Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Green peafowl

In Thai: นกยูง, nok yung

Binomial name: Pavo muticus, Carolus Linnaeus, 1766

The green peafowl (Pavo muticus) (from Latin Pavo, peafowl; muticus, Mute, docked or curtailed) is a species of peafowl that is found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. It is also known as the Java peafowl, but this term is properly used to describe the nominate subspecies endemic to the island of Java. It is the closest relative of the Indian peafowl or blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus), which is mostly found on the Indian subcontinent.


Unlike the related Indian peafowl, the sexes of green peafowl are quite similar in appearance, especially in the field. Both sexes have long upper tail coverts which cover the actual tail underneath. In the male this extends up to two meters and is decorated with eyespots or ocelli while in the female the coverts are green and much shorter, just covering the tail. Outside the breeding season, however, the male's train is moulted and it can be difficult to distinguish the sexes unless they are observed up close. The neck and breast feathers of both sexes are iridescent green and resemble scales. In the male, the scapulars, median and greater wing coverts are blue while the lesser coverts are green and form a triangle of scaly feathers on the shoulder when the wing is closed. The secondaries are black and in some subspecies the tertials are brown and/or barred with a faint pattern. The female has blue lesser coverts and therefore lacks the triangle at the wing shoulder. Females also have neck scales fringed with copper as well as more barring on the back as well as the primaries and alula. Both sexes have shafted crests, and are long-legged, heavy-winged and long-tailed in silhouette. The crest of the female has slightly wider plumes while those of the male are thinner and taller. The facial skin is double striped with a white to light blue and beside the ear is a yellow to orange crescent. The dark triangle below the eye towards the eyebrow is bluish-green in the male and brown in the female. Seen from a distance, they are generally dark coloured birds with pale vermillion or buff coloured primaries which are quite visible in their peculiar flight which has been described as a true flapping flight with little gliding that one associates with Galliform birds.

Green peafowl are generally more silent than Indian peafowl. The male of some subspecies, especially imperator, have a loud call of ki-wao, which is often repeated. The female has a loud aow-aa call with an emphasis on the first syllable. The male may also make a similar call. The males call from their roost sites at dawn and dusk.

Green peafowl are large birds, amongst the largest living galliforms in terms of overall size, though rather lighter-bodied than the wild turkey, and perhaps the longest extant, wild bird in total length. The male is 1.8 - 3 m in total length but this includes its tail covert (or "train") which itself measures 1.4 - 1.6 m. The tail coverts are even longer than those of the male Indian peafowl but are shorter than those of the arguses. The adult female is around half the total length of the breeding male at 1 - 1.1 m in length. It has a relatively large wingspan that averages around 1.2 m and can reach 1.6 m in big males. The green peafowl is capable of sustained flight and is often observed on wing.

Distribution and habitat

The green peafowl was widely distributed in Southeast Asia in the past from eastern and north-eastern India, northern Myanmar and southern China, extending through Laos, and Thailand into Vietnam, Cambodia, Peninsular Malaysia and the islands of Java. Records from northeastern India have been questioned and old records are possibly of feral birds. The ranges have reduced with habitat destruction and hunting.

Green peafowls are found in a wide range of habitats including primary and secondary forest, both tropical and subtropical, as well as evergreen and deciduous. They may also be found amongst bamboo, on grasslands, savannas, scrub and farmland edge. In Vietnam, the preferred habitat was found to be dry deciduous forest close to water and away from human disturbance. Proximity to water appears to be an important factor.


The species was first classified as Pavo muticus by Carolus Linnaeus, although it was previously described in Europe by Ulisse Aldrovandi as "Pavo Iaponensis" based on a Japanese painting given to the pope by the Emperor of Japan. Interestingly, these birds were depicted as having no spurs; Linnaeus followed Aldrovandi's description. The Japanese had imported green peafowl from Southeast Asia for hundreds of years, and the birds were frequently depicted in Japanese paintings. As a result, the type locality described by Linnaeus was "Habitat in Japonia", even though the species is not native to Japan. Today, there are no wild green peafowl in Japan, though the feral Indian peafowl of Japan have some green peafowl genes. François Levaillant was one of the first western ornithologists to see a live bird, imported from Macau to an animal collection in Cape of Good Hope. From an Indian painting, George Shaw described a peafowl native to India with a "blue head" and an "upright lanceolate crest", which he named Pavo spicifer, the spike-crested peacock. A third form of green peafowl was described in 1949 by Jean Delacour, as imperator, found in Indo-China. From the advice of a bird dealer in Hong Kong, Delacour concluded there were three races of green peafowl, lumping spicifer into the species as well. Today most authorities recognize these three:

  • Pavo muticus muticus, the "Java peafowl" (nominate). Extant population endemic to the east and western ends of Java. Extinct populations from the Malay Peninsula from the Kra Isthmus extending south to Kedah have also been described as muticus, but this is highly controversial. Unconfirmed sightings in Southern Thailand persist, but they are difficult to confirm due to tensions between the Malay rebels and the Thai government. Often described as the most colourful of the three subspecies, the neck and breast is a metallic golden-green with cerulean blue wing coverts. Females have prominent barring on the back and tertials.
  • P. m. imperator, the "Indo-Chinese peafowl." From east Burma to Thailand, Yunnan province in China and Indochina, this subspecies is the most common and has the widest distribution. Its former range may have extended to Macau and Hainan. In Thailand, it is currently confined to the Nan, Yom, Eng and Ping river basins in Northern Thailand and the Huai Kha Khaeng and Mae Klong basins in Western Thailand. In Vietnam, it has become extinct in the northern part of the country, its last large population being confined to the southeast in Cat Tien National Park. imperator is similar to muticus but its neck is a darker green and has more black on its wing coverts and secondaries. The facial skin is more intense in colouration compared to the other races.
  • P. m. spicifer, the "Burmese peafowl." Found in Burma towards southwestern Thailand. Formerly also in Bangladesh as well as northern Malaysia. Birds in Northeast India are sometimes considered extinct but are still occasionally sighted. However, sightings have sometimes been questioned as feral or escaped birds. Delacour considered the west and east sides of the Irrawaddy river to be the dividing line between spicifer and imperator respectively, but this is unsubstantiated. A population of spicifer was reintroduced to Hlawga National Park east of the Irrawaddy river. This subspecies is larger and has a more robust build compared to other subspecies. Sometimes described as "duller" than the other forms, it has a matte gun metal-blue to olive-green neck and breast, and more black on the wing-coverts and outer web of secondaries. The crown of the male is violet-blue which often extends further down the nape than other subspecies, demarcating the colours of the crown and neck.

Delacour dismissed several aberrant specimens to be individual variations (including the type specimens for imperator originating from the Bolaven Plateau in Laos), and stated further studies were needed to establish the taxonomy of Green Peafowl. Few studies have been conducted to substantiate Delacour's classification, even though it is accepted by nearly all authorities. Some authors have suggested that the population found in Yunnan, which are traditionally classified as imperator, may be another race. The authors of a study in China determined the divergence period between green and Indian peafowl to be 3 million years. In the same study, they also noted there appeared to be two different forms of green peafowl in Yunnan which should be classified as distinct subspecies. Although research by Ettore Randi suggested that the green peafowl of Malaysia were the same subspecies as the extant muticus muticus of Java, some authors have suggested the two populations were distinct. Due to imperators large range in Indochina, other subspecies within its range have also been proposed, notably annamensis of Southeast Asia (including the aforementioned Bolaven Plateau specimens) and yunnanensis of Yunnan.


The green peafowl is a forest bird which nests on the ground laying 3 to 6 eggs.

It has been widely believed that the green peafowl is polygynous, but unlike the Indian peafowl, males are solitary and do not display in leks. Instead the solitary males are highly territorial and form harems with no pair bonds.

However, the theory that the male is polygynous also conflicts with observations in captivity; pairs left alone with no human interaction have been observed to be strongly monogamous. The close similarity between both sexes also suggests a different breeding system in contrast to that of the Indian peafowl. Thus, some authors have suggested that the harems seen in the field are juvenile birds and that males are not promiscuous.

They usually spend time on or near the ground in tall grasses and sedges. Family units roost in trees at a height of . The diet consists mainly of fruits, invertebrates, reptiles, frogs and rodents. As with the other member of its genus, the green peafowl can even hunt venomous snakes. Ticks and termites, flower petals, buds leaves and berries are favorite foods of adult peafowl.


Due to hunting and a reduction in extent and quality of habitat, as well as poaching, the green peafowl is evaluated as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES. The world population has declined rapidly and the species no longer occurs in many areas of its past distribution. The last strongholds for the species are in protected areas such as Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand, Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam and Baluran National Park, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. The population in the wild was estimated to be about 5, 000 to 10, 000 individuals around 1995.

Although there is no natural range overlap with the Indian peafowl, hybridisation with the Indian peafowl is still a potential threat. The two species produce fertile hybrids and feral Indian peafowl may hybridize with wild green peafowl. In captivity hybrids are called "Spalding" peafowl and are used by breeders to create different breeds. Through backcrossing some hybrids become almost indistinguishable from pure green peafowl. Because some aviculturists refer to all races as "Java peafowl", the subspecies of green peafowl are also mixed in captivity and there are many captive birds of unknown provenance, further complicating the issue of whether there are only three subspecies. Green peafowl are sometimes selectively bred according to similar colouration, even if the origins of the birds are different. In Thailand, captive green peafowl are sometimes released in the vicinity of a breeding station even though their true origins remain unknown.

In 2005, The Star reported that successful reintroductions were being made in Malaysia by the World Pheasant Association (WPA). The article stated that the genetic research proved the Javan and Malay peafowl were genetically identical and the subspecies muticus was introduced - the scientific community consensus. However, the assumption that the Malaysian and Javanese muticus birds are the same subspecies remains controversial, so it is uncertain which subspecies was introduced. At least some of the birds introduced in Malaysia were actually spicifer, and others imported from Java, which was once found on the northern tip of the country. Since the 2005 article, there has been no update on the status of the reintroduction.

National symbol

Although the Burmese or grey peacock-pheasant is the national bird of Myanmar, the green peafowl was an ancient symbol of the monarchs of Burma. It was also shown during British colonial times on the flag of the governor and the naval ensign, as well as on the flag of the State of Burma from 1943–1945 and on the currency of independent Burma as well.

External links

  • Arkive images and movies of the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus)
  • The Green Peafowl of Thailand
  • Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) at

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Scientific classification

Pavo muticus

Common names

  • English:
    • Green-necked peafowl
    • Green peafowl
  • Spanish:
    • Pavo-real cuelliverde
    • Pavo-real verde
  • Thai: นกยูง, nok yung


  • Pavo muticus imperator, Jean Théodore Delacour, 1949

    Common name: Indo-Chinese peafowl

    Range: East Burma to Thailand, Yunnan province in China and Indochina

  • Pavo muticus muticus (nominate), Carolus Linnaeus, 1766

    Common name: Java peafowl

    Range: Endemic to the east and western ends of Java

  • Pavo muticus spicifer, George Shaw, 1804

    Common name: Burmese peafowl

    Range: Found in Burma towards southwestern Thailand. Formerly also in Bangladesh as well as northern Malaysia

Conservation status

Endangered (IUCN3.1)

Endangered (IUCN3.1)

Range Map

Distribution map of Green peafowl, Pavo muticus in Thailand
Range map of Pavo muticus in Thailand