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Facts about peacock feathers

One of the most beautiful birds for its colourful, patterned tail feathers, the Indian peafowl or Pavo cristatus is revered throughout the world for its symbolic, valuable and glimmering feathers. First mentioned in literature by Geoffrey Chaucer, the peacock feather is often associated with pride, but it can also be a symbol of good or bad luck.

The Peacock

Peafowl are native to India, Pakistan, western China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where they were first domesticated nearly 3,000 years ago. Peafowl are related to pheasants, guinea fowl, chickens, grouse and quails and appear around the world in farms, zoos or parks and in the wild.

Feather Features

Only the male of the species, the peacock, has beautiful, multicoloured tail feathers. The peacock sheds the 150-plus feathers annually before the breeding season begins. The feathers, which can grow several feet long and sport an eye-like pattern at the tip, are actually extensions of shorter tail feathers that support their weight.

Colours and Light

The many colours of the peacock's feather, which usually include shimmering greens and blues, are the result of a phenomena called interference. Similar to the colours seen on butterflies, pheasants, hummingbirds and birds of paradise, interference is the reflection of light on each feather's tiny, bowl-shaped indentation, which reflects the light and causes the colour to shimmer.

Uses

According to the Lamplight Feather website, a peacock's moulted feathers are a valuable resource, with many of the feathers seen as a "crop" that comes once a year during the male peacock's moulting period. Feathers are sold for decorative reasons or for use in jewellery, fans, costumes, masks or head dresses. The peacock's feather is also used in fly fishing lure and was a symbol on many royal families' coats of arms. Worn by Marie Antoinette and Lord Krishna, the peacock feather was a sign of royalty, and to swear on the feather was equal to taking a solemn oath.

Mystical Meanings

In Asia and in most countries in the world, peacock feathers are seen as a token of good luck and well-being. For some in a few areas in Eastern Europe, peacock feathers are a symbol of a bad luck, as they represent the feathers worn by invading Mongol warriors. The eye-patterns of the peacock's tail feathers gave rise to the peacock's nickname "the bird of 100 eyes," which lead to its mythical symbolism as an all-seeing witness to hidden acts. For this reason, the peacock feather is seen as bad luck in some parts of the world, where it never may cross the home's threshold.

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About the Author

Leah Waldron is the head of Traveler Services at First Abroad, a gap year travel company based in Boston and London. As a travel, research and LGBT news writer, Waldron has publication credit on magazines and newspapers including "Curve Magazine," "USA Today," "The Sun Sentinel" and the "The Houston Chronicle." Waldron has a bachelor's and master's degree in creative writing from Florida State University.