PEAFOWL, pavo cristatus, are only found in any number in the coast-forests, generally within fifteen miles of the sea. They frequent the bush-covered plains which stretch round the Island along the west, north and east shores between Puttalam and Ham-bantota, and all the tanks, glades and open places in the vicinity of these plains. For some unknown reason they are rarely seen in the interior though the conditions of life for them there would appear to be much the same as in the coast-forests, and they are not found in the hills. They are fond of stalking about feeding in the long tank-grass when their colour and markings make them difficult to be distinguished. Several flocks, each of half-a-dozen cocks and hens may often be seen during an afternoon's stroll in some parts. Being protected by law as "game" they may not be fired at without a game license or during the close season. The Sinhalese name for them is "monara" and the Tamil "miyil."
The cocks carry their long trains, which are from four to five feet long, and are called " thokai" in Tamil, in the wet months between October and March. This seems to be the pairing season, for the cocks may then be seen posturing and dancing about, with their tails spread and wings drooping, before the hens. They may sometimes be seen sitting on the branches of dead trees with trains outspread sunning themselves. The hens though handsome birds are dowdy-looking in comparison with their resplendent mates. Peafowl are strong-winged birds but heavy fliers and cannot go far. To compensate for this they are very fast runners, as many a man has found who has tried to run down a wounded bird. They have phenomenally acute eyesight. Their strident cat-like cries are familiar to all who have been in the coast-forests. The leopards and wild cats are their principal enemies, pouncing on them in the long grass. Their food consists of seeds, grain, grass, buds and also insects. They are said to kill all the snakes they find.
The hens lay from five to ten roundish freckled eggs, 2½ in. by 2 in , on the bare ground or grass without any proper nest and sit for about thirty days. A sitting pea-hen will allow people to come very close to it before rising. Should one whirr up suddenly out of the grass near by, it is almost certain that it has a nest there. Natives often find the eggs, and placing them under domestic hens raise the pea-chicks. Peafowl become very tame and bold in captivity, but the cocks are generally found a nuisance from their ear-piercing cries and their vicious habit of killing domestic cocks which they follow about pertinaciously and peck to death.
The meat of full-grown birds is generally tough, but when tender is much like that, of turkey, but has a disagreeable looking red tinge. It will "keep" a long time, but is usually considered indigestible when cold. Peacock oil is a great remedy among natives for rheumatism.
Peafowl generally keep to the forest during the heat of the day, only coming out into the open to feed in the mornings and evenings. They may be shot in several ways, the most sporting way being to stalk them and shoot them with a rifle, but owing to their wariness and telescopic sight they are most difficult creatures to get within range of. One way of getting them, when found out in the open, is to walk towards them " slanting-dicularly " with a shot gun. As their enemy approaches the flock, if not previously alarmed by shots, will stalk slowly towards the forest. There is usually a fringe of brush-wood at the edge of the jungle, and as soon as the last bird has entered it, the sportsman should run at the top of his speed towards them. He will probably reach the jungle before they have gone very far in. On hearing his footsteps they are likely to be panic-stricken and to take to wing, when he will have an easy flying-shot. Peafowl are easily tree'd by a dog. Perched up among the branches they will sit craning their necks, watching the antics of the barking little beast below, and often allow the sportsman to come within easy shot before flying off. They have favourite roosting-places, often in trees overhanging water, to which they resort every night. Natives take advantage of this habit and lie in wait for them and shoot them when they come to roost, sometimes by moonlight. When come on suddenly at close quarters they generally run so quickly into the jungle that there is hardly time to bring the gun to the shoulder, but if they fly off it is difficult to miss them. They are, however, not easily killed owing to the thickness of their wings. Though shot on the wing and falling heavily they will often pick themselves up and run off at a great pace. Birds which have been lamed by a gun shot may sometimes be seen hopping about on one leg.