FREE RANGE PEACOCKS: Peafowl (peacocks, peahens, peachicks)
are territorial, flocking ground birds who will choose to stay where
life is good. To them, this means: 1) They arenít chased, 2) food
is good and plentiful, 3) there is open space to strut, 4) tall trees
to roost in, and 5) they like the neighbors. If all these (and maybe
more) criteria are met, free range peafowl will stay indefinitely.
But if something is lacking, or if it gets too crowded, they will set
off on foot to find a better home. Normally they fly only to roost in
trees or to escape what they can't outrun.
STAPLESMazuri Gamebird Starter Feed
White Millet seeds
Rolled Corn or Wet Cob
uncooked Elbow Macaroni
Black Oil Sunflower seeds
Grapes or Berries
Small bites of fruit
SUPPLEMENTScrushed Oyster Shell
Purina Indoor Cat Chow
Alfalfa in winter
Peafowl need lots of protein for growth and feather production.
Mazuri (Purina) Game Bird Starter, Turkey Layer or Brooder feed,
Purina Kitten Chow or Indoor Cat Chow, as well as peanuts, alfalfa,
and bugs (e.g. live mealworms from pet stores) are all high in protein.
All birds need to swallow grit (small rocks) to aid digestion and supply minerals, and they can usually find all they need from gravel roads, etc. Females and young need crushed Oyster Shell calcium to build strong bones and egg shells, and to prevent egg binding (which can be fatal). And don't forget to provide clean water at all times.
BEHAVIOR: Peafowl can fly short distances, but prefer to walk most of the time. They have acute eyesight and hearing, but are poor at discerning the direction a sound is coming from. They prefer areas of bare ground or short grass to display their tails while watching out for predators. They will perch on anything above ground to get a better view (on a car, garbage can, gate, roof, etc.), which means they will poop on it, too. Train them to stay off places you don't want them by throwing vinegar water on it. During hard rain, they will use any covered area to stay dry. They hide from hawks by going under bushes. They fly to escape ground predators, and roost in tall trees at night. They are leery of tall grass and thick brush, but will occasionally explore such areas, especially hens that are looking for hidden nest sites. Yearlings go "walkabout" in the summer, exploring the surrounding areas, often by following roads. Usually, they return by evening. Rarely, they stay away overnight. If you teach them to associate a certain call with food, and you notice early enough that they are missing, you may be able to call them back, or locate them when they answer. (Mine come running when I yodel "Yoo Hoo," which sounds somewhat like a peahens' contact call.)
POOP: If you donít like their poop, change their feed. Too much protein (turkey feed, kitten chow) makes it stink. Too much fat (sunflower seeds) makes it tar-like. Too much moisture (grapes) makes it liquid. Goat pellets (with NO molasses) seem to produce the least-offensive poop. Peacock poop as fertilizer is ďhot,Ē but what with all the rain we get in the Northwest, it hasnít been a problem for our established plants (havenít tried it on seedlings). In fact, a heavy dose of peacock poop made our hazelnut trees much more productive than ever before!
MATING: Mating season extends roughly from May through October. The males get noisy and somewhat aggressive, especially if there is more than one mature male around. Their sharp spurs can cause serious puncture wounds, and they can move faster than people can react, so take care.
EGGS: Peahens normally lay one egg every other day, until there are from 4 to 6 eggs in the nest. The nest is a simple depression in the ground, made with a few scrapes from the feet, usually hidden in tall grass or thick brush. She will not begin incubation until all are laid. If you remove them, she will choose a different spot to lay more.
Eggs are light beige, sometimes speckled (this may be dirt), and quite large (2 or 3 times the volume of a "large" store-bought chicken egg). The yolk is orange in color, and larger in proportion to the white than with chicken eggs. They stay fresh and edible up to 10 to 12 days, so you can wait to take them until she starts sitting on them full-time. Scrambled, they are delicious!
Incubation takes about 28 days, or slightly longer if the weather is cool. The hen is very vulnerable to predators during this time, as she stays on the ground all day and night. After she starts sitting full-time, you can build a temporary, 4 ft. X 4 ft. roofed cage around her, for protection. But if you try to move the nest, or disturb her too much, she will abandon the eggs. Open the cage door in the morning, so she can get out, then close it at night.
Some females will stay on the nest regardless of any threat, so be careful with the lawn mower! The hen will leave the nest for a few minutes, to eat, drink, and take a dust bath, either daily or every few days. They usually wait until the weather warms each day, then "flush" off the nest in a burst of wings and squawking, and walk around as if in a big hurry, still squawking. This is your cue to provide food. In 20 minutes or less, she will quietly sneak back to her nest. But if anyone is looking, she will circle and delay until she thinks nobody can see her as she returns to the nest and settles down on the eggs.
If you can watch her discretely, you can locate her nest. She tries to keep the nest location secret, because some male peacocks will destroy any eggs they find, and so would any watching predators. Males sometimes get upset when they are left alone because all the females are on nests. If the male keeps following the female as she tries to evade him, help her by distracting him.
A hen on a nest seems to go into a trance (perhaps her way of enduring the forced inactivity). She will hiss and peck if you try to move her to look at the eggs. So I always wait until she leaves the nest to eat, and then count (or take away) the eggs.
SEX of chicks can be influenced by how much you feed the hens. Well-fed hens tend to produce males; somewhat hungry hens tend to produce females. This may be similar to temperature-related sex determination in reptiles.
CHICKS and their mothers need to be protected from predators for the first few weeks (we train them to go inside a building at night) if you don't want to risk losing all of them. If hatched late in the season (after August), they also need protection from wet and cold until they are fully feathered, at about 3 months of age.
Newly hatched chicks don't need to eat for about 3 days, while they absorb the last of their egg yolk. Very young chicks will eat their feed (pellets or crumbles) from a shallow jar lid, moistened with hot tap water to the consistency of oatmeal. Encourage hatchlings to eat and drink by dipping their beaks in water, or sloshing their wet food in the dish (the movement attracts them).
MOLTING: Mature male peacocks lose all their fancy tail feathers (or "coverts") in a matter of a week or two in late summer. They re-grow these feathers over fall and winter, so it is important to give them extra protein (high-protein feed, peanuts, kitten food, even alfalfa) during this time, to insure a spectacular tail next spring. Chicks molt all their feathers several times during their first year, so they need extra protein as well as calcium to support this fast growth. Adult body feathers are shed and replaced at a slower pace, from 1/3 to 1/2 of all body feathers per year, mostly in the fall.
CAPTURE: First get any equipment or materials youíll need. If youíll be using an enclosed building (recommended for adult birds), make sure the peafowl canít injure themselves on sharp tools, or get stuck in small spaces or rafters, as they try to evade capture. Cardboard is handy for temporarily "peacock-proofing" a cluttered or open-rafter building. You can get large cardboard boxes for free from appliance stores like Sears.
Hatchlings can be caught in your hands, but within a week or so, they can outrun you.
Young peafowl that are still small enough can be caught in a fine-mesh net, such as a butterfly or fish net.
Adult birds are best caught by first luring them (with treats) into an enclosed building, such as a garage or barn, so they canít escape by running or flying.
If possible, it helps to dim the light to near-darkness, since peafowl donít see well in the dark. Then you can sneak up and throw a large towel or small blanket over them, making sure to cover the head. Then quickly grab the body (wings folded), turn them on one side, and restrain the feet. (This is easier with 2 people.) You could hold the covering shut to allow for quick processes like leg banding or wound treatment, but if you plan to transport the peafowl to a vet or a new home, itís better to put them in a nylon or burlap feed bag or even an old pillow case, and tie it shut. Another way to catch peafowl (still inside a building) is with a large salmon net, but they tend to get their heads and feet tangled in the netting and this can make bagging or freeing them more difficult.
INJURY: Peacocks heal very quickly from minor injuries such as cuts or scrapes. It is usually better to let them heal on their own, rather than catching them for treatment, which causes stress and risks further injury. Vet Wrap (a self-sticking, elastic material available at feed stores) can be used for bandages.
Do NOT try to blunt or trim a mature male's spurs. The quick is very close to the tip, and will bleed profusely if cut.
ILLNESS: Peacocks are very hardy, and although they are native to the sub-tropics of India and South East Asia, they can easily survive cold, harsh winters.
Egg binding is serious and is most likely to occur in spring when the first eggs are laid. If the hen has not eaten enough oyster shell calcium, the egg shell will be thin or missing, and the egg could get stuck inside her. The hen will hold her tail higher than normal (parallel to the ground instead of angled down), and drag her wings. (This is normal behavior for a day or two, but no longer, before laying an egg.) If prolonged or severe, egg binding will cause the hen to stagger and act dizzy, and she will become easy to catch. At this point, she is within hours of death, unless the egg can be expelled. Put vegetable or mineral oil in a small squeeze bottle with a squirt tip, catch her, and squirt a small amount (tablespoon) of oil inside her vent (the same hole poop comes from). Leave her alone in a warm, protected area (she is helpless at this point), and check on her every hour or so. She will either lay the egg or die.
Parasites such as ticks, lice, mites, and internal worms can be eliminated with standard cattle wormers available from your vet or on the web (e.g. www.KVvet.com or www.Amazon.com). If your peafowl's poop looks like white paint, or if you see tiny white things crawling on its face (lice), or small crab-like things on its feathers (ticks), it's time to worm.
Wear rubber gloves when handling these wormers, as they can be absorbed through your skin and make you sick. Do not worm more than once per month, nor worm chicks younger than 4 months old. Alternating wormers can help prevent drug-resistance in parasites. Do NOT let other animals (dogs, cats, etc.) drink wormer-treated water.
Ivermectin (pour-on formula): 5mg/mL strength, a blue-tinted watery liquid. Use 5cc's per gallon of water, and make sure this is the peafowls' only water source for 3 days. The pour-on type is OK to give peafowl in water. You can get a small syringe with cc markings from a vet for a few cents each. You don't need a needle.
Panacur (fenbendazole) liquid suspension 10% (100mg/mL), a creamy liquid. Shake bottle very well before using. Use 3cc's per gallon of water, and provide as their only drinking water source for 3 days.
Valbazen, a creamy liquid, is NOT recommended for peafowl, because it must be put down the throat undiluted, rather than mixed with their drinking water. This is dangerous, as putting it down the windpipe (a diamond-shaped opening in the throat, which can be closed by the bird) will cause immediate death. Valbazen requires ONE treatment only (NOT 3 days in a row), at 1cc per adult or 1/2cc per young bird (over 4 months but less than a year old). Use a syringe with a tube, and put it down the (peacock's right) side of the throat. But it's tricky to actually get such a small amount of medicine out of the tube and into the peacock. Best done by a bird vet.
Pills: If your vet recommends pills for a sick bird, they are easier to "get down the right pipe" if you slit a whole grape and hide the pill inside, then push the whole grape down the bird's throat, far enough so it can't be spit out.
Organic: In a small bowl, mix 1 Tbsp diatomaceous earth per 1/2 Cup pellets or crumbles, add hot water, and stir to make a gruel the consistency of oatmeal.
MISBEHAVIOR: If a peafowl is too insistent about getting treats, and gets too close all the time, you must teach it respect (but don't do this with chicks). First, try scolding while squirting it with a hose. If this doesn't work, escalate. Its mother or a flock-mate would jump at it with claws out, or even fight with it. But you aren't equipped to do that, so you must "punt" the peafowl (i.e., kick it with the top of your foot under its chest), enough to lift it off the ground and propel it a few feet backward. It must be very close and facing you, and you must move suddenly and without warning, so it can't dodge its punishment. The lesson is learned if the peafowl "gets the message" and moves away when you raise your foot towards it. Don't do this too often, though, or they will learn to dislike you, and may run away, or try to take revenge.
AGGRESSION: One way to discourage fighting, etc. among full-grown peafowl is to distract them with treats, or separate them by putting one in a pen until tempers cool. Another way is to squirt the naughty bird(s) with water from a hose. They hate getting wet.
Be careful of free-roaming peacocks at the zoo or other tourist areas. You can't know if the peacocks have been teased or mistreated by other visitors. Do NOT allow a too-fearless or panting peacock to come closer than 4 feet, or to circle behind you. Do NOT turn your back, or stop watching, a peacock that is too close, or you may be attacked without warning. Maintain eye contact and move farther away.
The boy in this video found out the hard way not to get too close or corner a peacock: SD Zoo Peacock Attack. He probably got half a dozen inch-deep, bloody puncture wounds on his head, neck, and shoulders. This is how peacocks defend themselves.
BERSERK MALE SYNDROME: Be wary of getting too friendly with your peafowl. Feeding them from your fingers, holding and cuddling chicks, and trying to pet older birds can set you up for injury or tragedy. Males are especially prone to develop an unhealthy, too-aggressive attitude towards people during their "teenage" period, from 6 months to 2 years old, if treated with too much familiarity. Females can become mean, too, but are less of a danger because they lack sharp spurs at maturity. Between 6 months and 2 years of age, look but don't touch. Let the flock teach the youngsters proper manners. Berserk Male Syndrome CANNOT be cured. For your own and others' safety, dangerous males must be killed.
If a peacock attacks you, or is stalking you and won't leave you alone, use a stout stick or branch to hit him on the neck hard enough to knock him down or out (but be careful not to leave yourself open while getting your weapon). Unless you win decisively, he'll just keep attacking you, relentlessly.
Berserk Male Syndrome is also found in many other species, such as horses, cattle, buffalo, llamas, and alpacas. Perhaps this is because in nature, these are all prey species, unlike dogs and cats, which are predators. Goats are an exception, and are very affectionate when bottle-raised.
ENJOY YOUR PEAFOWL! Peacocks are magically enchanting, beautiful pets, as well as funny, entertaining, and educational. Watch and listen carefully, but don't try to touch, and you'll learn a lot!