PHEASANTS OF PAKISTAN

 

 

Indian Blue Peafowl or Common Peafowl

 ( Pavo cristatus )  

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Local Name: Moor (Urdu)

 

Measurements:

Delacour (1977) reported that adult (third-year or older) males have wing lengths of 440-500 mm and tail-covert lengths of 1400-1600 mm (rectrices of 400-450 mm), while females have wing lengths of 400-420 mm and tail lengths of 325-375 mm. Males range in weight from c. 4000-6000 g, and females from c. 2750-4000 g (Ali and Ripley, 1978). The eggs average 69.7 x 52.1 mm and have an estimated fresh weight of 103.5 g.

 

Description 

Adult male
Fan-shaped crest and head metallic blue; a band from nostril to eye and a large patch under the eyes naked and white; neck and upper breast silky blue with green and purplish shades varying with the light, black metallic light green, each feather bordered with black and having a blue central streak and a V-shaped brown patch; those of the rump with a subterminal border of golden green; rectrices blackish brown with pale mottlings on the outer border; the upper tail-coverts 100-150 in number, forming a train, with long disintegrated barbs metallic green with bronzy lilac or purple reflections and a large subterminal ocellus formed by a deep blue patch surrounded by two broad rings of brilliant blue and bronzy brown, and two narrow ones of golden green and bronzy-lilac,- the outer and the longest central feathers have no ocelli; the first has a thick velvety blue-green border on the outer web, the second terminates in a broad black half-moon,- scapulars, lesser wing-coverts, and the tertiaries coarsely and irregularly barred pale buff and brownish black; secondaries and their coverts black with a blue tinge on the outer web; primary coverts metallic blue,- primaries fulvous; lower breast, flanks and abdomen black and dark greern; thighs pale buff with small black bars on the upper half; under tail-coverts soft and fluffy; pale grey with black tips to the long barbs. Iris brown, facial skin white; bill horny grey, legs pale brownish grey.

Female

Crest, crown, lores, and upper neck chestnut-brown, the feathers bordered with bronzy green; eyebrows, sides of head, and throat white; lower neck, upper back and upper breast metallic green; rest of upper-parts earthy brown, vermiculated with pale brown, the primaries and rectrices blackish brown with whitish spots on the outer border or at the tip, the rump and tail-coverts with more whitish vermicula-tions; lower breast dark brown with broad buff borders to the feathers; abdomen pale buff; thighs, vent and under tail-coverts earthy brown freckled with whitish. Iris brown, bill and legs horny brown.

 

Identification
In the field (36-90 in.)
Peafowl are unmistakable in the field, and any wild peafowl occurring west of Bangladesh will be of this species. Both sexes possess whitish cheeks and a tufted and fan-like crest. Females lack the long and iridescent train of males, but their neck and head patterning is very similar. The male's call is a loud, trumpeting he-on or kee-ow, which carries great distances. Gutteral clucking notes are also uttered.

In the hand
The fan-like crest of both sexes is unique to this spe-cies, and occurs in both adult and immature birds, although it is smaller in the latter. The bare facial skin in males, and the corresponding area in females is also white.

 

General biology and Ecology

Food and foraging behavior
Peafowl are generally believed to be virtually omnivorous (Baker 1930; Ali and Ripley 1978), eating everything from grain and green crops to insects, small reptiles, mammals, and even small snakes. Berries, drupes (such as Carissa, Lantana, Zizyphus} and wild figs (Ficus] are apparently favoured foods where they are available. Johnsingh and Murali (1980) found the birds feeding in cultivated fields and on an adjoining acacia plantation as well as in fallow lands, and noted that three birds that were examined had primarily eaten plant materials such as leaves, grass seeds, and flower parts. Some Croton fruit, Acacia seeds, Cyperus rhizomes, and rice were also noted, as were various insects such as termites, grasshoppers, ants, and beetles. Foraging is usually done in small groups, which are primarily harem groups during the breeding season and are segregated parties of adult males and females with young outside the breeding season.

Movements and migrations

There is little information on this subject, but apparently the birds use certain traditional roosting trees, at least where they are protected, and return every night to these. Thus, home ranges are likely to be fairly small, and limited to foraging areas radiating out from roosts and within easy walking distances from them.

Daily activities and sociality
These birds roost in high, fairly open trees, from which they can see in all directions. When roosting in forests, they select one of the highest trees, well out in the open (Baker 1930). The birds generally roost in rather large numbers in such trees (five banyan trees served as roosting site for about 100 birds in the area studied by Johnsingh and Murali), but during the day they break up into small groups that for much of the year consist of a male and his harem of three to five females. After leaving the roosting areas the birds move into forest clearings, cultivated fields, or other areas to forage during the early morning hours. The middle of the day is spent in shady sites, often very close to water, where the birds drink and preen at length. Late in the afternoon they forage a second time, and return for another drink at dusk before going to roost in the evening.

 

Social behaviour

Mating system and territoriality
All authorities are agreed that this species is polygy-nous, and that a harem mating system prevails. Obviously not all adult males are able to gather har-ems; Sharma (1972) observed a sex ratio of 1.7-2.1 males per female in his study area. On the other hand, Johnsingh and Murali (1980) noted a sex ratio favouring apparent females, but admitted that immature female-like males probably affected their estimates. Perhaps only half of the females in a given population are actually breeding birds, as some are too young and others are too old or otherwise unable to breed (Sharma 1972).

 

Territoriality is as yet unstudied in this species, but the male's loud calling during the breeding season is almost certainly associated with dispersal and spacing.

Voice and display
The calls of this species are numerous, and are still only rather poorly described. Johnsingh and Murali (1980) listed 11 possibly distinct calls, of which three or four are associated with various enemies, one with parent-young relationships, and one with sexual behaviour and related aggressive behaviour. The last-named category represents the male's Kayong-kayong-kayong call, during which the head and neck are jerked violently, and is perhaps associated with dominance display over females. Males also utter a repeated may-awe call, especially during the breeding season, and particularly in early mornings and evenings. This call is uttered both before and after roosting, so it is probably not a territorial dispersion call.

 

The displays of this species, which can be observed so easily in zoo birds, are almost too familiar to describe. Heinroth (1940) has described copu-latory behaviour in the species, and the strutting has been described by various observers (Ali and Ripley 1978; Beebe 1918-1922). The erection of the male's train is brought about by the cocking of the rather long but non-decorative rectrices, and the lateral tail-coverts extend out horizontally and even downward, so that they hide the wings, which partially droop, with the secondaries folded but the primaries extended loosely downward. The whole body is inclined forward somewhat, and the head and neck are erect, in the middle of the radiation pattern of ocelli formed by the tail-coverts. When thus facing a female the male suddenly performs a quivering shake, causing the iridescent train to shimmer, and the feathers of the wings to rustle audibly. Schenkel (1956-1958) considered this display to be a highly ritualized form of tidbitting behaviour, although no food is offered nor is the bill even lowered toward the ground as in the great argus. Heinroth (1940) simply considered the display as a kind of general sexual advertisement, visible at great distances, that would attract any females that might be ready to mate. As a female approaches the male may actually turn away from her, causing the hen to move around and face him. This may be repeated several times before the female crouches and copulation follows. During mating the train is lowered and mounting occurs in the usual galliform manner.

 

Reproductive biology

Breeding season and nesting
Throughout India the nesting season is quite varied, but is apparently always related to the timing of the wet season. In southern India and Sri Lanka it reportedly occurs from January to April. Along the foothills of the Himalayas it also may occur as early as March or April, but usually begins with the start of the summer monsoon, or about the middle of June. In areas where the food is plentiful and there are showers early in the year the birds typically breed from January to April, whereas in other areas where there is a long dry season the birds do not begin to breed until the start of the wet season (Baker 1930). Sharma (1972) confirmed the start of breeding as coinciding with the onset of rain,- in his study area the birds bred from June to August. Johnsingh and Murali (1980) noted that at Injar (Tamil Nadu) the birds bred from October to December, which was also related to local precipitation patterns.


Nests are typically well concealed, and often are located under thorny shrubbery such as Lantana or Zizyphus. In some low areas, where flooding often
occurs, the birds may nest in elevated sites such as in the crotch of a banyan (Ficus) tree (Baker 1930). Generally the clutch size has been reported to range from three to six eggs, only rarely larger and with a maximum of eight (Baker 1930). However, Sharma (1972) reported a range of from three to nine eggs in 57 nests, and a modal clutch size of six (27 nests). He confirmed the female's tendency to nest under thorny cover.

Incubation and brooding
Incubation is by the female alone, and lasts for 28^30 days. Sharma (1972) reported a hatching success of 64 per cent (206 young from 321 eggs). He said that the female incubates for almost 24 hours a day, and that hatching usually occurs on the 29th day, with some also on the 30th day.

Growth and development of the young

Growth in young peafowl is rather slow, although when the chicks are only two weeks old they are able to jump or flutter up to elevated perches for roosting, where they sit on either side of the female and are covered by her wings (Rutgers and Norris 1970). By 20 days they are able to fly (Sharma 1972). In the wild, there is a rather high post-hatching mortality, with two being the modal number of chicks per brood observed by Johnsingh and Murali (1980). Sharma (1972) also observed a high level of chick mortality, and believed that females are incapable of looking after more than five young. The young are brought to the roosting areas used by adult birds only when they are nearly two months old, and fully capable of flight (Johnsingh and Murali 1980). At four weeks of age the birds begin to develop crests, and when they are two months old the chicks exactly resemble adult females, although they are only half their size'(Rutgers and Norris 1970). The plumage of first-year males is quite variable. By their second year, males resemble adult males, but lack ocelli on their train. By their third year males are in full plumage and sexually active, although the length of their train may continue to increase until about the fifth or sixth year (Delacour 1977).

 

Evolutionary history and relationships
The relative relationships of Pavo to the peacock pheasant, argus pheasants, and African peafowl are still somewhat unclear, but it seems likely that Afropavo is the nearest living relative of Pavo. de Boer and van Bocxstaele (1981) confirmed this relationship on the basis of karyotype similarities, but also observed a rather surprising similarity of both to the chromosomes of guineafowl.

 

Habitats and population densities
In its wild state in northern India, the favoured habi-tats of this species consist of forests growing along hillside streams, in which the undergrowth consists of ber bushes {Zizyphus} and thorny creepers, the bushes growing some 10 or 12 ft apart, and spreading out to form table-shaped tops that meet one another to form a continuous mass, allowing the birds to move about easily underneath. Higher up in the hill country they are found in open oak forests, where tiny streams run between the hills and each stream-bank is well covered by bushes, brambles, and reeds. Over much of southern India where the birds are protected they are likely to occur in any patch of jungle, groveland, or bushes near villages and in cultivated areas, and especially in thick and high crops such as sugar-cane (Baker 1930). In general, wild birds seem to prefer moist and dry-deciduous forests in the neighbourhood of streams (Ali and Ripley 1978). 

 

Although it still remains fairly common in India, the Blue Peafowl has been extirpated from many parts of its former range in Pakistan. In Pakistan the Indian Blue Peafowl in the wild state is only found in Tharparkar district of the province of Sind bordering India and in a small area of Azad Kashmir. According to a report from Mithi in the heart of Tharparkar, over the years trapping and illegal poaching has considerably reduced the population of this most beautiful of birds. Not only is the peacock prized as a pet bird, its wonderfully rich and colourful feathers too are used in a variety of decorative items. 

 

There are also captive populations of the this Peafowl in Kirthar National Park and other protected areas. 

 

Credits:

 

  • Text: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History
    by Paul A. Johnsgard, Joseph Wolf (Illustrator)

  • Photo: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History, Joseph Wolf (Illustrator)

 

copyright 2001-wildlife of Pakistan-all rights reserved