wisdom, Amitabha's throne is supported by peacocks."  There are actually eight peacocks that support Amitabha's throne, one at each corner of the base. They stand for the idea that no matter the misdeeds committed during one's lifetime[s], rebirth is possible in Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Great Bliss that is the Western Paradise of Opameh [Tibetan for Amitabha].

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Six peacock feathers arranged as a fan and sprinkling utensil used for distributing the blessing or purifying water in Tibetan Buddhist empowerments and other rituals. In this role they are not only a symbol of compassion, but also a symbol of immortality by virtue of their capacity to absorb and neutralize, and to act as a universal antidote against poisons including the kleshas [imperfections or obscurations] such as anger, greed and ignorance that are inherently human.