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Friday, October 25, 2013

Do Peacocks Mate For Life?

"Do peacocks mate for life?" With bird-watching being such a popular hobby, the Newton Falls Public Library has quite a few books on birds that we were able to look through to find the answer.

The first thing we learned was that "peacock" technically refers to the male. Females are called "peahens," and collectively, they're called "peafowl." (Even the babies have a special name: "peachicks"!) Given the mutability of the English language, "peacock" is often used interchangeably for both the male and female birds. Still, when we hear the word, it's more often the male that comes to mind, with his characteristic splendid tail. Peahens are more drab, with primarily taupe feathers and shorter tails.

The Palomar Audubon Society has a list of collective nouns for birds. Like a group of wolves is called a pack and a group of lions is called a pride, a group of peafowl is called either a muster or an ostentation. Since "ostentation" is defined by as "a display intended to impress others," it's certainly appropriate.

According to "Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World," published by the Reader's Digest Association, while many birds are monogamous, it's an old wives' tale that birds are always faithful. They might change partners from year to year, or even within a season. Peacocks aren't actually monogamous at all. A male will collect a harem of up to five peahens, each of which will lay, on average, four to six eggs. "Beautiful Birds" by Alvin Silverstein tells us that peafowl don't build elaborate nests. Instead, they scratch out a hole in the ground and line it with sticks and leaves. The peahens sit on the eggs by themselves, without help from the peacocks.

Fortunately for romantics, there are a few species of bird that are known to choose the same mate from year to year. According to "Bird Behavior" by Robert Burton, birds that return to the same nesting place stand a good chance of returning to the same mate. Also, if a pair is successful in hatching healthy chicks, they're more likely to partner up again. Swans, geese, and several seabirds (including gulls, albatrosses, and gannets) tend to be most loyal, with many of them pairing up for life.

For more information on avian courtship, Jean Leveille's "Birds in Love: The Secret Courting and Mating Rituals of Extraordinary Birds" is available through CLEVNET and Marie Winn's "Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park" is here at the Newton Falls Public Library.

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