Recent studies have reported conflicting evidence for the influence of train-feather eyespots on the mating success of peacocks, Pavo cristatus. In this study we address this controversy, using observation and experiment to evaluate the effect of train morphology and the number of eyespots displayed during courtship on female choice. We show first that the maximum number of eyespots in the train is consistent among adult peacocks in feral populations at about 165-170 eyespots, and that most of the observed variation in eyespot number appears to be due to feather breakage or loss. Although we confirm a previous report that removing a large number (≥20) of the outermost eyespots from a male's train decreases his mating success compared to unmanipulated males, this experimental modification produces an ornament that is outside the range of eyespot number typically displayed during courtship. Thus, the considerable variation in the mating success of feral peacocks cannot be explained by natural variation in the number of eyespots visible in the train. Peafowl mate choice is clearly more complex than previously thought: females may reject a few males with substantially reduced eyespot number, while using some other cue to choose among males with typical trains.

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Animal Behaviour

Dakin, R, & Montgomerie, R. (Robert). (2011). Peahens prefer peacocks displaying more eyespots, but rarely. Animal Behaviour, 82(1), 21–28. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.03.016