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The Beauty of Peacock Feathers

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I like to delve into the history, costuming, foods, and customs of places and holidays. World cultures and traditions are fascinating.




Why are peacock feathers so beautiful?

We humans have a love for bird feathers. We use them for an array of different products, but some bird feathers are desired simply for their colorful beauty. In fact, sometimes we love birds to death for their feathers. Thankfully, there are plenty of peacocks, which are raised domestically.

Their colors are a favorite for designers and just plain everyday people. I absolutely love the iridescent blue, green, and gold combination.

How about you?

Do you ever wonder why the feathers are colorfully eye-catching, and what makes them so?

Jian Zi, a Chinese scientist did.

National Geographic reports:

His motivation to study peacock coloration came after a trip to the marketplace in southern China's Yunnan province, where he bought a bundle of peacock feathers from Banna (a town renowned for its wild peacocks) as a souvenir. "When I watched the eye pattern against the sunshine, I was amazed by the stunning beauty of the feathers," said Zi.

That Gorgeous Color... is quite a cocky story - What's Pigment Got To Do With It?

peacock feather closeup

peacock feather closeup

Apparently pigments don't have much to do with it.

"The vivid colors of a peacock feather do not arise entirely from pigments - in fact, the role of pigments may be minimal. The structure of the feather plays a role in the color ... there [are] structural arrays in the barbules of the peacock feather which were measurably different for the different colored regions. The barbules are described as straplike "twigs" which come off the branches of the peacock feather.

There are "subtle variations in color as well as areas which seem to "fire" with more reflected intensity than neighboring regions. Iridescence in the colored regions is taken as evidence of color which is structural in its origin, as opposed to pigment color. " [1]

This structural effect which results in perceptions of colors are present in butterflies and in other bird feathers, as well.


"When light shines on the feather, we see thousands of glimmering colored spots, each caused by minuscule bowl-shaped indentations. Stronger magnification reveals microscopic lamellae (thin plate-like layers) at the bottom of the indentations."

Another,simpler, way it is explained is that it is "a complex structure that changes color with the angle of incident light." The photonic crystals are tiny, intricate two-dimensional crystal-like structures which make up the barbules. "Slight variations in the arrangement of keratin and melanin are responsible for the palette of colors found in the eye of a peacock's tail feather. peacock feathers, it is the precise structural array of melanin rods in keratin that creates different colors, with one array reflecting back yellow light, for example, and a slightly different arrangement reflecting back blue light."-New York Times

So, except for the role of black, the colors which we perceive from looking at the peacock are created by the way the feathers catch and throw off light.

Sir Isaac Newton, in the 17th- and 18th-century, was among the first to hypothesize this structural basis for the colors, but it is only recently that Chinese scientists uncovered the full explanation.

I'm not sure I understand all the science involved, but the upstart of it is that pigments, which we usually think of as giving color, like in the human iris of the eye or in hair, has very little to do with the wonderfully bright and attractive colors of many birds and butterflies....and in this case the peacock's feathers.

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Jian Xi and his cohorts have their abstract online, if you want the discovery straight from the horses mouth.

The Secret Of Its Shimmer

Emerald and Sapphire - Jewel Colors

Nature holds a repeat performance when it comes to the jeweled sapphire blue and emerald green highlights found in some iridescence. When that isn't enough, artists are more than glad to borrow this dramatic and unfailing way to attract the eye.

The colors in peacock feathers are vibrant and seem to shimmer.

An Important Deccani Bronze Peacock, circa 14th Century

An Important Deccani Bronze Peacock, circa 14th Century

In Asia, the feathers of the peacock are considered lucky and protective.

The peacock is the male of a variety of the pheasant species, Pavo cristatus. The female is a peahen; both are known as peafowl. It is native to India and Sri Lanka.

Male peacocks shed and re-grow tail feathers each year.

With full plumage, peacocks can be as long as 7 feet from the tips of their beaks to the ends of their trains.

Origen and Augustine refer to peacocks as a symbol of the resurrection, but by the Middle ages the peacock stood for vanity.

The Symbolism

Symbolic meaning is roughly divided by Eastern and Weastern culture and by time periods. The Eastern and earliest symbolism being positive in nature, as well as connected to immortality or resurrection (some of the very early Christian identification of this symbol).

It is later that the peacock became an icon for the vain, and in most modern times is simply identified with beauty, although there is a vague impression still carrying the more negative shadow of the past.

The Fabled and Painted Peacock

 Artists have used the peacock to illustrate vanity of life

Artists have used the peacock to illustrate vanity of life

In Christian symbolism the peacock is often used as a symbol of vanity because of its beauty and the manner it displays the tail feathers. There are other meanings, but less known and more esoteric.

Saint Augustine associated peacocks with the resurrection, borrowing from earlier, Pagan, associations of the peacock with immortality.. In the Bible, an account of these birds being brought to Solomon by his ships from Tarshish (1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chr. 9:21) is recorded.

Babylonians and Persians regarded the peacock as the guardian of loyalty, and denoting royalty. Hindus considered them as good luck, other Asian cultures signify love and protection with them.

Real Life Peacock Dance Display

Grab your quill and leave your comments

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on January 08, 2014:

@Zeross4: Thanks :) I have always had a love for their colors, and hope to raise some someday.

Renee Dixon from Kentucky on January 06, 2014:

I love Peacocks! My favorite thing was the peacock bookends, those were really pretty! Awesome lens!

Leah J. Hileman from East Berlin, PA, USA on December 28, 2012:

They are beautiful but the ones I've encountered are territorial and can be dangerous if they're not used to people. I'll just admire them from a distance.

Leah J. Hileman from East Berlin, PA, USA on December 28, 2012:

They are beautiful but the ones I've encountered are territorial and can be dangerous if they're not used to people. I'll just admire them from a distance.

Linda Pogue from Missouri on August 26, 2012:

Peacocks are gorgeous. My grandmother had a large vase with peacock feathers in it when I was very small. I wonder what happened to them? Blessings!

irminia on August 16, 2012:

I love the paisley design - do you know perhaps whether it really represents the peacock (the form)? I'm inclined to believe that.

anonymous on August 10, 2012:

Peacocks are beautiful birds! My aunts in-laws have peacocks so we normally bring home feathers for the kids when we go see their baby horses.

Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on July 25, 2012:

A beautifully written and illustrated lens on a fascinating subject. Blessed!

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on July 17, 2012:

@MillBucks: sounds like a fabulous color scheme to use :) I have a few peacock decorations in the guest bedroom.

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on July 17, 2012:

@Natalie W Schorr: thank you

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on July 17, 2012:

@artbyrodriguez: they are!

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on July 17, 2012:

@HealthfulMD: thank you- great praise coming from such a fine lenscrafter:)

Kirsti A. Dyer from Northern California on July 16, 2012:

Beautifully done.

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on June 18, 2012:

Interesting subject and great photos. Peacocks are fascinating.

magictricksdotcom on May 20, 2012:

Wonderful photos in this lens.

Natalie W Schorr on April 24, 2012:

Beautiful peacock pictures and info!

MillBucks on April 11, 2012:

I love the topic of your article, I enjoy peacocks a great deal so I have my home decorated with this theme. It always makes for a great conversation starter with my visitors.

Delia on March 16, 2012:

Lovely Lens! nicely done...I love peacocks.

~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

MarkHansen on March 07, 2012:

Another great lens of yours! Thanks so much.

jlshernandez on March 05, 2012:

Last Christmas, a friend of mine brought me a "bouquet" of peacock feathers that she brought back from a peacock farm. I put them in a crystal vase to show them off. These are gorgeous.

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on February 26, 2012:

in eastern cultures peacock feathers represents pride, and by extension, nobility and glory. nicely done.

VisFeminea on February 22, 2012:

@NC Shepherd: :D

"I would raise a few of my own, if it wasn't for their call. I know that can get annoying."

I sooooo understand

I have the same thought ;)

VisFeminea on February 22, 2012:

I love peacock. Thank you for this lens!

NC Shepherd on February 11, 2012:

I love peacock colors. I would raise a few of my own, if it wasn't for their call. I know that can get annoying.

beaworkathomemom on January 19, 2012:

Colourful lens- peacock feathers variation in color is phenomenal a real rt form. loved the variety of pictures and products shown.

Chazz from New York on January 19, 2012:

Beautiful lens -- but then I am partial to peacock feathers (as evidenced by my Restoration Fabrics and Trims website). And my two cats love to chase a long peacock feather when we play with them.

RinchenChodron on January 05, 2012:

This lens is informative and well done! Great photos. The Buddhists believe that peacocks can transform poisons (they eat almost anything like goats).

MayaBella LM on December 02, 2011:

Gorgeous! I just designed a peacock fabric for Spoonflower. So inspired by the gorgeous colors and patterns.

Alexandra Douglas from Florida on November 29, 2011:

What a wonderful lens! Thank you for your knowledge!

WaynesWorld LM on November 08, 2011:

Awesome stuff.

Watch this bird, like the fighting fish that will fight its' mirror image to the death, these dummie will rip your chrome bumper to shreds. We had just moved to a little trailer apartment south of Greenway Road on 39th Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona. The landlord raised horses and had a bunch of peacocks, I actually got pretty good at duplicating their call.

When I was a little guy my mom took me to a great aunts place where there was an albino (white) peacock.

DianeStafford on October 24, 2011:

Peacock feathers are simply beautiful :-) great lens, Diane

starzraven on October 20, 2011:

BEAUTIFUL lens! :)

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on September 15, 2011:

@javr: it was you I meant to thank for the blessing. I guess I'm all mixed up today LOL!

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on September 15, 2011:

@Ilonagarden: um, I meant "liking it" :)

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on September 15, 2011:

@blessingsforlif1: You are a very patient person:) it shows how you appreciate beauty. Thanks you for blessing this lens.

blessingsforlif1 on September 15, 2011:

Peacocks don't often show off their feathers...I remember once waiting the whole after just to see the peacock in its spread its tail if full splendor.

javr from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2011:

Gorgeous feathers!

Helene-Malmsio on June 25, 2011:

I've always adored peacock feathers and used to have a bunch I bought from goodness knows where. The LC Tiffany stained glass design of Peacock is too beautiful for words. But I was disappointed to read that they are also considered bad luck to have and use. Still have Peacock blue as my all time favorite color!

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on June 13, 2011:

@anonymous: thank you- the art and the feathers did most of the work :)

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on June 13, 2011:

@bbsoulful2: so glad to hear that- I bet it will make a beautiful notebook.

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on June 13, 2011:

@OhMe: Thank you- I love I think you are lucky :)

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 05, 2011:

We have farmers in our area who have Peacocks just roaming around the farm and they always take my breath away just like this lens did.

bbsoulful2 on May 23, 2011:

We got to visit with a bunch of peacocks up close at our last zoo trip, and I'm glad that I found your web page! We have a lot of photos of us with these beautiful birds, and we will read your information to help us with our notebooking. Thank you for a beautiful, information-filled article!

anonymous on May 21, 2011:

The complexity of the peacock feather adds even more to its beauty and you displayed that beauty very nicely in pictures and in words. Absolutely lovely!

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