Yes, These Birds Can Be Handsome AND Good At Other Stuff, Too
No other animal demonstrates flashy mating skills quite like the peacock. Shimmying their iridescent tail feathers - which can fan out to 5 feet long - peacocks don't skimp on the flair as they try to woo mates. And it turns out beauty doesn't come at a great sacrifice for these showy birds.
A peacock checks to see if a peahen is all about that bass. (Youtube: Lastwildernessmedia)
Biologists dating back to Charles Darwin have noted that the most heavily ornamented peacocks, their avian rumps sprouting giant feathers, must be at a disadvantage when it comes to survival. (Darwin once remarked that the mere sight of a peacock's feather, considering how much energy such a tail must cost to maintain, "makes me sick.")
A colorful peacock. (Flickr: Joey Gannon CC BY-SA 2.0)
Female peafowl - called peahens - aren't so gaudy. (Wikimedia: Ltshears)
A new study by University of Leeds researcher Graham Askew, however, indicates that long tail feathers don't impair the birds' flight skills as much as thought. The scientist filmed male peacocks in flight, before and after trimming the peacock's train. (The birds naturally moult their tail feathers seasonally, which then grow back for the next breeding period.)
(Wikimedia: Servophbabu CC BY-SA 3.0)
The long tail has a negligible effect on the amount of energy the birds use to take off from the ground. "These birds do not seem to be making quite the sacrifices to look attractive we thought they were," Askew says in a statement. "Intuitively you expect that the train would detrimentally affect flight performance and so not finding a detectable effect was a bit surprising."
It remains to be seen if tail feathers affect a peacock's in-flight stability or running speeds, Askew points out. And sporting such impressive feathers - a single quill can weigh 10 ounces - doesn't come completely for free: A peacock uses about 3 percent of his caloric intake each day to grow his train.