A peacock’s long train of feathers is impressive even lying flat, reaching lengths of up to 5 feet1. When they spread their feathers, however, the wow factor truly reaches new heights—and a width of 6–7 feet! But have you ever wondered why peacocks spread their feathers in the first place? Keep reading to learn three reasons why you might find a peacock spreading his train feathers!
The 3 Reasons Why Peacocks Spread Their Feathers
1. To Attract Mates
This is the primary reason why peacocks spread their feathers. Each peacock has his own unique color and spot pattern to the train. As part of the peafowl courtship ritual, a peacock spreads his feathers and displays them for the peahens, seeking to attract his mates for the season.
Peacocks need to collect a small harem of several peahens each year and the peahens are the ones who pick them, not the other way around. It’s not known exactly what criteria the peahens use when they choose but train size and brightness of colors play a role.
After mating, each peahen will lay 3–8 eggs, which incubate for about a month before they hatch. Unlike many birds, peacocks play no role in raising the peachicks.
2. To Scare Predators
In the wild, peafowls live in forested areas in countries like India, Pakistan, Java, and Myanmar. Their natural predators include wild animals like tigers and mongooses and domestic ones like dogs and cats. Peafowls are always on the alert and quick to sound the alarm if they spy any danger.
Because they can’t fly very far, peafowl will usually try to escape up into a nearby tree if they feel threatened. They also sleep up in the trees at night to stay safe.
However, if a peacock finds himself cornered and unable to fly away, he may spread his feathers to try and scare off his attacker. The size of his train plus the intimidating, eye-like appearance of his spots may be just enough to cause a predator to look elsewhere for their dinner. Females will also fluff up and spread their feathers to appear larger though their feathers are not as long.
3. To Communicate
Scientists recently learned that peacocks not only spread their feathers but also rattle them, using sound as well as visual displays in their search for mates. They don’t yet know exactly what the sound produced means to the peahens, but they know that they are listening. This behavior is known as train rattling.
Although peahens don’t have nearly as impressive a display of feathers as peacocks, they also spread them to communicate. During courting, females may spread their feathers in response to the peacock’s display, letting him know they are choosing him.
Fun Facts About Peacock Feathers
There’s no mistaking the display of a peacock’s train feathers for anything else, making them one of the most recognizable of all wild creatures. We humans may appreciate the beauty of the feathers but to the peacock, they are truly invaluable. Peacocks rely on their feathers for protection, communication, and most importantly, to attract the mates they need to breed and continue as a species. Unfortunately, the feathers also make them the target of poachers, who hunt the peacocks seeking to illegally harvest their plumage. Hunting and habitat loss have combined to make one type of peafowl, the green or Javan peafowl, an endangered species.
Featured Image Credit: Cock-Robin, Pixabay