Saturday, August 29, 2015
Birdlore: The Hundred Eyes of the Peacock
The Peacock--almost every child growing up knows this colorful and glamorous bird by sight! The sapphire glimmering blue body, the long green-yellow and fan-shaped tail display, and the eyed-patterned feathers that peer into your soul…yep, most everyone knows a peacock when they see one.
A Peacock with his feathers spread out in display. (Photo: wikipedia)
We typically refer to this species as the peacock, since most specimens seen are those with the brilliant blue and green fan-shaped tail display. In actuality, only the males are called peacocks. The females are peahens and the chicks are referred to as peachicks. Together, both males and females are called peafowl.
The blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus) originated in the country of India. Over hundreds of years, the peafowl have been raised as pets among the royalty in many different cultures and countries. Even today, peafowl are a popular bird found wandering zoos and farms in the countryside.
Perhaps the most striking feature of a peacock’s feather display is the ‘eye’ resting in the tip of the tail feathers.
The all-seeing ‘eye’ of the peacock. (Photo: wikipedia)
One origin of the legend of the Peacock’s thousand eyes comes from a story concerning Juno, Queen of the Roman gods, (or Hera of Greek Mythology) and her servant, Argus.
Juno and the king of the gods were famed for fooling and playing tricks on one another. So, when Juno had the fairest cow in the land, she knew the king would try to steal the cow away from her. So, she gave the task of watching her cow to her servant, Argus. He was a giant with a hundred eyes and never had anyone seen all the eyes sleep at the same time.
So, the king, knowing this, sent the smooth talker Mercury to retrieve the cow from the field where Argus guarded over it. The king had chosen Mercury for this task, since he was a teller of tales and his voice could sing even a god to sleep.
When Mercury came to visit the field, Argus knew what the king was trying to do, but he had been alone with the cow for a long time and wished for the company and entertainment. So what if a few of his eyes fell asleep. The remaining awake eyes could still watch the cow. Argus invited Mercury to tell his stories of the happenings of the world.
As Mercury shared his lively and sad stories, Argus’s eyes closed one by one, until only two remained opened. Mercury decided then to play his magical reed. While he played, those listening could hear waves brushing on the shore, the rush of the wind among the trees, lilies tilting their heads at dusk, and stars flickering in the seasonal sky.
Finally, Argus’s two remaining eyes closed in slumber and Mercury whisked away the cream-white cow to the king of the gods.
Juno became greatly angered, as the king had actually managed to play a trick on her and succeeded. With severe words she berated her servant who could not keep guard over her cow even with a hundred eyes, “Even my peacock is far wiser, for he knows when someone is looking at him. Every one of your eyes I shall place in the tail of the peacock.”
Today, whenever you look at the feathers of a peacock, you can count the hundred eyes that once belonged to Argus.
Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer