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Peacocks orient their courtship displays towards the sun

Abstract

We studied two courtship displays of male peafowl (Pavo cristatus), focusing particularly on male orientation relative to the position of the sun. During the “wing-shaking” display, females were generally behind the displaying male, and male orientation with respect to the position of the sun was not significantly different from random. However, during the pre-copulatory “train-rattling” display, males were on average directed at about 45° to the right of the sun azimuth with the female positioned directly in front, suggesting that this behaviour is involved in the communication of a visual signal. A model presentation experiment confirmed that courting peacocks were more likely to perform the train-rattling display when the female was on the sunny side of their erect train, but more likely to perform wing-shaking behaviour when the female was on the shaded side of the male. This study underscores the importance of visual signalling in peafowl courtship, and we suggest that an angle of about 45° relative to the sun may allow males to enhance the appearance of their iridescent eyespot feathers.

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Acknowledgement

We thank the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Los Angeles Arboretum and Bronx Zoo for logistic support and Robert Ewart, Jason Clarke and Lori Parker for assistance in the field. Vanya Rohwer expertly prepared the model peahen, and Nick Roberts helped us understand the nature of polarized light cues. We thank Barrie Frost for his helpful suggestions. Funding was provided by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) scholarship and the Society for Canadian Ornithologists' Fred Cooke Award to RD and by NSERC Discovery and equipment grants to RM.

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Correspondence to Roslyn Dakin.

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Communicated by I. Cuthill

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Adult peacock displays. This video clip begins with a male at the Bronx Zoo (BZ, May 2008) displaying his train with no females in view then continues with a male at the Los Angeles Arboretum (LAA, March 2008) displaying to a female, first performing the wing-shaking display followed by train-rattling once the target female is in front of his erect train. The vibrating feathers can be heard during the train-rattling display.(MP4 4950 kb)

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Dakin, R., Montgomerie, R. Peacocks orient their courtship displays towards the sun. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 63, 825–834 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-009-0717-6

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Keywords

  • Peacock
  • Signal efficacy
  • Display
  • Courtship