peacock or peafowl, large bird of the genus Pavo, in the pheasant family, native to E Asia. There are two main species, the common ( Pavo cristatus ), and the Javanese ( P. musticus ) peacocks, both found in deep forest where they travel in small flocks. A third type, the Congo peacock, was discovered recently in Africa. Unusual peacocks are the Argus pheasant, with eyelike spots on its secondary flight feathers, and the white peacock, thought to be a mutation of the common peafowl. When the term peafowl is used, peacock then refers to the male of a species and peahen to the female. During courtship the crested male common peacock displays his elongated upper tail coverts—a magnificent green and gold erectile train adorned with blue-green "eyes"—before the duller-plumaged peahen. The peacock is well known as an ornamental bird, though it is quarrelsome and does not mix well with other domestic animals. The peacock figures in the Bible and in Greek and Roman myth, where it appears as the favorite bird of the goddess Hera, or Juno, and the bird was known to the pharaohs of Egypt and to 14th-century Europe, where it was roasted and served in its own plumage. Peafowl fly well despite their size, and roost in trees at night. Peacocks are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Galliformes, family Phasianidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.