What a Peahen Really Watches When a Peacock Tries to Impress Her

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When a peacock fans his plumage and struts his stuff, it’s an impressive sight. Or so it appears to us humans. What really matters, of course, is what the female he’s trying to impress makes of it. In a new study, scientists mounted tiny eye-tracking cameras on the heads of peahens to try to get inside their minds as they watched males’ courtship displays.


The findings suggest that what a female pays attention to when she sizes up a potential mate isn’t what some researchers had thought.

All those dramatic eyespots? Meh. But the width of his feather train? She’s definitely checking that out. And when he turns around and shakes his tail feathers? That’s totally hot.

The peacock’s tail gave Darwin fits. At first, it seemed to fly in the face of his theory of natural selection. How could evolution possibly favor such cumbersome and conspicuous accoutrement? The very sight of those feathers, Darwin famously wrote to a colleague, made him sick. He soon realized, however, that the feathers might serve another purpose: enhancing the male’s reproductive success even as they made him more visible and vulnerable to predators. The concept of sexual selection was born, and the peacock’s tail remains a textbook example of it to this day.

But exactly what it is about the male’s display that females find attractive is far less clear.

Written By: Greg Miller
continue to source article at wired.com

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  1. It looks to me like the peacock seems to know the correct distance to stand away from the peahen. I raise chickens and they are very sensitive to movement. I think he’s taking up as much area as possible to block any distractions. You can see the reaction to the rodent. If anything behind the peacock goes unnoticed it helps his chances to continue the dance and show her his ass. I am curious if there is any study on the sounds it amplifies, blocks or reflects. Maybe it reflects her own sounds back to her? Maybe deadening of sound helps attract. Also smells can be trapped and concentrated in an area if you can control the wind from blowing them away. Great Link! Thank You!

  2. I don’t see why should would have to stare at the spots to support their importance. They create a pattern, and if that pattern isn’t pleasing, it will put the peahen off. She won’t be counting the spots, but she’ll notice the poor pattern caused by too few of them.

    I also see a problem with assuming that she’s not looking at anything in the peripheral field.

    The only real way to figure out what the peahen is thinking would be some kind of neural analysis, like seeing which neurons mapping to what she sees trigger the most activity elsewhere. No doubt that ranges from extremely difficult to practically impossible.

  3. Our peacock displays for hours each day but he doesn’t always display to the hens. He rather fancies a wormwood bush in the yard. As yet neither the bush nor the hens have responded to his advances.

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