Why do Peacocks Spread their Feathers?
Who isn’t mesmerized by the colorful fanned out feathers of a peacock’s train? With about 200 individual feathers, patterned with colorful eyespots, the train can grow up to 6 feet tall.
When not spread in a semicircle, the train trails behind the peacock, looking nothing less majestic than when it’s spread.
But what determines peacocks to spread their feathers? Are they just showing off or there’s more to this habit than a simple act of showmanship?
Let’s see the reasons behind peacocks fanning their trains.
3 Reasons Peacocks Spread their Trains
There are 3 reasons why peacocks raise their tail feathers – to impress females, to appear better than the competition, and as a deterrent to predators.
– Attract Females
When it comes to matters of courtship, peacocks are the first ones to boast their feathers. Peacocks use their fanning trains to impress as many peahens as they can.
This is the main reason why peacocks will spread their trains. But spreading is not all they do with their trains. They’ll also vibrate their feathers, which produce a rattling sound. The sound will also attract the attention of females.
The mating season in peacocks will kick off in late February, early March and will last until early August. When the mating season starts, peacocks will aggregate in their territories to show off their spectacular tail feathers.
Peahens will survey several peacocks before choosing one. They signal their acceptance of a peacock by crunching down on the ground.
It’s the peahen that chooses the peacock, and not the other way around. And while peacocks are competing for the attention of a peahen, there’s also competition among peahens for the attention of peacocks.
Once a peahen accepts a peacock, the peacock then performs what is called a ‘hoot dash’, which means it will rush to the peahen while making a loud call.
The peacock will then mount the peahen so that their cloacas are aligned, after which it will transfer its sperm. The sperm then travels to the uterus, where it will fertilize the eggs.
It takes a long time for peafowls to become sexually mature. Peahens will start laying eggs as early as 2 years of age. But peacocks will not become sexually mature before the age of 3 years old.
Peahens usually lay up to 6 eggs, which then will be incubated for a period of 28-30 days. After the eggs hatch, the peahen will continue to care for the peachicks by herself.
Peahens will teach peachicks how to forage for food and what foods to eat. The peachicks will stay with their mother until the age of 6 months old.
– Scare the Competition
Peacocks are competitive and can also become aggressive during the mating season. By showing off their tall tail feathers, peacocks can scare off other peacocks that are competing for the attention of a peahen.
Interestingly, peahens will take their time in choosing a mate, surveying several peacocks before deciding on a peacock.
Female peafowls tend to choose peacocks with the tallest tail feathers and most colorful plumage.
Because there’s a marked preference for taller trains and more vibrantly colored plumage, deserving peacocks will mate with several peahens during the mating seasons.
But there’s also competition among peahens for the same peacock. When this happens, a peahen will mate several times with the same peacock just to keep other peahens at bay.
Normally, peafowls are docile and can be kept together with other types of poultry like chickens and turkeys. During the mating season, both peacocks and peahens can become aggressive, and might attack other birds.
This type of behavior is not very common, but if you do notice your peacocks becoming aggressive with other birds, it’s best to separate them for the duration of the mating season.
Another thing to look out for is peacocks mating with turkeys and even chickens. This happens when peacocks are kept together with other poultry and there are no peahens in the enclosure.
Peacocks will try to mate and even end up mounting turkey hens and sometimes even chickens.
But don’t worry, there’s no risk of them actually producing any offspring. Since they’re genetically different, the eggs will not be fertilized.
– Scare the Predators
Peacocks are always on the lookout for predators. That’s why they prefer sleeping in trees at night, instead of the ground.
In the wild, peacocks have plenty of predators – mongooses, tigers, leopards, jungle cats, and stray dogs. It doesn’t help that these are all agile mammals that often move quickly and undetected.
When confronted with a potential predator, peacocks will first try to escape the situation either by running away or flying up into a tree or onto the roof of a house.
But when there are no escape routes available, a peacock will try something else – spreading its wings in the hope that the size and the multitude of eyespots will be enough to scare predators away.
Therefore, peacocks will spread their trains also as a deterrent to predators.
Because the flight instinct in peafowls is strong, they usually try to remove themselves from a potentially dangerous situation either by running or by taking flight.
As you can see, spreading of the tail feathers serves multiple purposes. However, its primary function is to aid the peacock in attracting mates.
Do Peahens Spread Their Feathers?
Just because the peahen doesn’t have the long tail a peacock has, it will still spread its tail and fluff its feathers in certain cases.
When the peahen signals the acceptance of a peacock, she will also raise her tail feathers or fluff her feathers.
Peahens may also spread their feathers in the presence of predators, even though the tail feathers of peahens are nowhere near as tall as those of the peacock.
Therefore, the fanning of tail feathers is not exclusive to peacocks and both genders of the species do this. It’s just that the tail feathers of the peacock are much more noticeable.
Why do Peacocks Shake Their Tail?
As part of the mating ritual, the peacock will shake its tail feathers to attract the peahen’s attention. The shaking also produces a rattling noise.
Combine this with the vibrant colors of the feathers and the beautiful eyespots that decorate them, it’s understandable how peahens can become mesmerized.
Scientists have observed that peacocks will rattle their tail feathers before mating with a peahen.
Peacocks will vibrate the feathers at around 25 beats per second. This generates a low-frequency, pulsating sound that humans will find difficult to hear, but not peahens.
So apart from the iridescent colors of the tail, the vibrating of the tail is another way to attract the peahen’s attention.
How Wide Can Peacocks Spread Their Tail?
When a peacock wants to show off its train, it will simply use its much shorter and stiffer tail feathers to prop up its train feathers. The train then unfolds in a fan-shape or semicircle.
When opened into a fan-shape, the semicircle can be as wide as 6 to 7 feet.
You might wonder if peacocks are hindered in their flight by their long trains. You might think that train feathers make it more difficult for these birds to fly.
But it turns out that peacocks will fly in the same way regardless of the tail feathers, and that the train has little to no bearing on the peacock’s ability to fly.
It’s true that peafowls are not excellent fliers, but they can launch themselves into the air quite fast, and can fly at a height of 8 feet, which is enough to land them in a tree or onto a rooftop.
Do Peacocks Shed Their Feathers?
Yes, peacocks will shed their beautiful tail feathers when the mating season ends. Which makes a lot of sense – with no more mates to attract, they no longer need them to show off.
But do these feathers ever grow back? Yes, they do! So, you don’t need to worry about your peacock shedding its beautiful tail feathers.
Until the next mating season, the peacock will regrow its beautiful train, and have it ready just in time to woo the peahens again.
Therefore, peacocks are not killed for their tail feathers since these are naturally shed. This shedding process is called molting and occurs after each mating season.
Molting can happen also because of stress, health issues, fighting, or a poor diet.
A peacock’s tail seems to have the primary function of attracting mates. All the other reasons – fending off predators or the competition – seem to be secondary uses.
Peahens seem to be attracted to the most colorful and tallest feathers. Peacocks with the tallest feathers, the most vibrant colors and the most elaborate eyespot patterns get the most attention from peahens.
Peahens do not have a train to show off, but they do occasionally ruffle their feathers either when sensing they’re in danger or to accept the mating advances of a peacock.
As you can see, the mating behaviors of peafowl are very much centered around visual displays and colors.