Pavo Cristatus

Angalee Nadesalingam


I remember standing on the other side of the fence, staring at the thing. My eyes were scrunched up and my forehead creased with the exertion of willing it to move. But, there was nothing that my mental telepathy could do to make the peacocks lift up their spectacular feathers in a show of beautiful bravado. Influenced by the foolishness and recklessness of being a child, I picked up a few small pebbles from the ground and tossed them in the general direction of the peacocks. I wasn’t even rewarded with a blink of an eye. Within a few minutes, I grew tired of their indifference and trudge away to see the other animals at the zoo.

Peacocks are revered around the world for their gracious beauty, predominantly because of their stunning feathers. In the ancient times, the peacock was taken to all parts of the world, prized as a great treasure. As early as 400 B.C. the ancient Romans served peacocks as delicacies. They were roasted and served luxuriously at great feasts in their own feathers. Later, the Bible mentioned the peacocks and valued them on par with riches such as gold and silver.

In recent times, the peacock has become more of an ornamental bird. Its feathers (which it molts around the summertime) are used to perk up vases, and can be bought for a few dollars from tourist shops and safaris. The peacocks that we see today at the Toronto Zoo, however, are far away from their natural habitats. The most commonly seen ones are Indian peacocks, which are natively from India and Sri Lanka.

There, they are known by their fellow jungle animals for being very wary creatures. This alertness has developed as a result of their overwhelming “train” (tail feathers) that slows down any attempts at nimble movement. Therefore, the peacock acts as a sentinel, using loud cries to warn other animals of upcoming danger.

Like many other birds, peacocks eat snails, frogs, insects, grains and grasses. These delicate looking creatures can in fact destroy crops and damage the livelihood of many poor farmers.

But, the most appealing part of a peacock is his luscious train. The peacock shows his massive feathers to entice females to approach it. As soon as the peahen approaches, he erects his train into an immense rustling fan, dotted with iridescent eyespots. He slowly backs towards her, and, as she sidesteps, he swivels around to dazzle her with the full glory of his display. He rustles the fan towards her so that it almost engulfs her. If she is impressed, she just might decide to mate with him.

In ancient India it was thought that this beautiful dance by the peacock was an indication that it would soon begin to rain. But, scientists today have concluded that this display is a way for peacocks to gather females for their harem.

Maybe I would have had more luck coaxing the dance out of the peacock at the zoo if it had been raining, or, I might add, if I had been wearing a giant peahen costume.