India is home to some of the world’s most colorful birds, including the Himalayan monal, Indian roller, and Western tragopan. Myna birds also have strong associations with India, and flamingos are seen in vast numbers in coastal lagoons on the country’s western coast.
But what is India’s national bird? Keep reading and all will be revealed!
The Indian peafowl was named India’s official national bird in 1963. Males are known as peacocks and females as peahens, but the generic ‘peacock’ is commonly used to refer to both sexes. Peacocks are important in Hindu beliefs and Buddhist traditions, and are a national symbol of grace and beauty.
Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) are found across India, with population numbers estimated to be at least 100,000 in the wild.
Recognized worldwide for the unmistakable and impressive tail feather display of an adult male peacock, together with its revered cultural and religious status, perhaps it is no surprise that such an iconic bird was chosen to be India’s official avian representative.
Read on if you’re interested in finding out more about the flamboyant Indian peafowl and the symbolic meanings associated with these majestic birds.
The national bird for India, the Indian Peafowl (Peacock)
When choosing a species as its national representative bird, the country’s government consider the following criteria:
The Indian peafowl was declared to have met these criteria on various levels, and was officially designated with “national bird status” in 1963.
Peacocks have a rich heritage in Indian culture and legend. In many ancient legends, peacocks are associated with being able to forecast rain, and are said to dance when a storm or shower is on the horizon. This mystical power is retold in legends passed down through generations in rich oral tradition.
Peacocks also feature prominently in ancient Indian art and literature, and have strong associations for followers of different faiths, offering an appeal across all areas of society. Peacocks represent wisdom in Buddhism. In Hinduism, the birds are held in high esteem, with associations with Lord Krishna and the god Kartikeya.
Indian peafowl are widespread across the country, and their population numbers give them the conservation status as a species of least concern. However, their status as a national bird gives them additional protection against hunting.
Peacocks are synonymous with grace, beauty and poise, positive attributes that the Indian government decided matched the nation’s profile perfectly. Its instantly recognizable shape lends itself well to use as a logo or motif on official documentation or signage.
No other country has the Indian peafowl as its national bird, securing its iconic status with no possibility of confusion with other nations’ national symbols.
Close up of a Indian Peafowl head
The Indian peafowl was announced as the national bird of India on February 1, 1963. However, peacocks have long since been incorporated into many elements of Indian life and society, including coinage, architecture, fabric design and postage stamps.
Even before this official status was designated, peacocks had been traditionally associated with Indian royalty for many centuries, with a prime example being the ornate Peacock Throne, designed and built for Emperor Shah Jahan in the early 17th-century.
The throne, which was lost after the Persian invasion of India in 1739, featured a design of two peacocks, covered in gold and precious jewels.
The Indian government chose the peafowl as its national bird, after setting out a series of criteria that any successful candidate species needed to meet.
Male Indian Peafowl (Peacock) foraging for food
The Indian peafowl symbolizes joy, grace, beauty and love. Hindus believe peacocks to be sacred birds with rich and mysterious associations. According to Hindu tradition, the god Kartikeya, brother of Laksmi and Ganesha, rides on the back of a peacock, while Lord Krishna wears a peacock feather in his headdress.
Indian peafowl are also considered sacred birds in Buddhism, representing acceptance, openness, and enlightenment. Feathers from peacocks are used in Buddhist purification ceremonies.
By transcending religious differences, peacocks are also said to be symbols of harmony, and their flamboyant courtship displays and dances add to their reputation as an uplifting, joyful and memorable icon.
Male Peacock in flight
Indian peafowl are native to India and Sri Lanka. Part of the pheasant family, peacocks (males) and peahens (females) inhabit regions near to water, with dry deciduous forests, and spend days foraging on the woodland floor and nights roosting off the ground, in trees.
The Indian peafowl is comparable in size to a swan, and is one of the largest bird species that is able to fly. Flight is limited to short bursts, but peacocks can achieve the height they need to propel themselves off the ground to roost in trees each night.
Peacocks and peahens both have a fan-shaped crest of feathers, a white patch under the eye and a long, slender neck. With a shimmering blue breast and neck and a train of elongated bronze-green tail feathers, males are more colorful than females.
Females are brownish-gray, slightly smaller than males and lack the impressive tail display feathers.
Indian peafowl are omnivorous birds. Their extremely varied diet consists of seeds, insects, fruits, small rodents, scorpions, and reptiles, including lizards and small snakes. In farmland regions, peafowl feed on a wide range of crops such as tomatoes, leafy greens, celery, and even bananas.
Female Indian Peafowl (Peahen)
The Royal Bengal Tiger was declared India’s national animal in 1972. The following year the Indian government launched Project Tiger, a conservation program to protect wild tiger populations. A tiger census carried out in 2018 counted 2967 tigers in India, a huge increase since a 2006 survey recorded just 1411.
The Indian elephant is the official national heritage animal of India, while the Ganges River Dophin is the national aquatic animal. The King Cobra is India’s national reptile.
Indias National Animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger
No, the Indian peafowl is India’s national bird. Eagles do feature prominently as national birds of many other countries. Golden eagles are the national bird of Albania, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, and Serbia.
Egypt’s national bird is the steppe eagle, while the giant fish-eating harpy eagle represents Panama. African fish eagles are national birds for Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, while the United States famously has the bald eagle as its national bird.
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