Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Peacock Parties and Ruby’s Beak

Edward really can fly...

Every year at the Poplar Spring events, people ask questions about the peacocks that I often can’t answer. I know the stories of how Edward and Arthur came to live at the sanctuary, but I don’t know that much general information about peacocks, or how they would be in the wild.


A friend has been traveling in India recently, and he posted a few pictures on Facebook of when he was at the Taj Mahal. He did have a picture of the building, but he seemed most excited about the monkeys. Wild monkeys all over the place there, which was more exciting than a building, even one as beautiful as the Taj Mahal. (He’s vegan, can’t you tell?) He also mentioned that there are wild peacocks everywhere.

He hadn’t learned anything specific about them, but it reminded me that I always mean to look up more info on them. So I finally did, and I learned that peacocks have a lifespan of about 20 years in the wild. 20 years! That is pretty cool.

Also, something I would never have guessed, groups of peafowls are called…parties! (Though a different source says that they’re called an “ostentation” or a “pride”.)

I was surprised to learn that their extensive plumage isn’t a factor in the peahens mate selection. That they seem to be oblivious to it!


This made me chuckle, because it would explain why Edward is so unperturbed by all of his romantic interests ignoring his impressive display.

However the next article I read (a more recent one at that) said that peahens do, indeed, care about the plumage. They’ll select their mate from among those with the normal number of eye spots, and bypass those who have less than the normal number.

Given the somewhat conflicting information, I’m not sure I’ve really learned anything about peacocks plumage, other than the fact that flying dinosaurs had more elaborate mating rituals than peacocks.

I’m sure this will fascinate the visitors at the next PSAS event…

I did actually learn some other useful information. The colorful tail feathers aren’t really the tail – they are the tail coverts, and are more accurately called the train. The peacock doesn’t have the full plumage until about 3 years old, and it isn’t until they are 5 or 6 years old that it reaches it’s maximum length.

Also, peafowl have 11 different calls. The most distinctive one is the very loud “may-awe” type sound. I love when they do that, though it can make conversation difficult!


Chickens have even more calls – they have 30 different calls! Jonathan has mentioned that chickens not only have alarm calls, they have different alarm calls for small, medium and large predators. I looked it up to get more details, and ended up on a google books result for one of his own books, The Exultant Ark! I need to read his books more carefully, since I had missed that. But I admit I was so distracted by the gorgeous pictures throughout the book that I likely missed a lot of the text.

There have been a lot of hawks around lately, so the chickens have needed to be closely supervised when out in the yard. We spent quite a bit of time on Saturday just hanging out in the chicken yard, enjoying the gorgeous (for winter) weather and the happy antics of the chickens and turkeys and peacocks.

Tilly and a volunteer

Ruby caught my eye, with that piece of grass on the lower half of her beak. She is a classic case of a debeaked hen, and that piece of grass illustrates how crippling that debeaking really is.


Ruby is a Rhode Island Red hen, a breed used for egg-laying. The debeaking was done because she was being used for the eggs her body would produce, and because she was going to live in such cramped quarters in such a stressed social environment that it was expected that she would hurt nearby hens with her beak, and be hurt in return, if she didn’t have that beak chopped off.

She was slated, like all egg-laying hens, to be killed after a few years, when her egg production dropped off.

It is worth noting that the factory farms typically use the White Leghorn breed, not the Rhode Island Reds. We might not know Ruby’s entire early history, but it’s unlikely that she came from a factory farm. She almost definitely came from a smaller operation, perhaps a “small family farm”, the type that gets romanticized so passionately.

But exploitation is exploitation, and the difference between a factory farm and a small family farm is simply scale.

It was learning, in the most vague terms possible, of the truth of then-nameless chickens like Ruby that had me leap from vegetarianism to veganism. Eggs are not a compassionate food.


6 responses to “Peacock Parties and Ruby’s Beak

  1. Sheryl February 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I like “peacock parties”! And I can’t believe those girls are unimpressed by Edward’s displays. He’s magnificent! I need to finish reading “The Exultant Arc” but, like you, I get so caught up in the photos.

    • Deb February 20, 2012 at 10:11 am

      I like “peacock parties” too! It’s just funny that there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what they’re called. But given the choice to believe the National Geographic (“parties”) over the San Diego Zoo (“ostentation”), I’ll go with National Geographic without hesitation…

  2. Sandra February 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I remember going to the Philly Zoo a few years back. We were sitting on a bench, and kept hearing this weird “a-wah! a-wah!” sound. We looked behind us, and there was a row of peacocks on a wall, crowing (or whatever it is they do). I think that is the “may-awe!” sound you are describing.

    We also saw a peahen with her chicks. They looked rather like upside-down light bulbs on legs!

  3. Provoked February 26, 2012 at 7:49 am

    No eggs are not a compassionate choice… Nor are feathers…

    But this is a beautiful post! I love the photos and information about peacocks! I’m curious though… Couldn’t find anything on the web about what the feathers on top of their head is called? Any idea?

    Tilly and Ruby are beauties in their own right… Despite that they bear the scars brought about by greed and ignorance. I hope someday we keep all the human “hawks” at bay as well.

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