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The Peacock's Tail: More Than Meets the Eye

These beautiful birds communicate with low-frequency sounds.
© Rachel Andrew View Large

When a male Indian Peafowl unfurls its magnificently-colored tail and shakes it, it creates an ultra low frequency sound that we humans can’t hear. But it seems to get the special attention of female birds, called peahens.

Today's show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

Full Transcript



The Peacock’s Tail: More Than Meets the Eye

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Indian Peafowl call,, 0.02-.06 ]

A peacock’s tail is magnificent. Four, or sometimes even five feet in length, when opened it’s an iridescent wonder, shimmering and covered in giant spots.

And, as it turns out, when it comes to that wonderful tail, there’s even more than meets the eye.
As this male Indian Peafowl quivers his outstretched tail, it creates a rustling sound, almost like a drumroll.

[Indian Peafowl male, spread tail rustling:]]

Scientists call this the peacock’s “train rattle”. You might also call it the sound of peacock love.

That train rattle is also creating a vibration in the air that we humans can’t feel. But female peacocks, or peahens, can.

That low frequency rumble hits the sweet spot - also known as the resonant frequency - of both the male’s and female’s crest feathers. They start to vibrate in unison. 

Peafowl also do a special wing shake, which seems to hit that same sweet spot. 

Scientists aren’t quite sure how the train-rattle love buzz fits into peacock mating behavior. But for the first time, we’re starting to listen in.

[train rattle again]

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

Today's show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Narrator: Mary McCann

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Paul Marvin.

Peacock tail rustle by Alea Kittell.

Special thanks to Suzanne Amador Kane and Roslyn Dakin for their recordings and assistance. and

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2019 BirdNote   July 2019

ID#  BLPE-02-2019-07-01  BLPE-02

Sights & Sounds

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