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The peafowl are three large, and extraordinarily beautiful species of fowl in the family Phasianidae, which also includes the pheasants, chickens, partridges, francolins, turkeys, guinea fowl, and quail. Species of peafowl are native to Asia and Africa. However, these gorgeous creatures have been kept in captivity as ornamental birds for several thousand years, and they are now found in zoos and aviaries in many parts of the world.

Peafowl are the largest of the species in the Phasianidae. These birds can weigh about 11 lb (5 kg), and can be as long as 6.5 ft (2 m), including the tail. Their most distinctive character is the very large, spreadable tail or "train" of the male bird, also known as a peacock. Other distinctive characteristics of peafowl include their long neck, a heavy, hooked bill, a crest on the top of the head, and long, strong legs and feet.

Peafowl are animals of tropical forests. They forage on the ground during the day, and roost in a tree for protection at night. Peafowl are omnivorous, eating a wide range of fruits, seeds, and buds, as well as diverse invertebrates gleaned from the forestfloor.

During much of the year, peafowl live in small groups. However, they split up into pairs during the breeding season. Peacocks have spectacular courtship displays, the highlight of which is the spreading of the train to impress the female, or peahen. The train is at least two times longer than the body of the peacock, and it is spread into a more-than semi-circular fan (about 210o of spread). The expanded train is greenish in color, and is A peacock (Pavo cristatus). Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.
punctuated by a large number of eye-like, iridescent spots at the end of each of the approximately 100 tail feathers. The peacock also has several distinctive, startling, harsh, discordant screams and wails that it utters during the courting season and during displays of its fan.

Once it has secured a mate, the peacock builds a nest, usually in a thicket. The female lays a clutch of about ten eggs, which she alone broods. The peahen also takes care of the chicks.

The blue or common peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is a native bird of India and Sri Lanka. Small populations of feral birds have also been established in various places beyond the native range, for example, in Australia. The head, neck, and breast are an iridescent blue in this species. The blue peafowl is the most abundant peafowl in captivity. White and black varieties of this species also exist in domestic collections.

The green peafowl (Pavo muticus) is native to Indochina and Java. This species has a green head, neck, and breast. This species is also kept in captivity.

The Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) is a very rare, little-known species of tropical forests of Zaire. The discovery of this species in 1936 created a sensation, because it could scarcely be believed that such a large, beautiful bird had not been seen by naturalists prior to that time.

Bill Freedman

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