How to tell the difference between female and male peacocks
We all love how beautiful and majestic the peacock is. Being one of the most beautiful avian species known to man, peacocks are widely popular for their long tails and shimmery feathers. However, it is essential to note that only the male peacock is endowed with the large, colorful and ornate tail of feathers. According to a recent study, the peahens concentrate mostly on the peacock’s leg movements and lower feathers during courtship, rather than the beautiful display of ornate feathers.
The actual name for the peacock is peafowl. The young one of a peacock is technically referred to as a peachick. While we usually refer to both genders as peacocks, the males are the ones that are named peacocks, while the females should be known as peahens. There are three species of peacocks belonging to the genus Pavo, subfamily Phasianinae and family Phasianidae. These are the Indian Peacock (Pavo cristatus), the green peacock (Pavo muticus), and the Congo peacock (Afropavo congensis).
Though the Congo peacock does not feature a tail as beautiful as the Indian and green species, it boasts dark blue feathers and a distinct black tail. When it comes to features and physical appearance, there are quite a handful of differences between the peacocks and the peahen. The peacock is perhaps the best example of sexual dimorphism in birds. The male and female peacocks feature distinct feathers, making them look like entirely different bird species. The extent of these differences in peacocks may vary in different species. This article will help you clearly differentiate between the two the next time you see them.
In terms of color, there are plenty of parts on the male peacock that are colored differently than on the females. The tail, in the male peacocks, has the largest combination of colors, while in females, the tail is largely colored the same as their backs. The faces in male and female peacocks also feature some color and pattern differences. While both of them have white markings above and below their eyes, the males appear to have more prominent markings due to the bluish color of their faces. In females, their faces are largely white and hence the markings below the eyes may not be visible in most species.
Females are largely brown-grayish in color from their necks to their tails with fewer alterations to the colors than in the males. Male peacocks feature much more radiant colors in most species. Apart from their stunning display, they also have different colored crests, face, neck, and chest.
As stated earlier, there are significant differences between male and female peacocks. In fact, in some species like the Indian and green peacocks, the males and females look like entirely different bird species. In terms of size, male peacocks are significantly taller and longer and they weigh much more than their female counterparts in the same age group. Adult males generally have a body weight ranging from nine to thirteen pounds while mature peahens only weigh around six to nine pounds.
In terms of length, male peacocks are much longer than females due to their extended tail feathers. With their tail feathers included, male peacocks can grow as long as 7.5 feet, while females grow to around 3.5 feet in length. Due to their significant advantage in height, weight, and length, male peacocks appear more elegant, even without having to display their tails as they do during courtship.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, male peacocks feature long and colorful tails with shimmery feathers adorned with different colors. The female peacocks (peahens) have short tails adorned with brownish-gray feathers. A male peacock has a tail measuring two meters, give or take. Making up more than 60% of their body length, the tail is the most iconic feature about the peacock. When not displaying their tails during courtship or when scaring away an intruder, it falls behind its back and is referred to as a train. Mainly seen when they are courting their female counterparts, male peacocks can hold its tail up like a fan in a display of beauty and dancing prowess. Indian peacocks are known to own the longest and most decorated tails, making them one of the largest flying birds on the planet.
The tail of a male peacock contains so many feathers that without erecting the tail, the only part of the tail that we see is the upper covert feathers, which are usually the longest. The covert feathers cover up the base of the peacock’s true tail feathers. With more than 200 covert feathers, a male peacock makes a spectacle every time they display their magnificent feathers. However, their actual tail feathers are much shorter and less adorned with shimmery decorations. Female peacocks lack the long covert feathers found on their male counterparts. However, the brownish-gray plumage on their feathers helps them to camouflage when hiding from a predator.
While the popular misconception is that only male peacocks display their tails, female peacocks also display their tail feathers when they are threatened or excited. While males perform their majestic displays primarily during courtship, females display their tail feathers when fighting off other female peacocks over a mate, or when signaling danger to their chicks.
Legs and Spurs
As mentioned earlier, male peacocks tend to be taller than female peacocks in most species. Both sexes develop spurs (thorns) on their legs, but males generally develop the spurs earlier than females. The spurs in females are also much shorter and blunt than in males. The spurs are often used in attacking opponents during territorial fights.
Both male and female peacocks feature white markings above and below their eyes. However, the white markings are more prominent in male peacocks than in females. Nevertheless, the white markings above the eyes are distinctly visible on female peacocks, but those below the eye can be hard to distinguish as they marge with their predominantly white facial appearances.
Crest and neck
The crest of the male peacock is fan-shaped, consisting of small blue feathers and long bare shafts. On its head are short and curly feathers that maintain the color all the way down to its neck but on the neck the feathers look more like fur. On peahens, the crest features brownish feathers. Unlike in the male peacocks, peahens have dense metallic green or bluish feathers that take the shape of scales. Peahens have a tendency of fluffing neck feathers in between.
Back and wings
Male peacocks feature scale-like feathers on their backs, which are then closely followed by covert feathers. Unlike the males, most of the feathers on female peacocks’ backs are found in shades of brown, sharing a similar shape as on their male counterparts. Females, however, like the males, feature scale-like feathers on their necks.
Male peacocks boast wings that are either barred or solid in color while their female companions feature largely feature solid brown wings with similar patterns as on their backs.
The male peacock is known for its stunning display of their beautiful tails during mating. Males also tend to be solitary birds at other times. The beautiful display is designed to attract females for mating. It is visible from a long distance and also helps it to be visible even when the peacock is standing among vegetation. It is believed that the male peacock holds his tail highest when he is standing close to tall or similarly colored vegetation.
For female peacocks, they are responsible for building nests, incubating the eggs, and taking care of the young ones. Males are, however, not involved in bringing up the young ones. That means the female peacocks are highly protective of the chicks and might become violent when threatened. It is at moments like these when the female peahen displays her short tail, in an attempt to scare off the intruder. She is also known to display her feathers when chasing away other females from a potential mate.
When they chicks, it is very hard to distinguish between the male and female peachicks. That is primarily because most of the distinguishing features of the male peacock, including the elongated tail, develop at the age of three years. Generally, chicks with longer legs and more colorful feathers than others are considered to be male. Males also develop leg spurs earlier than females of the same age, which may or may not develop the leg spurs in their lives.
Different types of peacocks and how to tell their gender differences:
Indian peafowls (Pavo cristatus), also known as the blue peafowl, and common peafowl, is native to the Indian subcontinent. However, over the years, the beautiful bird has been introduced to many other countries around the globe. The male Indian peafowl is brightly colored and very popular for its beautiful long train featuring elongated upper-tail covert feathers with colorful eyespots.
Indian peahens also lack the train, but unlike other species, feature a greenish lower neck and duller brown coloration. The coloration is the most obvious difference between male and female Indian peafowls. Females tend to have grayish or cream feathers and a much more subdued plumage. They have white bellies while their male counterparts have a consistent blue coloration through most of their plumage and their bellies.
Green peafowls, unlike Indian peafowls, do not display as many differences between the male and female peacocks. Though they mostly look similar, the males feature longer tails (approximately 2 meters in length). Their covert feathers also feature eye spots when erect. Female green peacocks feature a prominent green color on their neck, chest, and back. The metallic green neck feathers appear in both the male and female green peacocks, resembling scales in most cases. Females have a shorter tail with greener crest feathers that have rounded tips. Crest feathers are more pointed and bluish in male peacocks. In green peacocks, both genders also feature a yellow patch on their faces. However, the line that divides the yellow patch is bluish on males while in females it appears brownish.
Although peachicks are hard to determine gender, the adults are pretty easy to tell apart. Males are the epitome of beauty in the species, with their dazzling display of tail feathers. Females are fairly plain birds. Chicks do not have the long beautiful tail, or the beautiful colors on their feathers, and since they look pretty much the same, it could take some sleuthing to determine whether your chicks are male or female.
Sexing peafowl chicks is an art rather than a science, unless you choose to go the DNA testing route. The first thing you should consider when sexing peachicks is leg length. Males generally feature longer legs than females even when they are chicks. Leg length comparison might be inaccurate if the peachicks are not siblings.
The outer primary feathers of a peachick can also give you hints as to which gender they belong to. When green or blue (Indian) peafowls start feathering, the coloration of their tail feathers will tell you the gender. However, the long tail train on male peacocks does not fully develop until they are about three years of age. If the chick has more colorful outer feathers, it is likely a boy.
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org