Peafowl species, colors, patterns and varieties
Joshua R Nelson
Rocking B-A-B Ranch
The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with a simplified explanation of the current knowledge of peafowl species, colors, patterns and varieties. This article is aimed at beginner peafowl breeders and enthusiasts in hope that it will give you a better understanding of peafowl.
The two species of peafowl most commonly bred in captivity are the Pavo cristatus and the Pavo muticus peafowl; better known as the India Blue and Green peafowl. Both species of peafowl are native to South Asia. The green peafowl, Pavo muticus, consists of three very similar, but distinct subspecies including Pavo muticus-muticus, Pavo muticus-imperator, and Pavo muticus-spicifer. These subspecies may also be known by their English terms Javanese Green (m. muticus), Indo-Chinese Green (m. imperator), and Burmese Green (m. spicifer) peafowl. Although many experts agree that there are several more subspecies of Green peafowl, as many as 10, identification of the three most common is sufficient for this article. The three subspecies of Green peafowl are very similar in appearance and can be differentiated by an experienced breeder or most accurately by DNA testing. Most people refer to the Green peafowl generically as Java Greens, which is inaccurate, but for the purpose of this article I will refer to them simply as Green peafowl. I will also be referring to the species Pavo Cristatus simply as India Blues.
There are 13 different colors of peafowl in addition to the India Blue and the Green. The neck of the cock bird most often determines the color of the bird. Therefore, as most of you know, the India Blue peacock is blue and the Greens are green. So, where did all the other colors come from? All other colors of peafowl are the result of genetic mutations that have occurred in the India Blue peafowl. A mutation occurs in the genetic makeup of a bird that affects the coloring of the feathers and results in different colored peafowl. The chance of a genetic mutation occurring is 1 in 1,000,000 and most of them go unnoticed. However, there are 13 known distinct color mutations that have occurred in the India Blue peafowl. These colors, although not all yet recognized by the UPA, are White, Cameo, Purple, Charcoal, Opal, Buford Bronze, Peach, Midnight, Jade, Taupe, Sonja’s Violeta, Hazel and Indigo. These colors are the outcome of mutations that have occurred in the India Blue peafowl, (which if you recall is a different species than the Green peafowl), and as a result are all recessive colors. Recessive means that if these colored birds are bred to an India Blue, the dominant color Blue would be expressed and all the offspring would look like India Blue peafowl (some exceptions apply as in sex linked genes, but this is not an article on genetics). There are no records of any color mutations occurring in the Green peafowl. Although there have been rumors of a white mutation, I have yet to see any convincing evidence thereof.
In summary, all peafowl currently known are one of two species P. Cristatus or P. Muticus and can be categorized as being one of these thirteen color mutations: White, Cameo, Purple, Charcoal, Opal, Bronze, Peach, Midnight, Jade, Taupe, Sonja’s Violeta, Hazel, Indigo or one of the two natural occurring colors: India Blue or Green. These thirteen color mutations plus the two wild occurring colors make the 15 possible peafowl colors.
Another differentiating physical trait in peafowl is known as the body pattern. Patterns and colors refer to two very different aspects of peafowl and genetically act completely separate from one another. Peafowl can carry and express a particular body pattern and it will not effect the identifying color of the cock birds neck. A body pattern can be described as the way the colors of the peafowl’s body feathers are patterned. For example, the India Blue peafowl have what is called a barred wing pattern. This is the distinctive vertical black and white zebra like stripes on the wings. A peacock’s wings are also commonly referred to as the shoulders. The barred wing pattern is the original pattern and is present in the two wild occurring species birds. This barring pattern is present in the Green peafowl, but usually only occurs on the inner most feathers of the wings, is much darker in color, and is far less distinctive than on the India Blues.
Much like color mutations described in the previous section, there have been four known pattern mutations that have occurred in the India Blue peafowl. These four pattern mutations are known as Black shoulder (Solid winged), Pied, White-eyed, and Silver pied. The Black shoulder pattern mutation changes the pattern of the wings of the India Blue cock bird from barred to solid colored. It effects the hens by changing their overall body from a brownish color to a creamy white with colored speckles throughout the body, but the identifying color on the back of the hens neck remains the same.
The Pied pattern mutation creates a lack of pigmentation in the bird’s feathers and causes the birds to have random splotches of white throughout the entire body, both on the hen and the cock. Pied birds are most frequently about 60% colored and 40% white.
The White-eyed pattern mutation causes the ocellis, or eyes, in the cock’s train to be white. It also causes a varying number of body feathers to either be white or turn white as it matures. The White-eyed pattern mutation is much less distinct in the hen because of the lack of a train, but does cause some body feathers to turn white and gives the overall tone of the body a frosted look. This frosty look is also present in the cock birds. The easiest way to identify the white-eyed gene in hens is to look for the distinctive flickering of white at the end of body feathers that are usually spread throughout the bird’s body. The White-eyed gene is more complicated than what is discussed in this article, but this information gives you a general idea of how it works and how to identify it.
The Silver pied pattern mutation is much like the pied gene, but in most cases causes the bird to only be about 10% colored and 90% white. This gives the bird an appearance of being white with colored splotches, rather than colored with white splotches as seen in the Pied pattern. The Silver pied gene works in conjunction with the White-eyed gene and causes the India Blue hen’s body color to look silver, hence the name Silver pied. Silver Pied birds also have a tendency to get whiter as they grow in age. Much like the White-eyed gene, the Silver Pied gene is complicated. A peacock can be white-eyed without being silver pied, but all silver pied birds are carrying the white-eyed gene. This information is intended to give you a general understanding.
Interestingly a single bird can have numerous body patterns, which can be referred to as combination patterns. For example, you can have an India Blue bird with the Black shoulder and the Pied body pattern. If you consider the original barred wing pattern and the four pattern mutations the following is a list of all the possible body patterns and combination patterns: Barred wing, Barred wing pied, Barred wing White-eyed, Barred wing Pied White-eyed, Barred wing Silver pied, Black shoulder, Black shoulder pied, Black shoulder White-eyed, Black shoulder Pied White-eyed, and Black shoulder Silver pied. If you recall patterns work separately from colors, so it is possible to have all of these patterns and pattern combinations bred into each of the nine color mutations and the India Blue. These unique combinations of colors and patterns are what we refer to as peafowl varieties, which will be explained in the next section. As with color mutations, there are no known pattern mutations that have occurred in the Green peafowl, so it is not possible to have any of these pattern mutations in a pure Green bird without first breeding it to a bird from the India Blue species, which in doing so produces a hybrid bird.
The varieties of peafowl refer to all of the unique combinations of species, colors, and patterns. With each different combination of species, color, and pattern, a new variety of peafowl is created. For example, the India Blues are considered one variety of peafowl, the Whites are considered another variety, the Cameo Pieds are considered a variety, the three subspecies of Greens are all considered different varieties, and the cross between the India Blue and the Green species is considered a variety of peafowl. The two wild occurring species of peafowl, India Blue and Green, were the first two varieties of peafowl available, naturally. A new variety was created when a lady by the name of Mrs. Spalding bred the two species, an India Blue and a Green, together and produced a hybrid bird known as a Spalding. The Blue Spalding is now known as its own variety. Now the term “Spalding” simply refers to any bird that originated from the India Blue species, meaning the India Blue or any of the nine color mutations, crossed with any of the three subspecies of Green peafowl.
With each new mutation, whether it is a color or a pattern mutation, there are dozens of new varieties of peafowl possible. When considering all the mutations that have occurred, the varieties of peafowl have been greatly multiplied. Given the India Blue and the nine color mutations, which you may recall are White, Purple, Cameo, Charcoal, Opal, Bronze, Peach, Midnight, and Jade, it is possible to cross each colored bird with the Green and make a Spalding variety in each of those ten colors. Combinations such as those give you varieties like the Blue Spalding, White Spalding, Cameo Spalding and so on. It is also achievable to breed all of the possible body patterns and pattern combinations into all ten colors, as well as the Spalding varieties. For example: Blue pied, Blue White-eyed, Blue Pied White-eyed, Blue Silver pied, Blue Black shoulder (simply referred to as Black shoulder), Black shoulder pied, Black shoulder White-eyed, Black shoulder Pied White-eyed, Black shoulder Silver pied, Blue Spalding (simply referred to as Spalding), Spalding pied, Spalding White-eyed, Spalding pied White-eyed, Spalding Silver pied, Cameo Black Shoulder (formerly known as Oaten), Cameo pied, Cameo White-eyed, and the list goes on and on and on. A complete list of peafowl varieties can be seen on the UPA web page www.peafowl.org.
In conclusion, there are two popular species of peafowl bred in captivity, the India Blue (Pavo cristatus) and the Greens (Pavo muticus). There are 15 known colors of peafowl: Blue, Green, White, Purple, Cameo, Charcoal, Opal, Bronze, Peach, Midnight, Jade, Taupe, Sonja’s Violeta, Hazel and Indigo. There are five known body patterns, Barred wing, Black shoulder, Pied, White-eyed, and Silver pied. Considering all these color and pattern combinations there are 185 varieties of peafowl possible. Many of these varieties have not yet been developed and it will take the dedication and aspiration of peafowl breeders like you and I to see these birds in our future. My hope is that most of you gained a much better understanding of peafowl species, colors, patterns and varieties and that this article was informative. I owe many, many thanks to all the wonderful people who have shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience about peafowl with me, THANK YOU ALL!