(Pavo cristatus, Linn.—Le Paon, Buff.)
TO describe the inimitable beauties of this bird, in adequate terms, would be a task of no small difficulty. "Its matchless plumage," says Buffon, "seems to combine all that delights the eye in the soft and delicate tints of the finest flowers, all that dazzles it in the sparkling lustre of the gems, and all that astonishes it in the grand display of the rainbow." Its head is adorned with a tuft, consisting of twenty-four feathers, whose slender shafts are furnished with webs only at the ends, painted with the most exquisite green, mixed with gold: the head, throat, neck, and breast, are of a deep blue glossed with green and gold; the back of the same, tinged with bronze; the scapulars and lesser wing coverts reddish cream colour, variegated with black; the middle coverts deep blue, glossed with green and gold; the greater coverts and bastard wing reddish brown, as are also the quills, some of which are variegated with black and green; the belly and vent are black, with a greenish hue; but the distinguishing character of this singular bird is its train, which rises above the tail, and, when erected, forms a fan of the most resplendent hues: the two middle feathers are sometimes four feet and a half long, the others gradually diminishing on each side; the shafts, which arc white, are furnished from their origin nearly to the end, with parted filaments of varying colours ending in a flat vane, which is decorated with what is called the eye. "This is a brilliant spot, enamelled with the most enchanting colours; yellow, gilded with various shades; green, running into blue and bright violet, varying according to its different positions; the whole receiving additional lustre from the colour of the centre, which is a fine velvet black." When pleased or delighted, and in the sight of his females, the Peacock erects his train, and displays the majesty of his beauty: all his movements are full of dignity; his head and neck bend nobly back; his pace is slow and solemn, and he frequently turns slowly and gracefully round, as if to catch the sunbeams in every direction and produce new colours of inconceivable richness, accompanied at the same time with a hollow murmuring voice. The cry of the Peacock, at other times, especially on a summer evening and night, is often repeated, and is very disagreeable.
The Peahen is somewhat less than the cock, and though furnished both with a train and crest, is destitute of those dazzling beauties by which be is distinguished. She lays five or six whitish eggs, in some secret spot, where she can conceal them from the male, who is apt to break them: she sits from twenty-five to thirty days, according to the temperature of the climate or season.These birds were originally brought from the distant parts of India, and thence have been diffused over the civilized world. The first notice of them is to be found in holy writ,* where we are told they made part of the cargoes or the valuable fleet which every three years imported the treasures of the East to Solomon's court. They are sometimes found wild in many parts of Asia and Africa: the largest and finest are said to be met with in the neighbourhood of the Ganges, and on the fertile plains of India, where they attain a great size: under the influence of that climate this beautiful bird exhibits its dazzling colours, which seem to vie with the gems and precious stones produced in those delightful regions. In colder climates they require great care in rearing, and do not obtain their full plumage till the third year. Though rarely brought to the table now, they were in former times considered a delicacy, and made a part of the luxurious entertainments of the Roman voluptuaries.
The females sometimes assume the plumage of the male; this is said to take place after they have done laying. A bird of this kind is preserved in the British Museum.
White Peacocks are not uncommon in England; the eyes of the train are barely visible, and may be traced by a different undulation of shade upon the pure white of the tail.
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