57. THE COMMON PEA-FOWL.
Pavo cristatus, Linnaeus.
Feathers of the crest with a bare shaft and a fan-shaped tip.
MALE :—Back and rump with glossy scalelike green feathers.
FEMALE :—Back and rump with ordinary brown feathers.
Vernacular Names :—Mor, Hind.; Menjur, Western Duars; Mujur, Nepal Tarai; Mabja, Bhutia; Mong yung, Lepcha ; Moir, moira, Assam ; Dode, Garo Hills ; Myl, Tamil; Nimili, Telugu ; Nowl, Canarese.
The Common Pea-Fowl is found in a wild state, in suitable localities, throughout India; on the west up to the Indus river, and on the east to the farthest limits of Assam. It is also found in Ceylon.
In Assam, this Pea-Fowl frequents the whole valley of the Bhramaputra, and occurs on all the hill-ranges south of that river, with the exception, perhaps, of the Khasi Hills. The southern limits of this species in the Indo-Burmese countries have not been ascertained, and we do not know with any precision where this and the next species meet.
The Common Pea-Fowl does not ascend the Himalayas to any great height, 2000 feet being the usual limit. In the Nilghiris, however, and other ranges of hills in Southern India, it is met with as high as 5000 feet or even higher.
This Pea-Fowl by choice frequents hilly and jungly ground, where there is an abundance of water and good cover. In many parts of India, it is protected by the natives, and under these circumstances becomes very tame. Where not so protected, this bird appears to be as wild as its Burmese ally. I glean the following notes from the many accounts which have been published regarding the habits of this Pea-Fowl.
Colonel Tickell observes :—" Pea-Fowl roost at night on high trees : the highest they can get in the jungle they inhabit; but they select the lowest branches for their perch. They are rather late in roosting; I have heard them flying up to their berths long after sunset, and when the Night Jars had been for some time abroad, flitting over the dusky jungle. The cock bird invariably leads the way, rising suddenly from the brushwood near the roosting tree, with a loud ' Kok-kok-kok-kok,' and being presently followed by his harem four or five hens. . . . These birds cease to congregate soon after the crops are off the ground. The pairing season is in the early part of the hot weather. The Peacock has then assumed his full train, that is, the longest or last rows of his upper tail-coverts, which he displays of a morning, strutting about before his wives. These strange gestures, which the natives gravely denominate the Peacock's nautch, or dance, are very similar to those of a turkey-cock, and accompanied by an occasional odd shiver of the quills, produced apparently by a convulsive jerk of the abdomen."
Mr. Sanderson, as quoted by Messrs. Hume and Marshall, has some useful remarks on this species. He says :— "Pea-Fowl usually commence their discordant cries at half-past two in the morning, and not unfrequently cry at intervals throughout moonlight nights. They raise a shrill clamour during the day on seeing tigers or other beasts of prey, or at unusual sounds, such as the firing of a gun in the jungles. " Pea-Fowl run very fast, but the old cocks, burthened with tails six feet in length, are poor flyers, and I have frequently seen my men running them down during the hot hours of the day by forcing them to take two or three long flights in succession, in places where they could be driven from one detached patch of jungle to another.
" The old cocks are in full plumage from June to December, and then cast their trains."
It will be seen that Colonel Tickell and Mr. Sanderson are not quite in agreement regarding the time of the year in which the train of the male bird is developed. I am unable to decide which of the two is right.
The ordinary cry of the Peacock resembles the words " Pehau , pehau," and can be heard a long distance.
Pea-Fowl breed in India from June to October, but a nest has been found in Mysore as early as April. In Ceylon they breed from January to April. The nest is made in thick grass or amongst dense bushes, and is merely a depression in the ground scratched by the hen and lined with a few leaves or a little grass. In flooded parts of the country the Peahen has been known to lay her eggs in the fork of a large mango-tree. The eggs vary in number from six to as many as fifteen. They are very glossy and closely pitted all over with minute pores. In shape they are ovals, and the colour varies from almost pure white to reddish buff. Occasionally eggs are met with which are thickly freckled with reddish brown, but the majority are entirely unspotted. The eggs vary in length from 2.55 to 3 in length and from 1.92 to 2.2 in breadth.
It is unnecessary to describe the plumage of the Peacock in detail, or to do more than point out the characters by which the present species differs from the Burmese Peacock. The shape of the crest-feathers is in itself, however, quite sufficient to separate the two species.
The chief points about the Common Peacock are that the whole head, the neck and the upper parts of the mantle and breast are a rich purplish blue. The first ten quills of the wing and their' coverts are chestnut; a number of the succeeding quills are black; and the remaining quills and all the wing-coverts, except those already mentioned, are pale buff irregularly barred with black. The female has the crest, the head arid the upper neck more or less chestnut; the lower neck, the upper part of the mantle and the breast greenish, the feathers edged with brown. The upper plumage and the greater part of the visible portions of the closed wings are brown, the tail-coverts and the outer part of the wing being barred with buff. The tail is blackish mottled with buff. The chin, the throat and portions of the sides of the head and neck are white. The lower plumage is rufous buff.
The length of a fine male to the end of the tail is about 45, and to the end of the train about 90 ; wing about 18 ; tail about 20. The female measures nearly 40 in length, the wing about 16, the tail about 14. Legs, irides and bill more or less brown; naked skin of the face whitish. Weight up to a little more than 11 lb.