Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007
* Japanese name: Kujaku
* Scientific name: Pavo cristatus
* Description: Large birds far more often seen on the ground than in the air, peafowl are unmistakable. The male -- the peacock -- has a vibrant royal-blue neck and breast, a white "face" and a gigantic ornamental tail that may be dragged along the ground folded up, or held up in an imperious fan. The iridescent feathers each end in an electric blue "eye." Actually, this is not the tail -- the peacock's train is made of elongated feathers above the tail. The real tail is, like the female's, short and brown. In the wild, males will molt and lose their trains each year in late summer.
* Where to find them: Peafowl are not native to Japan but, like elsewhere in the world, the bird has been introduced into parks and gardens across the country, especially in auspicious Imperial gardens and certain temple grounds in Kyoto. Perhaps belying their extreme ornamentation and beauty, peafowl are very hardy, adapting to fairly extreme temperatures. For this reason, they have thrived outside of their home range, and are sometimes kept as "watchdogs," as they will set up a loud and distinctive wail if disturbed. Intelligent birds, peafowl can be trained to come when called. They have been kept domestically for millennia, but if you want to see them in the wild you'll have to go to India (where it is the national bird), Pakistan or Sri Lanka.
* Food: Seeds and fruit. Also insects and the occasional lizard.
* Special features: Charles Darwin was tormented by the peacock's tail, until he realized that it evolved not as a survival advantage, but as a mating advantage. Peahens like to mate with males with the biggest, brightest and most symmetrical tails, and those with the most eye-spots. Why? It turns out that such males have the best genes. Males don't help rearing the young, and they mate with up to six hens per season. In Japan the bird has a long history, and is associated with Kujaku Myo-o, a Buddhist god who protects against calamity and drought.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET