Female Indian Peafowl Prejudiced Against Albino Offspring

posted in: Morphology-Develop. | 8

“I had the opportunity to stay at the The Sentosa resort, just opposite the clubhouse of the Sentosa Golf Club over the weekend.

“The Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) population on the island has been skyrocketing since the initial population that went feral after the old Coralarium went bust.

“During our stay, my kids fed the peacocks every day. We came across a hen with 3 chicks one of which was an albino.

“My father who is a religious golfer every Sunday at Sentosa says that albino chicks are quite common, but he has not seen an albino adult. Which proves the point which I am about to talk about.

“During our morning encounters with the hen and chicks. I set out to show my kids that all parents are the same, they will do whatever it takes to protect their young. I have often told them about my episode with a very determined chicken (hen) that flew over a tall hedge and attacked me from above in a bid to rescue her chick which was in my hand.

“We often tried to isolate the chicks from the hen only to find the hen coming back and trying her very best to regroup with her young.

“Whenever we isolated a normal pigmented chick, she would invariably come back for it despite having the other normal chick and the albino chick with her already. However this was not the case when we isolated the albino chick. The hen would not come back for it like she would the other two.

“She would move off with the other two chicks in tow. It was up to the albino chick’s own effort to get back to the mother.

“To be absolutely sure of the observation, I repeated it over a few days. Isolating the albino chick first, then the normal coloured chick. And then vice versa.

“In all cases. The mother did not come back for the albino.

“It is clear enough to me that the mother [Indian Peafowl] is prejudiced against the albino chick. The poorer condition of its plumage compared to its siblings shows that it is set on an uphill task to survive from day one. The hen simply tolerates its presence but does not treat it the same as the other two.

“The albino chick is often lagging behind but its will to keep up is very strong (top left).

“The second picture (top right) shows the mother already walking away with the two normal chicks. The albino chick was isolated and cornered for a while and making distress calls. The mother did not come back for it. We let it go on its way before things get out of hand.”

Jeremy Lee
Singapore
18th June 2012

8 Responses

  1. […] Albinos?Do Peafowls Hate Albinos? By Corey • June 20, 2012 • No comments yetShareTweetA fascinating post at Bird Ecology Study Group about a series of observations of an Indian Peafowl that was more than […]

  2. Thong Chow Ngian

    Good observation.

  3. Maya Ruettger-Cruciana

    It is my understanding that albinos of many species (not just in birds) are often at a disadvantage for survival. Sometimes this may be because their white color makes them conspicuous to predators, or it can be related to physiological weaknesses associated with albinism such as lack of protective eye or skin pigment. Reduced survival prospects (even with her best care) may be why the mother peafowl feels the albino chick is not worth her effort to protect and rear? Just a guess.

    I’m a naturalist in the northeastern U.S. working mostly with raptors, and have seen photos of a fair number of adult leucistic Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) in this country who seem to be surviving well, but in their case the eye pigments are normal. True albino hawks appear to be much rarer, probably for a variety of reasons.

    Your observations about the peafowl family are quite interesting; thanks for sharing them.

  4. I tried not too speculate too much about the other physical or physiological effects of this individual albino peafowl chick.

    My only initial thoughts were that the maternal instinct would be strong that it would treat all the offspring equally.

    A point that I was actually trying to impress upon my kids who were also present. (I have already been accused of being harder on my son than on muy daughters, and my wife guilty of the opposite.So I took it as a good chance to cast my point in stone with the help of nature’example.

    I did not expect the result of my small experiment to be so different from what I had anticipated to be.

    Some well known victims of nest parasites have raised chicks that’s are so different in shape and size, treating them like their very own offspring. so why should a peafowl discriminate an albino chick?Maybe just the difference in colour was sufficient for it to treat it differently from the other two chicks.

    That was why I repeated to experiment over a few daysisolating different chicks just to make sure I wasn’t biased in the observation.

    Amazing how nature still keeps you wondering. When you think you already have the answers.

  5. Oh yes. I nearly forgot to mention why I had no pictures taken of the instances where I isolated a normal coloured chick. …… the mother was really close by and making her displeasure felt. I had to make sure my own kids did not get attacked by an angry female peafowl intent on protecting her young.

  6. I haven’t been to Sentosa for ages but I wonder where do all the matured albino peacocks end up? Do they all survived to adulthood and roam the island free or are they taken away by the staff as its a ‘rare’ find on the island?

    • Haniman says: “I wonder where do all the matured albino peacocks end up? Do they all survived to adulthood and roam the island free or are they taken away by the staff […] ?”

      Jeremy’s post about the peahen’s blithe tolerance (note: not acceptance or protection) of its albino chick suggests that albino chicks generally do not get to survive to reach maturity. Hence albino adult peacocks haven’t been sighted on Sentosa, even though albino chicks are reportedly quite common amongst the inbreeding peacock population on the island.

  7. Jeremy — Thanks for sharing what turns out to be a poignant observation of calculated maternal indifference. I wonder if the non-acceptance of albino/ leucistic offspring might be more prevalent amongst bird species where plumage exhibitionism is deemed important — say, as compared to the relatively drab-looking rock pigeon or mynah ?

    Unfortunately, even amongst humans, NOT all parents would treat/protect their offspring equally, as well as provide them with equal care & opportunities. This is particularly so, when the child is different in some obvious (or not so obvious) way, &/or is unable to conform to some kind of cultural ideal. In such cases, it becomes very apparent that the child’s presence is merely being tolerated. At the end of the day, these intentionally-negligent parents genuinely could not care less (or would even be privately pleased), if the outcast child were to go missing, run over by a vehicle, or end up dead.

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