There are few sights more impressive and stunning than a peacock spreading out its feathers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it more times than I can remember. From Indian Blue and Green Peacocks to a pure white peacock - which was absolutely magical.
In this post, I’m covering some of the terminology used when describing peacocks and how they spread their feathers:
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What Is It Called When a Peacock Spreads Its Feathers?
When a peacock spreads its feathers, it’s simply called a ‘display’ or a ‘fan’, and their feathers are called a ‘train’ when not spread out.
The reason for these terms is that when a peacock is walking around, its long tail feathers - which can span 6 feet in length - look like a train.
You may know this term from wedding dresses and other garments that drag on the floor behind a person, it’s the same thing.
When a peacock spreads out their feathers, it’s often called a fan because it looks exactly like a large hand fan.
The kind you use to create a nice breeze by shaking it back and forth.
Another word you’ll hear when a peacock is spreading its feathers is that they’re displaying.
This term comes from the fact that peacocks open up their tail feathers as a way of attracting a mate - a form of displaying.
Related - Here's how to make a peacock spread its feathers (or not).
What Does It Mean When a Peacock Shake Its Feathers?
There are two main reasons why peacocks fan out and shake their feathers; to attract a mate and to look bigger when they feel threatened.
Each of these reactions is obviously caused by very different situations, and peacocks use their feathers in different ways depending on the situation.
Shaking Feathers to Attract a Mate
Peacocks tend to shake their iridescent tail feathers more when they’re trying to attract a peahen.
It’s a fascinating process to watch, during courtship a peacock will spread its feathers out and start shaking or vibrating them to attract the attention of a peahen.
They will also strut around and even perform an elaborate dance!
The microscopic structures on the barbs of the feathers help to create the spectacular iridescent blues and greens.
Interestingly, the eye pattern in the feathers seems to stay fairly still while the feathers are vibrating. It’s almost hypnotic if you watch it.
Want to see this spectacular performance yourself? Here is a video of a peacock shaking its feathers at peahens:
Shaking Feathers to Scare Off Predators
All animals that live in the wild need to have some form of defense against predators.
For peacocks, this means fanning out their tail feathers and shaking them to look as big as possible to scare off predators.
They will even charge at predators, and equipped with very sharp beaks and talons, peacocks are capable of doing some serious damage.
Either way, if a peacock is shaking its feathers at you, it’s advisable you do not get too close!
How Do Peacocks Spread Their Wings?
There is a common misconception that peacocks cannot fly, and I’ve even heard people say that peacocks do not have wings.
Both of these accounts are incorrect.
Peacocks do, in fact, have wings. They are perfectly capable of spreading their wings out, and get ready for this - peacocks can in fact fly.
They can’t fly very far, however, and it's very unlikely you’re going to see one gliding overhead anytime soon.
The bottom line is that peacocks are able to spread their wings and fly short distances.
So, Why Don’t Peacocks Fly Much?
The reason why they aren’t great at flying is similar to that of other flightless birds like penguins, ostriches, and emus - evolution and natural selection have set out other plans for them.
Peacocks are perfectly adept at surviving without being able to fly long distances.
Instead, they’ve been increasing the size of their tail feathers over thousands of years adding to their overall weight and reducing how aerodynamic they are.
Related - Read more about how well peacocks can swim.
Do Peacocks Spread Their Feathers to Scare Predators?
Peacocks do spread their feathers to scare predators away, yes.
It’s common in the animal kingdom to make oneself appear as big as possible to try and intimidate or scare away predators.
Few animals can fan out 6 feet tall feathers and make themselves appear as large as peacocks do, and it's proven to be quite effective!
If it does come down to having to fight a predator, peacocks have some pretty good weapons.
They have sharp, tough beaks, as well as sharp talons and spurs. Spurs are basically a sharp thorn-like claw above a peacock’s ankle.
Roosters and some other birds also have spurs as a form of defense. They’re able to use them to slash and wound predators if need be.
Although territorial and defensive of their party or ostentation, peacocks will often choose to avoid a fight or charge at predators in hope of scaring them away,
Now you know - a peacock’s tail feathers are called a train, and when they spread out their feathers it’s called either a fanning, or displaying.
If you’re yet to witness a peacock spreading out its feathers in real life, I hope you get the opportunity to witness this at some point.
Image credits - Photo by Ivan Botha on Unsplash