Description of species
It is not always easy to describe a species, a fact particularly true of the Green Peafowl, which shows different colours, depending on the angle of view. A peahen’s plumage may, for instance, look green, but, when such a hen passes you by, the colour might change suddenly to blue.The animals must be at about the same moulting – stage, which is not too simple because these birds have regionally different breeding and moulting seasons. The sun plays an important role, too. The colours a green peafowl tend to fade in the course of a year the more it is exposed to sunlight. A metallic blue-green can turn into a very dark blue or even black. This can be seen with Pavo muticus muticus peacocks from Java – especially from the Baluran region – whose pinions are almost dark-blue. This is small wonder, as the birds hardly find any shadow during their mating and breeding season. The savannah is parched up and trees are very rare there. I have seen this change of colour many times with Imperator-peacocks, too. Their neck-plumage is also affected and darkens.
Some reference books give a detailed description of the Green Peafowl’s plumage. I have not done this, because I do not have a large enough number of peacocks’ hides at hand to describe the feathers properly. Early biologists have painted pictures of these species. Dozens of hides in various museums made it possible to describe the anatomy and plumage of the Green Peafowl in detail. Of course, these early biologists had to do without the help of modern photography.
When you read such descriptions and compare them with your own birds, you always find matching features. You are better served with a good colour-photograph, and a number of breeders may not be too sure anymore whether their fowl is pure-bred. Describing the various subspecies, I will focus on the most important features. But always keep in mind: Compare your birds with a good photo and be critical. If in doubt, you should stay away from breeding – for the sake of protecting the wild species. All peafowl on the photos are wild peafowl and, for all I know pure-bred. Your can take them as reference when you compare them to your own birds in your aviary at home.
I have only mentioned those species that I have seen myself in the wild. I will write about others as soon as I am able to observe them.
The colour of the peafowls’ featherless faces can – due to stress, disease, or temperature – vary from light blue to cobalt blue and from light yellow to orange. The toes and legs are normally pitch black, that is, if their habitat and is right and they are healthy. Their fine scales get softened in water and worn off from stalking the undergrowth – they look as if they have been varnished. Peafowl that had to find a new environment, mountainous areas, for example, but also aviaries, tend to have dark grey legs and toes.
The most striking features are unfeathered blue and yellow faces with clear cut borders. The crest should be long and slender. A crest resembling a used paint brush is not ok. A not so beautiful crest, along with blurred borders of the facial skin indicates Blue Indian Peafowl ancestry. Keep your hands off such birds. A very important feature is the colour of the secondaries and tertials especially with peahens. If these do not display a metallic green (Pavo muticus muticus) or metallic blue (Pavo muticus imperator), you know something is not right. These bright colours are often lost, due to inbreeding or a mixture with Pavo muticus spicifer. Forums and books often show magnificent peacocks but no peahen. Bur a peafowls quality can best be judged by the peahens bright, shining plumage.
Let me start with Pavo muticus imperator, the peafowl with the largest native range.
Pavo muticus imperator from Western Thailand.
This subspecies is almost as long-legged as Pavo muticus muticus from Java. This peacock’s head wears a crest that may be as long as 6 inches at an angle of 130° to the beak. The top of the head is covered with little metallic blue feathers. The bare face is light blue and yellow-orange towards the back. It is lined by dark blue tiny feathers going from the back of the crest down to the throat. The ear-holes are outlined in black on the yellow part of the face. The eyes are adorned by a black line going down to the lower mandible. Eyebrows and eyelids are black. The plumage of throat and neck are gold-green. In the back of the neck towards the train the feathers are oval with black outlines. The long train-feathers are of a green metallic coppery colour. Those on the outside of the train have got fine gold-green hairs that almost reach the ground. The train-feathers proper are dark grey. At the shafts they are light brown. The shoulders are green, turning blue towards the wing. These feathers have blue metallic edges. Towards the wing the feathers display a dark green, almost black hue. The primaries and alula are light-brown. Around the elbow there is a triangle of small, semicircular gold green feathers. The belly is black, dark-green, the legs are black and may have brown spots. The feet are black and featherless.
The hens are smaller and plumper in appearance. The crest is a little smaller than a cock’s, but can be up to 5 inches tall. The green metallic plumage of the skull goes down to the back of the neck. The bare face is of a lighter shade of blue than a cock’s. Towards the back, the skin is yellow-orange. The eyes are rimmed by a black brown line going down to the lower mandible. The ear-holes and the yellow part of the face are outlined in black. The plumage on neck and throat is scaly, the feathers are blue green and isabelline on the outside. The breast is dark green, turning black towards the belly. At the lower part of the back of the neck the feathers are semicircular in shape, gold green and outlined in black. Their dorsal feathers are dark grey; the feathers covering the train are green with a white grey striping, sometimes with a coppery gleam. The tail-coverts themselves are dark grey, almost black. They, too, show a white grey striping. The feathers at the shoulders are green, metallic green at the secondaries, and turning to black further down the wing. The upper part of the secondaries is dark grey with a light grey striping. The primaries are light brown, some have a black outline, the alula’s feathers have a black striping, too. The skin of feet and legs is grey-black; the leg-feathers are almost black.
Northern Imperator from Northern Thailand and Northern Laos.
The cocks are a little smaller than their Western cousins. The plumage on the neck and breast is a little duller, the train is greener, and the crest is at a 70° angle to the beak.
The hens look like their western cousins.
Pavo muticus muticus from East Java, Indonesia.
The cocks are very long-legged and slender. Plumage on neck and breast are more of a golden, coppery green. The colour of the secondaries and tertials are of an intense metallic blue, almost like the coverts of the Himalayan Monal, but they can change to green, depending on the sunlight’s angle. The skull – from beak to crest – is rounder than that of the Imperator.
The Pavo muticus muticus hens are very long-legged, too. Plumage on neck and breast are a little more golden than that of the Imperator-hens. The secondaries and tertials show an intensive metallic blue. the secondaries turn to a dark red hue towards the back. Primaries and alula are light brown but show a stronger striping than those of the Imperator-hens. Their train and dorsal plumage are metallic green with a considerable coppery shine. The grey-white striping towards the feather-tips is doubled and a little broader than with Imperator-hens. This species show a little dark circle around the eyes. The skull – from beak to crest – is rounder as is the case with the cock..
Pavo muticus muticus West-Java Indonesia
When I visited West-Java, the peafowl there were in the middle of their moulting period, so I cannot give a first hand description of them.
I noticed that the circle around the hens’ eyes was broader compared to the hens in East-Java.
There will be more descriptions of birds next year. I hope this was of help to you so far.
Thanks Heiner G. for the translation