Peacocks are one of the most captivating species of birds. The colorful wheel of feathers the male peacock proudly presents is as impressive as it is beautiful, and their loud screams have a spooky quality to them.
One of the stories that surround peacocks is that they regularly kill and eat snakes, which many people, especially those who have only seen peacocks in the relatively safe and peaceful environment of a zoo, find hard to believe. Is it true?
Do peacocks eat snakes? Yes, that is true! Peacocks really dislike snakes and will fight and even eat them when they turn up on their territory. This is why in India peacocks are called Mayura, which means “the killer of snakes.” They are often kept to keep cobras away from the premises.
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While they usually will not kill large snakes to eat them, they will nevertheless fight them to remind them that they should not dare to encroach on peacock territory again.
The habit of hunting and killing snakes is called ophiophagy, and ophiophagus birds have always impressed and fascinated human beings.
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The Mexican coat of arms depicts a bird – variously interpreted as a golden eagle or a northern caracara – with a snake in its beak.
Snake-eating birds show up, for example, in Hindu, Buddhist, Aztec, and Mayan mythology. In folklore, snakes often stand for evil or – as in Christian mythology – the devil, which is just one more reason why a lot of people do not like them, aside, of course, from the danger they pose to both human beings and their livestock.
Keeping some peacocks on their premises is a practical way for farmers to protect their cattle from bites by, for example, cobras, vipers, and rattlesnakes.
All in all, there are three species of peafowl: the Indian peacock native to India and Sri Lanka, the green peacock from Southeast Asia, and the Congo peacock found in Africa.
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Are Peacocks Immune to Snake Venom?
You would expect a bird that bravely fights and consumes all kinds of snakes to be resistant to snake venom. And indeed, some ophiophagus animals, like the Indian grey mongoose, are immune to venom, but when it comes to peacocks, this is not the case.
Peacocks have a way of killing snakes in which they also avoid the risk of getting bitten by a venomous snake. They grab the snake just below its head and then shake it violently until it dies. Then, the victim can be safely consumed.
Additionally, they have hardened scales on their legs and their strong claws as well as very thick feathers, both of which protect them from bites during a fight.
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What Else Do Peacocks Eat?
Peacocks are omnivores, which means that they eat both plants and meat. Most of their diet consists of plants like grass, flowers, seeds, and grains, but since they require more protein than herbivores (animals that live only on plants) they also consume insects and animals.
Even though peacocks are birds and are able to fly, they find most of their
Peacocks that are kept in captivity are often fed special mixtures of grains. It is important, though, to let peacocks also forage, which is not only a dietary requirement but also a kind of exercise they need to stay healthy.
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Are There Other Birds That Hunt Snakes?
Yes, peacocks are by far not the only birds that enjoy a delicious snake every now and then. Maybe peacocks tend to impress us even more than other snake-eating birds by being not an actual bird of prey, rather a forager with a specific hatred of snakes.
A bird that has its favorite prey already in its name is the short-toed snake eagle. Other than that, the secretary bird, certain species of hawks, as well as herons are known to prey on snakes.
It would be way harder to keep all these as pets and compel them to stalk one’s property for snakes, so it makes sense, that peacocks, who spend their days walking on the ground, are selected for this job.