Peafowls are large, colorful birds. Male birds (peacocks) are well-known for their long, showy upper tail covert feathers and elaborate courtship displays.
Probably you may have seen Blue peacocks before since they are the most common ones. But, are they the only peacock type out there? How many peacock breeds are there in the world?
In this article, I cover the complete peafowl classification. Keep on reading to know different peafowl species, color variations, body patterns, and the total number of varieties of peafowls in the world.
Peacock breeds: how many peafowl varieties are there?
As per the latest published article on peafowl varieties by United Peafowl Organization (UPO), there are 225 peafowl varieties. This includes naturally occurring varieties as well as developed hybrid varieties.
And, except most common Indian Blue, the rest of the varieties are rare and you may not be able to see many of them. Additionally, part of these listed varieties are identified as possible varieties, but they are yet to be developed.
Let’s first look at the factors that cause the formation of peafowl varieties.
|Species||There are three peafowl species: Indian peafowl, Green peafowl, and Congo peafowl. Each species can have many different varieties.|
|Sub-species||Subspecies of a bird is a group of birds that has the same phenotype or genotype or both and is concentrated in a specific segment of the range of species.|
|Purebred or hybrid||Purebred varieties are naturally occurring peafowl varieties. And, hybrids are varieties that result due to mating of birds of two species.|
|Appearance: Color||Peafowl color is defined based on the color of their neck. Based on that, there are 15 different color peafowls identified. |
They are blue, green, purple, white, peach, cameo, charcoal, opal, Buford bronze, midnight, jade, taupe, hazel, indigo, and Sonja’s Violeta.
See the peacock color chart in the section “Peacock colors”.
|Appearance: Pattern||In addition to color, patterns in peafowl plumage are also another differentiating factor that results in a set of unique varieties. |
There are 5 different patterns identified: barred wings, black-shoulder, pied, silver pied, and white-eyed.
Peafowl species: Indian peafowl, Green peafowl, and Congo peafowl
Since some use the terms peafowl, peacock, and peahen incorrectly, let’s clarify them first. Peacock is the male bird and peahen is the female bird. Peafowl is the common name used for both male and female birds.
Baby peafowls are called peachicks and it is difficult to identify the gender of baby birds.
There are three species of peafowls identified, namely Indian Peafowl, Green Peafowl, and Congo Peafowl.
Both peacocks and peahens of all three species are glamorous birds. But, the appearances of peahens and peacocks are different from one another, even in the same species.
Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)
The Indian peafowl is the most common peafowl out of all three peafowl species. They are also called Blue peafowl or Common peafowl.
Indian peafowls are native to India and Sri Lanka. But, now they have been introduced to many other countries on different continents as pets or in zoos.
The appearance of Indian Peacocks: Peacocks have iridescent blue necks. So, they are considered ‘blue’ color birds. The most eye-catching feature of them is their long train (upper tail covert). They have short and curled head and neck feathers. And their tail is metallic brown and they have fan-shaped crests.
The appearance of Indian Peahens: Peahens are different in appearance from peacocks. They look greenish. Their upper necks are metallic green and their breasts are dark brown shined with green. And, they have reddish-brown heads and brown tails. Most distinguishably, they lack the train.
There are no recognized subspecies of Indian peafowl though minor noticeable differences between peacocks in India and Sri Lanka are present.
Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus)
Green peafowls are also called Indonesian Peafowl. They are native to forests of Southeast Asia and the Indochinese peninsula.
Unlike Indian peafowls, Green peafowls are rare and they have been listed as endangered on IUCN Red List since 2009. The main reason for their population drop is the loss of habitats due to deforestation, and agriculture.
There are three subspecies of Green Peafowls:
- Java Peafowl (Pavo muticus muticus)
- Indo-Chinese Peafowl (Pavo muticus imperator)
- Burmese peafowl (Pavo muticus spicifer)
Converse to Indian peafowls, Green peacocks and peahens are quite similar in appearance. As the name highlights, they both are green color birds.
The appearance of Green Peacocks: Green peacocks have emerald green feathers on their heads and necks. They have very long trains (upper tail covert) and they molt the train feathers in the non-breeding season. And, they have long shafted crests.
The appearance of Green Peahens: Green peahens too have green necks. They have dull green on their heads and bodies. Unlike Indian peahens, green peahens have shorter trains that extend beyond their tail. And, they have wider shafted crests.
Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congensis)
Some scholars do not consider Congo Peafowl as one of the species of peafowl. But, you may come across publications that mention them as the third species of peafowls. So, it is also included here.
Congo peafowls are native to Africa. They are also considered vulnerable on IUCN Red List. And a little information is available on these birds. There’s no record of having any subspecies of these peafowls.
Congo peafowls do not have long trains like their Asian counterparts have. That makes them less glamorous. And, Congo peacock and peahen are different in appearance from one another.
The appearance of Congo Peacocks: The color of Congo peacocks is deep blue mixed with green. Their body is bronze-green in color and they have black lower parts. Their red-colored bare skin throat is quite unique feature. Congo peacocks lack the train. Their tail is black in color with blue and green tips.
The appearance of Congo Peahens: Congo peahens are chestnut in color. They have brown feathers and metallic green backs. They have green flecks in the black lower body. They also do not have a train. Their tail is black and the tail tip is green.
Hybrid vs purebred peafowls
Purebred peafowls are peafowls whose parents are from the same species. For example, if Indian peacock mates with an Indian peahen, the resulting peachicks are called purebred since their parents belong to the same species (Indian peafowls).
Naturally, peafowls mate within the same species. Hence, you will only see purebred peafowls in the wild.
However, hybrid peafowls are being developed by mating Indian peafowls and Green peafowls in captivity.
The first hybrid peafowl was developed by the late Mrs. Keith Spalding of California who made two species of peafowls, Indian and Green, mate together. Hence, hybrid peafowls are named after Mrs. Spalding and called “Spalding”.
One of the concerns of conservation biologies in regard to the spread of hybrid breeds is that hybrid gene may spread among the purebred populations in both wild and captivity. That will negatively affect the conservation efforts of already endangered Green peafowls.
How to identify a hybrid peafowl variety?
Visual morphology check is the most common way that can be used to identify a hybrid peafowl variety. It is cheap and faster than genetic screening.
There are several characteristic pointers have been defined to distinguish hybrid peafowls from their purebred counterparts.
Those include the shape of the crest, face color (some yellow on their face), differentiating features in plumage, longer legs, mixed behavior, and faster growth rate than purebred. Read more on those pointers here.
Peacock colors: Common and rare colors of peacocks
Colors are one of the main attractive features of peacocks. Even though peafowls have many different eye-catching colors on their body, their color is defined based on the color of their neck.
Generally, we say peacocks are blue since most common Indian peacocks are blue in color. But, there are fifteen identified possible colors of peacocks. In addition to the main two colors of the two species, there are 13 other color mutations.
Here are 15 peacock colors;
- Blue – Indian peacocks – blue (most common color)
- Green – Green peacocks
- Buford bronze
- Sonja’s Violeta
Other than Indian blue, all other color peacocks are extremely rare to see. Here’s the peacock color chart that includes all 15 colors of peacocks.
- Some colors such as Sonja’s Violeta are provided based on photos of such color peacocks published on online forums. Hence, the actual color may appear as a different shade of the color provided.
- You may see pink and red color peacock images online. But they are color-filtered modified images and no red or pink colored peacocks exist.
Peacock body patterns: 5 patterns of peacocks
When identifying different breeds of peacocks, the colors of plumage and patterns on them are considered two separate parameters.
In addition to the 15 colors identified, there are 5 separate patterns of peacocks that are used to define varieties of peafowls. Those are;
- Barred wing (wild peacock type)
- Silver pied
Barred wing peafowls
The barred wing pattern is the naturally occurring common pattern in peafowls. It presents prominently in Indian peafowls. The pattern is made up of a series of vertical bars or stripes on the cover feathers of the wings.
Peacocks have these bars in dark brown or black color while peahens have lighter brown or beige color patterns. And it is more apparent and attractive in peacocks due to their contrasting metallic green color body. But, less prominent in peahens due to the overall brown coloration of the feathers.
Black-shoulder peacocks are a pattern mutation of Indian peafowls. Peafowl wings are also called shoulders.
This black-shoulder pattern refers to the deep black feathers found on the shoulders and upper back of these birds. Only this pattern is prominent in peacocks (male birds). When compared to Indian Blue peacocks, the main difference between Black-shoulder peacocks is their plain black wings.
Black-shoulder peahens are quite distinctive from their Indian Blue counterparts. They are white, gray, or pale cream in color and have random dark spots on their bodies and wings. Their necks get rusty/creamy coloration.
Pied pattern characterized by a mixture of white and colored feathers. This can give the appearance of a bird with a piebald or spotted coat.
Sometimes pied peafowls may get one or two white feathers mixed with their regular blue and green feathers, or sometimes they may get many white feathers that can go up to cover about half of their body.
This pied pattern is a relatively uncommon color pattern variation in peafowls.
Silver pied peafowls
The silver pied pattern is characterized by white or pale blue base color on the feathers. And they have black or dark blue markings on the wings, head, and neck. Only about 25 percent of their feathers will have normal coloration.
This pattern is identified as a recessive trait. It means that this results when an individual has two copies of the gene for the trait. When only one copy of the gene is present, the bird will have normal coloration.
The white eye pattern of peacocks is characterized by having white ocellus or eyes of their train feathers. They have white-colored body feathers (varying numbers) as well.
Since the pattern is more prominent in train feathers, white-eyed peahens are less distinctive since they lack the train.
In addition, a mix of patterns such as Pied white-eyed peacocks is also possible. But, except the barred wing pattern, all other patterns are not so common for you to easily see.