Bird Image Gallery
Bird Image Gallery

Male peafowl -- aka peacocks -- shed their glorious feathers annually. See more bird pictures.

Wilfried Krecichwost/Getty Images

A peacock without his feathers is like a king without a crown, a tiger without its stripes, a cowboy without his boots. The male of the peafowl species, the peacock has long symbolized beauty, regality and pride. Like many male birds, the peacock's appearance far outshines that of the demure peahen, and he showcases these famous feathers to drive those chicks wild.

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But every year, toward the end of summer, peacocks finish shaking their tail feathers, and their stunning plumage gradually falls off. This shedding process, called molting, is a common part of most birds' lives. Feathers can wear out and lose their functionality over time, and since these feathers aren't self-regenerating, birds must replace them entirely [source: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology]. This molting process is the same type of biological change that happens when snakes shed their skins. Hormones trigger the beginning of the molting process, which is timed to occur after the mating season to allow for the energy required to grow the new feathers [source: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology].

In about seven months -- in time for the peafowl mating season to come back around -- peacocks will regrow their plumes longer and fuller. The peacock's tail reaches peak development around age six [source: Hopkins]. In fact, mature peacock trains can extend more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length [source: National Zoo]. Because of the size boost from the feathers, peacocks are one of the largest flying birds.

When the old feathers drop, however, people don't let them go to waste. Stretching back to the Phoenicians during biblical times, peacocks were taken from their native residences in India and surrounding countries and transplanted to royal homes [source: National Zoo]. Different peafowl species feature blue, green, white, light brown or purple coloring, but India's blue and green bird is the most common. There, the peacock is not only the highly protected national bird, but also is considered sacred within the Hindu religion. Even today, commercial peacock breeders will save the molts to sell as the demand for these stylish feathers in the home décor and fashion industries endures.

What are the secrets of these beloved feathers? We'll learn about peacock plumes' unique design and how these colorful birds use their feathers to attract peahens on the next page.