How Do Peacocks Protect Themselves?
Peacocks have the reputation for stunning displays of their tail feathers during courtship of their female counterpart, the peahen. Brilliantly green and blue, these feathers are known as the peacock's "train." These gorgeous feathers are more than meets the eye, however: They are one of the peacock's defense adaptations.
Catching the Train
If predators give a peacock chase, grabbing his long, trailing train, they may find themselves with a disappointing mouthful of feathers. The plumage that males sport during mating season is detachable; at the end of courtship the display that won him his mates molt off. Detaching tail feathers do not harm the peacock, and enable him time and distance to escape.
Loud, Obnoxious and Safe
Peafowl communicate using 11 different screams and ritualistic calls, all quite loud, louder than roosters. During mating time these calls, known as "crows", serve to attract the attention of peahens, usually in the early mornings and late evenings. When a predator is seen -- due to the peacock's exceptional eyesight -- peacocks spread a series of crows to warn other peafowl and surrounding animals that danger is afoot.
Perhaps the peacock's most vicious form of protection is their "kicking thorns," sharp spurs attached to the feet of all peafowl, both male and female. Peacocks can inflict significant damage by slashing predators with the spurs, which are about an inch in length and razor sharp. This defense is used as a last-minute attack, however, as peacocks fair much better by hiding than by taking the offense.
While the peacocks are showy and eye-catching, peahen's coloring is more drab. Feathered in grays and browns, these birds are able to blend into their surrounding landscape by remaining motionless. Peahens primarily spend their time sitting on eggs, and their camouflage hides both themselves as well as their bright white eggs from predators.
Even the males use their coloring to their advantage. As quick sprinters, once a flock has been warned to a predator's presence they will simply vanish into the shade and foliage of surrounding shrubbery.
Not Exactly Soaring
Although peafowl are birds, they have not evolved the adaptation to fly long distances or very high. They can easily flutter enough to get to safe roosting spots -- 16 feet off the ground is necessary to avoid being pulled down by their long tail-feathers -- but their "flight" is really more a series of short, airborne hops. Other than scrambling into low trees to avoid predation, peafowl flight isn't their most promising form of defense.
Because these birds feathers are so ornamental, they have been adding aesthetics to private gardens and parks for hundreds of years. In these safe spaces, peacocks and peahens are safe from predation, and can live to be 20 years of age.