The Curious Case of the Albino Peacock

Albinism or leucism is a very rare trait in animal populations, as animals that carry albino genes are often vulnerable.
The Curious Case of the Albino Peacock

Last update: 28 May, 2021

When we see an animal that’s completely white from head to toe, the question arises as to whether it has albinism or another mutation. This is the case with the albino peacock. We can’t always classify an animal as albino simply by the color of its coat or plumage, because, in reality, there are other genetic events that should be taken into account.

Did you know that the albino peacock isn’t a different species of peacock? Its special coloring is due to a genetic variation that has been maintained over time. If you want to know more about this striking mutant trait, please do read on.

Types of species and physical characteristics of the albino peacock

At a taxonomic level, turkeys belong to the pheasant family, but they are also related to all land birds of the order Galliformes. Within the turkey family, the nickname “peacock” or “peafowl” is used to differentiate between 3 species within this taxon. They are the following:
  • Indian blue (Pavo cristatus).
  • Green peacock from Myanmar, Indochina and Java (Pavo muticus).
  • Congo peacock (Afropavo conguensis).

The first two species are located on the Asian continent, while the third is only in Africa. In all of them, their name refers to the regions they can be found in or, failing that, to unique features regarding their plumage.

An albino peacock shows its tail.

Characteristics of the albino peacock

However, we’ll be devoting these lines to peacock specimens that have developed albinism. As we’ve observed, all three species can give rise to albino peacock specimens. In addition, not only are they similar for that reason, but they also share characteristics with each other and with the albino specimens. Some of them are the following:

  1. Explosive tonality: The mutation has resulted in the animal being completely white, except for its eyes. However, the rest of the specimens have strong and iridescent blue and green tones.
  2. Diet: Being omnivores, albino peacocks feed on plants, insects, or small vertebrates – such as reptiles or amphibians.
  3. Life expectancy: According to breeders, it has been observed that breeding this species in captivity increases its life expectancy. However, in specimens that suffer from the mutation in nature, their life span is shorter.
  4. Their song is reminiscent of a feline: When peacocks sing, the sound is quite similar to the meowing of cats. However, this tone can also resemble squawks. It seems that it depends on the moment and the situation. In this way, their songs are used as a call, a cry to their parents, or to express anguish in the face of loneliness.
  5. Sexual dimorphism: The larger males have a spectacular tail, both in diameter and in its original and striking coloration. Apparently, their main objective is evolutionary, as they seek to attract the attention of females. On the other hand, it should also be noted that the male is called a peacock and the female a peahen. The young are simply called chicks.

Origin and state of conservation

Currently, no records have been found on when the first white peacock appeared. It seems that throughout the 19th century specimens with white “patches” were found in their plumage. By separating and crossing these specimens, humans promoted the partial or total extension of the white coloring.

Leucism or albinism?

Although their white hue leads us to think that these birds carry albinism genes, this is not the only cause that we can assess. Although the albino peacock comes from a mutation in which melanin is lost from the body, its white plumage can also be caused by a mutation called leucism.

To differentiate leucism from albinism, one must look at some characteristic patterns. We look mainly at the eyes of the specimens that suffer from one or the other. If the eyes are similar to those of specimens without albinism and retain normal tones, then the animal is leucistic. However, if these are reddish or pink, we’re dealing with an animal with albinism.

Thus, when observing a white animal, we can differentiate between a specimen that suffers from albinism or leucism. Furthermore, leucism is a more typical mutation in birds, and albinism is more common in mammals. However, as in everything, there are always exceptions.

Albino morphotype diseases

In addition to changing the characteristic color of the species, the albino peacock is more sensitive to factors that normally affect the species. Thus, exposure to stressors such as excessive humidity or a sudden drop in temperatures can be lethal for an albino specimen, while the normal morphotype (green and blue) could still survive.

Albinism, despite being a beautiful and striking trait, is not without its consequences. Among them, we can list the following:

  • Visual deficiency
  • Respiratory diseases: among the most severe pathologies, is tuberculosis
  • Skin problems
  • Low tolerance to strong sun exposure

For all these reasons, the gene isn’t selected in peacock populations. As these mutated specimens have more health problems, they’re less likely to reproduce and, therefore, have fewer offspring than the rest. Thus, natural selection prevents unprofitable traits like this from spreading.

An albino peacock on a bench.

A bird surrounded by spirituality

Animals are part of the cultures of different regions due to certain characteristics that identify them. In the case of the albino peacock, it appears first in the Hindu culture, followed by the Christian one. Within both, it’s identified as a symbol of immortality.

In addition, curiously, the number of specimens of this species has remained stable in recent years. Because of this, the white peacock has been included in the group of animals of  “least concern”. It seems that this beautiful bird will be with us for many years to come.