Peacocks in a Northern Spring, you are so handsome and attractive; so colourful and fancy. Peahens plain and grey as they are, you still fall in love with. Yet we humans have fallen for you, gloriously crowned peacocks…
The peacock contains spectacular beauty because of its large feathers, bright, iridescent colours and intricate patterns. The colours in the tail feathers are dazzling, produced by an optical effect called thin-film interference. The eye pattern has a high degree of brightness and precision because the colour-producing mechanisms contain an optimum design.
Most birds have two types of tail feather: flight feathers and tail-coverts. The flight feathers provide stability during flight, while the tail-coverts ‘cover’ and protect the tail region. In the vast majority of birds, the tail-coverts are small feathers, just a few centimetres long. However, some birds like the peacock have very large tail-coverts for decorative purposes. These decorative feathers are also known as ornamental feathers.
When a peacock displays his tail feathers during courtship, a magnificent fan formation of feathers creates a beautiful backdrop to his body. An adult peacock has an average of 200 tail feathers and these are shed and re-grown annually. Of the 200 feathers, 170 are ‘eye’ feathers and 30 are ‘T’ feathers. The ‘eyes’ are sometimes referred to as ocellations.
The colours in the peacock are a marvel because they are iridescent. An iridescent colour is one that changes with the angle of view. The colours are not produced by pigments but by an optical effect that takes place deep within each feather’s structure.
However it is not just its physical perfection that makes the peacock so fascinating…
You see, peacocks are able to kill poisonous snakes while being impervious to their poison. It is told in Buddhist stories that peacocks possess the power to transmute poison into the beautiful colours found in their feathers. Such medicinal and alchemical symbolism is strong and it is therefore taught that we mortals can thus turn anger and other mental poisons into the righteous path through the elixir of bodhichitta.
In Buddhism the peacock supports the throne of Amitabha, the red Buddha of the west (think passion love, vital fluids, evening twilight, summer and fire). And since the peacock is the mortal enemy of snakes he can transmute its poison into amrita or nectar.
This is tied to Lord Shiva getting a blue throat from taking the poison produced by the churning of the ocean; thus the transmutation of poison or venom by the peacock is said to produce the electric blue of its throat plumage and the wisdom eyes of its tail feathers.
Handsome, beautiful and strong. The dashing peacock: every drab peahen’s dreamboat…