The Majestic Peacok(Mayur): Extinct in Bangladesh

Rickshwa painting
During my childhood I was given a tiny piece of a beautiful feather of a mayur, peacock, Common, Blue or Indian Peahen Pavo cristatus. This was for using as a book mark for my Holy Koran. Later I found many Hindu class fellows used the same material as book mark for their Geeta. That was my first exposure to a Mayur artifact. We have no Mayur living in the wild in Bangladesh barring a handful in some of our zoos.

Mayur was present in all the Sal forests of the country a century back. The last specimens of it were found in Bhawal-Mirzapur area of Sal forest in Dhaka during the mid-1980s. However, I and a couple of my former students failed to find any peacock in the same area during 1985-86. Mayur is such a huge, spectacular and beautiful, and raucous bird that it cannot remain hidden in any forest that we have in the country at the moment. I presumed it extinct from the nature of Bangladesh by 1983-84. Possibly half a century back it was not a rare bird in the country.

World Distribution

Mayur is a bird of the Indian subcontinent. Its distribution is unique. It's present from SE Pakistan and Nepal to India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Its range extended only up to greater Dhaka and Mymensingh districts that demarcated the easternmost boundary of the species.

Dazzling Beauty
Male Mayur is called a peacock and the female a peahen. A Mayur is a cousin of our Ban Murgi/Murag or Junglefowl. It's a large bird with a prominence of blue, green, black, grey and white bar wings with reddish edges. The blue extends from head, face, and neck to breast with two prominent white bands over the face, green back, abdomen and thighs. Peahen is less colourful. Its face, lower breast and abdomen are whitish; back of neck is greenish; back of the body and tail are pale brownish with edges of wings and tail tip deep brownish. Both have a very distinct crest over the head that is narrow at the base and wide at the top. Over all colour of this peafowl is blue-green whereas the related Sabuj Mayur, Green or Java Peafowl is basically a green bird. Its crest looks more like a pyramid that is quite opposite of the Indian peafowl. Sabuj Mayur is also extinct in Bangladesh. Because of the prominence of blue Indian Peafowl it is also called blue peacock.

Tail or Train?
The beauty of a peacock lies in its huge tail-like protrusion of a structure over the back of the tail called a 'train'. Peahen is devoid of a train. The train of the male Mayur grows only during the breeding season. Train can have 100 to150 upper tail coverts that are supported by 20 true tail feathers. All the feathers of a train are slowly dropped once the breeding season is over. Only the feathers of the train are decorated with special colour patterns resembling eyes and hence these are called eye-spots or ocelli. These make the male Mayur so beautiful.

Main function of the train is in courtship
A peacock will display its train fanning the feathers out like a huge hand-held fan. It will have a gaudy posture, step forward a bit, shake or jerk the feathers making a kind of rattling sound and approach the peahen. The peahen generally looks oblivious of the dancing male. Male dances almost for half of the daylight hours. In each dance session he might keep the train feathers upright for up to 30 minutes.

Physical Statistics
Mayur usually measures 100cm-150 cm in length, from tip of the bill to the tip of the tail. Peahen will be around 100-110 cm. But the train of a male Mayur may even be up to 200cm or 6.5 feet long. Weight ranges from 3 to 5 kg.

Mayur Society
Mayur lives in a family unit of one male, 2-3 females and some chicks. It's active by day and most food gathering takes place on the ground during morning and afternoon hours. It takes a mid-day siesta obviously on top of tree. It walks on the ground looking for seeds, grains, soft shoots, flowers and small animals. It is apt in killing snakes. Major enemy of the peafowl is the human being. Natural predator includes tigers, leopards, clouded leopard, jackals, wolves, hyaenas and pythons. Mayur will invariably roost or rest on a tree. It produces lots of very loud and raucous calls at different hours of day and night. In presence of a predator it will often produce a very loud alarm call that will send monkeys, langurs and deer run for their lives

Family Life
Mayur is known to breed just before south west monsoon sets in. Male escorts females through spectacular dances and mounts the female when she is ready. A flimsy nest is built on the ground amongst foliage or under a bush. Sometimes they use natural hollows of a tree or disused nest of vultures for this purpose. A females lays a clutch of up to six eggs in a nest. In captivity she can lay up to a dozen eggs. Eggs are creamy with a tinge of yellow or pink but always unmarked. An egg measures 7.5 cm by 5cm and weighs up to 103 grammes. Incubation is by the female and lasts usually 28 to 30days.

Newly hatched chicks look like chicken chicks and follow the parents soon after hatching. They get their own food that is guided by the parents. When two weeks old they could manage to fly and clamber over branches to reach the perch where parents roost. By third week they are capable of taking short flight. When one month old their crest starts developing and by two months they look like the peahens but half their size. Males mature and get the full plumage of the father by the fourth year when females mature by third year.

Mayur in History and Culture
Mayur has been featured in history, culture, arts and crafts not only in our parts of the world but also in many other parts. It's now known that it was first introduced into the Mesopotamian cultures more than 4,000 years ago and then into the Mediterranean area. Since that time, Mayur of many different colours and breeds have been produced by man, including mottled, white, and a black-winged variety. It's the national bird of India.

Need of the Hour

In Bangladesh we need to collect pure Indian Peafowl either from world recognised zoos or from India and Sri Lanka, breed them in semi-captive condition and then release them experimentally in some protected areas before establishing or reintroducing it in its former or newly created, man-made forests with proper monitoring. Also zoos need to be encouraged to collect and breed pure peafowl so that people could be made aware of the sad plight of this majestic bird.
(Dr. Reza Khan, The Daily Star, September 19, 2003.)

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