Indian peafowl, often referred to as “peacocks” (in truth that name should be applied to males only) are one the earliest species to have been established in aviculture, and still among the most desired. Despite their great space requirements and the loud calls of the males (one community in a NYC suburb passed an ordinance requiring surgical “silencing” of pet males’ vocal cords!), they remain quite popular in this country.
A group of 60 or so has roamed the grounds of the Bronx Zoo for decades. Although equipped with well-developed powers of flight, the birds simply do not leave the zoo grounds. Perhaps it is the un-inviting Bronx streets that dissuade them – although such did not deter a huge saurus crane, but that story is for another time!
Wild turkeys also inhabit the forested areas of the zoo’s 265 acres. Some years ago I noticed that a young turkey, separated from its mother, had taken up with a brood of peafowl. He followed the female about as if she were his own mother, and roosted with the family at night. Turkeys and peafowl, despite hailing from very different parts of the world, are related (both are members of the order Galliformes) and share many traits.
As the bird matured, he began sparring with male peafowl as opposed to male turkeys. One day a visitor alerted me to a “murder” in progress – a male peafowl stood over the turkey, pummeling the prostate bird and drawing blood with his sharp leg spurs. The turkey was fully alert and turned out to be not badly hurt (when I rescued him, receiving a gash for my efforts), but had seemed paralyzed and unwilling to fight back.
An older bird keeper provided an explanation of this odd behavior – as do many animals, turkeys utilize a submissive posture when they have lost a battle, thereby ending hostilities without serious injury. The turkey had apparently lain flat on the ground in an attempt to give up, but this had only spurred his enemy to further aggression. Peafowl and turkeys are related enough for males to view each other as rivals – yet not so close as to recognize each other’s behavioral signals.
As for the turkey, the lesson seemed only to confuse him further – he soon found small children easier targets than peafowl, and began running them down during the breeding season! He eventually found a home among a group of domestic turkeys at a local nature center where, hopefully, he sorted out his identity crisis.